Convenient Inconsistency

by Mike on February 18, 2005

I’ve just received, as I often do, an e-mail that is inviting me to take part in a course in which I can learn to develop a correct Christian worldview. I don’t know what I signed up for, but these things keep on coming. I do wonder each time exactly what this biblical worldview is, because from my reading of the bible, there’s no such thing.

Even from such an ill-informed viewpoint as mine, it seems rather simple to assume that the bible teaches a particular, inaliable worldview; rather than this, it seems as though the books of the bible themselves wrestle with the formation of such a thing. No one can claim a consistency of outlook between the books of the Old Testament, let alone the New. As I see it, the NT appears as a progressive conversation in itself, as different authors - different disciples - tackle mutual issues from varying perspectives. As one example, can we really claim that there is a consistent view regarding the continuation of Torah in the life of the church? I think these days we take much more from the progressive worldview of Paul than we do Matthew, or James. the NT exists not as a sterile guidebook, but as a very real, very applicable insight into the complexities of human nauture and human society. It is more reflective than directive, more sublative than consistent. These are not bad things, they are enriching and explanatory, for they in many ways mirror the conflicts within our contemporary church.

To claim a consistent worldview in the books of the bible is quite detrimental to the process of growth and change within the Church. Above all, their format and their progression say as much about the nature of the Christian faith as do the words contained within them. If we try to derive a fixed worldview, we’re missing some of the greatest lessons we can learn; not only is this in detriment to the value of scripture, it’s in detriment to the life of our Church.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Joel Thomas 02.19.05 at 12:43 am

Considering how differently the Bible is understood culture-to-culture and continent-to-continent, it does seem simplistic to claim that there is a (one) biblical worldview. Indeed as you point out, did the Bible really intend that the church would never grow or develop?

I tend to view the story of Adam and Eve as myth that conveys fundamental truths. In the eyes of many, that variation alone means that I don’t have a biblical world view. I also am a firm believer that society has the moral right and often the obligation to use government resources to promote justice. Again, not a biblical worldview according to many.

2

howard 02.19.05 at 9:42 am

I think I know whereof you speak, and I believe I’m also on their email list, virtue of an online survey I took a while back. Thanks to them I know that I have an extremely anti-Biblical worldview, merely because I don’t believe that God Himself divinely inspired the U.S. Constitution exactly as it appears today. If the group I’m referring to isn’t the one you refer to, then there must be another one I don’t know about. In which case, God help us.

3

Ivan The Crank 02.20.05 at 2:07 am

I thought the following article by our bishop relevant to the discussion (actually, to many discussions that take place here) If you want to find the E-Review for yourselves, you can go to our conference web site at: http://www.flumc.org. Here’s the article:

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Looking beyond the culture war

Feb. 11, 2005 News media contact: Michael Wacht*
407-897-1140 mwacht@flumc.org Orlando {0246}

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

The people of The United States of America are engaged in what is called a “cultural war,” or what the Germans call “Kulturkampf.” In the somewhat silly way of the media, Americans are divided into two camps, Red and Blue.

Likewise, the same conflict is occurring within the Christian churches. Ours is a “Kirchenkampf.” The issues that divide people in the culture also divide people in the churches — sexuality, the beginning and ending of life, education, politics and law. In the churches, the issues are defined in theological terms.

For more than a hundred years the theological divide in America has been between the modernists (nowadays called “liberals” or “progressives”) and the fundamentalists (nowadays called “conservatives” or “the religious right”).

Throughout my life I have never found either party in this conflict convincing. The fundamentalists tend toward intellectual obscurantism, biblical literalism and moralism. The modernists tend toward intellectual naiveté, rationalism and antinomianism. When I was young, I thought their debate was irrelevant and anachronistic. I was wrong. The debate has been dressed up with more sophisticated thinking, but it is still going on.

Where is the way through this dichotomy between the two camps? It is not in the “middle?” There isn’t much help to be found in the advice to choose a middle course between two extremes.

The way forward is to locate our theological and ethical reflection in Scripture as the witness of the prophets and apostles, the Christian tradition as the interpretation of the Scripture by the churches over a long time and in many places, and prayer for the illumination of the Spirit of God in our contemporary situation. Another way of saying this is that we can transcend the narrowness of both fundamentalism and modernism by embracing the living tradition of apostolic and catholic faith.

There is nothing narrow about the apostolic and catholic faith. The preeminent expert on the Christian tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan, calls it “a generous orthodoxy.” Yet, there are also clear boundaries in the apostolic and catholic faith for both belief and practice. For instance, there are many ways to try to comprehend the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross, but it is not permissible to jettison this central mystery of God’s revelation and salvation in favor of a theory of Jesus’ identity and significance apart from his death on the cross for us.

Fundamentalists make the mistake of squeezing the many images of the cross in the apostolic writings and in the Christian tradition into one concept of substitutionary atonement, while a few progressives will rant senselessly about wanting to get rid of talk about “bloody sacrifices.” The apostolic and catholic faith includes a variety of ways of articulating the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross for us, encourages us to see the truth in all of them, and acknowledges that no human thoughts can comprehend the height, depth, breadth and length of what God has done for us there.

When one seeks to locate theological and ethical reflection in the apostolic and catholic faith, probably one will discover how facile are the labels of “liberal” and “conservative.” By thinking theologically, i.e. in accordance with Scripture and the living Christian tradition, rather than ideologically, one will arrive at positions that are “liberal,” “conservative” or neither. That’s why counseling people to seek the “middle” is misleading: the truth of God may not be in the middle, but in the different extremes. More accurately, the truth may be similar to the extremes, but it will also be different from them because it is framed according to the categories of language in Scripture and tradition rather than according to ideological slogans.

The great 20th century theologian Karl Barth described himself as an “ecumenical, evangelical, conservative, radical Christian.” This expansive, seemingly contradictory, self-description makes all the sense in the world when we realize that our loyalty belongs to no ideology or party, but to the living God known by faith in God’s revelation in Scripture as received in the mind of the transcultural church over 2,000 years who calls us to obedience to the divine truth today.

###

This article relates to Christian Tradition.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.

4

Mike 02.21.05 at 12:49 pm

You’re right Howard, i think it’s the same fellas; I’d forgotten about that quiz!

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