Today's post presents the problem of libel amongst over-eager, judgmental Christians to slap names and labels upon people and movements that can be mis-representative of that individual or movement in endeavors to create (or foment) public mis-information that is demeaning and personally destructive.
Any astute observer of the Press or social media sees this all the time - from Wall Street to Congress, from public officials to well-spoken religious leaders and teachers. Usually this is done by well-meaning people who hold an imperfect knowledge of what they are charging linking one event with another that is actually specious and untrue. At other times the charge is true and valid and requires both parties to work out what it would mean for any future relationship (family squabbles are usually of this nature between husband and wife, or child and parent). During this time love and commitment will be tested and perhaps either healed and deepened, or broken and left in disrepair. But the risk is ever towards personal separation and dis-connection when argumentation unfolds and libelous charges are carelessly thrown back-and-forth. This is not of God, nor of the Spirit, as the church of God.
The process of accusation can be seen time-and-again in the Bible from its earliest Old Testament pages when Moses was charged by the people for misconduct to Jesus' day at the hands of the Pharisees. Even in the New Testament church there was the problem of false prophets, teachers, and shepherds. This is not a new problem but an old problem that often is be bounded by ignorance, well-meaning but errant loyalty, or desires to protect and save. At other times disruption is driven by hatred, envy, and jealousy. The motives vary by its audience. And the charges as old as humanity itself.
Some charges may be true. Some may not be true. Essentially, the accused and the accuser must come to a resolution with each other in order to move on in relational affiliation. In the case of religion, this can be of a very personal nature involving the deepest passions of man. Inquisitions and crusades have been created on the backs of religion. Families have lost loved ones over religion (a Protestant child leaving his/her Catholic family; a brainwashed family member to the cults; or even over so slight a difference as to whether one sings hymns in church or listens to worship bands on a Sunday's venue).
Essentially, the accused person or religious body must determine the charge's source: is it one of simple mis-understanding and mis-information? Perhaps a cultural or generational disagreement? Or is it one of a more personal nature stemming in attacks of vindictiveness. Charges that bear validity need to be resolved on the part of the accused, forgiven, and ended. But charges that are not true must likewise be resolved on the part of the accuser, forgiven, and ended.
Realizedly, some personalities can be business-like and do this quite nicely with one another. Other personalities deeply struggle with this process and compound the problem unnecessarily a thousand-fold. A wise person, or body of governance, will determine the nature of the working environment as they move forward in the process, deciding perhaps to work with a mediator (or mediating body) who/which may help heal a torn relationship. The process of remediation can be a difficult one. For a wise person, the initial charges brought forth must always be with the attitude of reconciliation should it come to that, and rapidly so, if it can be done.
But if untrue, charges of libel or heresy tend to "stick" to the person, event, or movement, once a charge has been made, and is never so simply removed or resolved, persisting on the willingness of its accusers to believe untruths, falseness, rumor, or innuendo. And once tainted, a ministry, or minister, can never quite shake off the charge(s) of mis-appropriation, mis-conduct, or mis-information. It becomes a life-long combat that can hinder an otherwise good ministry. Or in many cases redirect that ministry's efforts towards areas of compromise and injustice (a recent example of this is the evangelic furor over World Vision).
In some instances, highly influential church leaders that have fallen can be Teflon-like and are able to bounce back from disaster, somehow side-stepping accusations without having deeply addressed those charges of impropriety. But more often than not, charges that are valid must be addressed (unless tempered with extreme prejudice and hostile intent). In those cases, a court of public opinion (in the case of religion, a synod or council, for instance) must be held to determine the veracity of the charges whether true or not. In many cases, differences in religious doctrine may only lead to splits and disunity. Religious creeds, confessions, and church doctrinal bodies have been birthed upon this process until we now have, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, as many differing kinds of faith as we do people holding them.
In a postmodern church, or an emerging assembly of believers, these differences are being lowered as today's 21st Century Christians seek a greater spirit of unity over disunity. They are more willing to irenically discuss doctrinal differences within the greater center of Christ's healing atonement and fellowship rather than focusing upon the many dividers and dissemblers of the Christian faith. Others have taken it upon themselves to point out the historical background of dogmatic and doctrinal disagreements in hopes of providing an expanded biblical basis for sound judgment, understanding, and reconciliation, without jettisoning the faith altogether based upon premise and suspicion.
More often now than ever, the Bible's earlier faiths were built in a time without today's greater hindsight of church history, science, technology, and the arts, and pervasive global communications amongst world religions and cultures. As such, theology today is rapidly, if not expediently, working towards more enlightened definitions and expanded religious categories not previous thought in light of postmodern theological movements and cultural resettlement forced upon despised unfortunates (think of the many refugee populations that have shifted under threat of death and torture). As a result, faith has tended towards despair as much as towards the spiritual. Towards nothingness as much as towards a God-ness. And a deep response of love and acceptance is needed, especially of the church of God, if not very humanity itself.
For the church today the charge is to make the gospel relevant, meaningful, personal, and healing. To adjudicate Christ and His Word is now being re-contextualized towards less judgmentalism and more openness and acceptance. Even the word "adjudication" itself is wrong, communicating attitudes of "rightness and wrongness," of "black-and-white" thinking, against a postmodern world that sees life's categories in terms of non-binary, non-dualistic hyperbole, paradox, mystery, pattern-and-flow.
What this means is that yesteryear's doctrines and dogmas must come under a re-evaluation so that the postmodern Christian church might move forward in missional witness that is more open, receptive, and reconciling than ever before. Showing by love and good works the majesty of Christ and not simply the austerity of church politics and polities. To speak to a post-Christian world of the love of God and the power of His Holy Spirit in the action-words of redemption, resurrection, renewal, reclamation, reformation, and rebirth. As any good parent will know, good words vastly outweigh harsh words of duty and honor. So too has the Lord called us by the same in this day and age. To reach out to those different from ourselves in respect and goodwill to share a faith that has the power to heal the sin-sick soul and broken spirit. To bring justice to oppressive lands and households of discord and abuse. To share in the labor of life with others - both in its sufferings and toils, as well as its joys and laughters - as with a fellow souls traversing this world of reclaim and shalom. Amen.
on being a mouthpiece of satan
by Peter Enns
September 15, 2014
Today’s blog is by Carlos Bovell, a frequent contributor here. Bovell is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (2007), By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (2009), an edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (2011), and Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (2012).
A disturbingly common response from inerrantists to those who ask historical-critical questions about the Bible is that they are undermining inerrancy and are thus mouthpieces of Satan. Defenders of inerrancy are following Jesus’s lead, while non-inerrantists, who are perceived as denying the Bible, are doing what the serpent did to Eve in the Garden, which is get her to doubt God’s Word by asking, “Has God really said?”
In my last post, I observed that Bob Yarbrough is representative of inerrantists when he suggests that Jesus had a word-that-proceeds-from-the-mouth-of-God view of scripture (see Matthew 4:4), which according to Yarbrough is approximate to modern day inerrancy.
In this post, I observe that while inerrantist writers of this sort pose themselves as the good guys (doing and believing what Jesus did) they also have no qualms about presenting views that “challenge” God’s Word as being in step with the devil’s motives.
I give two examples. First, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, makes the claim in a 2013 Alumni chapel at Southern Seminary concerning the denial of inerrancy:
There’s always a spiritual element behind it because I think the first recorded attack on the inerrancy of scripture we see is in Genesis chapter 3: “Has God really said?” (41:25)
So, inerrancy is a spiritual issue and to question inerrancy is to follow Satan’s lead.
Second, David Garner, associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theology Seminary, adds some heated polemic for good measure in his introduction to Did God Really Say?
When the serpent asks, “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1b), the manner in which he tempts our first parents exposes his consistent modus operandi. God’s Word serves as Satan’s point of attack . . . With the force of spiritual authority itself, we turn the question, Did God Really Say?, right back on those who continue to misrepresent the gospel with serpentine-compatible methods. (p. xxii)
I have devoted quite a bit of time researching and writing in an effort to help Bible-believing Christians come to see that large swaths of American inerrantist culture is taken in by a rhetoric of fear, the sociological effect of which is to keep people from voicing honest and genuine questions concerning inerrancy (see again my last post).
As soon as students begin to think that they may have good reason to become critical of inerrancy, it is suggested they are ceding to temptation and being seduced by “serpentine-compatible methods,” as Garner puts it.
In these examples, commitment to inerrancy is presented as a spiritual obligation: If a student wants to make sure they aren’t following the devil’s lead (and who would ever say that they want to do that?) then they’d better quit asking such critical questions about the Bible let alone entertaining critical answers to those critical questions. Indeed, so long as there remains some solution to a problem that can save inerrancy, one had better accept it since trust in and obedience to God requires it. [observation: this attitude betrays a philosophical commitment to the dogma of inerrancy and not to the Bible itself - re slater]
This clear-cut, either/or choice–side with Jesus or Satan–poses a troubling dilemma for inerrantist churchgoers and students who begin having genuine questions.
But I am encouraged to see that more evangelical believers are coming to understand that the dilemma posed by some inerrantists is a false one—and in doing so they are actually the ones following Jesus’ lead.
You have heard it said that “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you do not resist an evildoer (Matthew5:38-39)
Wait a minute! Is this not in essence what inerrantists claim that the devil was trying to do in Gen 3 in the Garden? But here in Matt 5, it’s Jesus who’s doing it. Didn’t the devil question the meaning of what the Word of God requires from believers? Well, according to Matthew, this is exactly what Jesus did throughout his preaching.
In fact, questioning what God really said appears to be Christ’s “modus operandi.” The main difference is that Jesus claimed that he was fulfilling scripture.
So (Jesus continues) you heard that God said he wants people to love their neighbor and hate their enemy? I tell you that God wants people to love their enemies. (Matthew 5:43-44) If this is not a challenge to God’s word then I don’t know what is, but Jesus explains that it misses the point to see it as a challenge. To understand what Jesus means to say and do by presenting scripture in the way he does, one must accept what Jesus says (and does) as its fulfillment.
Therefore, if we ask, does Jesus challenge people to doubt the popular way of understanding scripture? Or perhaps more provocatively, are Jesus and the devil then not doing more or less the same thing in challenging scripture? We should answer, at least on one level, absolutely.
But on another level, there’s also a world of difference because Jesus’ challenge purports to fulfill scripture, to achieve its purpose, to bring out its full meaning, to re-direct scripture so that it can be put to the service of God’s will.
How does Jesus set out to do this? By tying scripture directly to his mission, by enlisting it in his revelatory message that he is God’s Son and by consistently drawing upon it to support his ministry to the cross.
To support my proposal (and it’s only that, a proposal), I appeal to Matthew 4:1-11 where Satan tests Jesus in the wilderness.
For my part, I think that the scholars who view Jesus’ baptism and temptation as an “apocalyptic journey” or a “visionary experience” are definitely onto something. The heavens opening, the heavenly voice, and the Spirit (and other spirits) guiding Jesus to places throughout the world leave no question in my mind that Jesus underwent altered states of consciousness (and probably regularly did so and taught some of his disciples how to do it too).
Either way, Jesus’ faithfulness to scripture does not lie in a show of his belief in inerrancy (as Yarbrough and others claim) over against the devil’s questioning of it. Jesus’ faithfulness to scripture rather is shown through the dispute over whether now that Jesus has been revealed as God’s Son, he would have what it takes to obey God by carrying out his ministry to the cross.
It is this kind of faithfulness that must prove “according to the scriptures” because it is what God would have Jesus do.
I suggest that this is the aspect of Jesus’ view of scripture that post-inerrantists are trying to emphasize: that the scriptures are to be read in light of Jesus because he is the Son of God and the main way that Jesus showed this is by faithfully carrying out his mission to the cross and folding scripture into that mission.
So it misses the point to suggest that inerrantists are following Jesus while post-inerrantists follow the devil. We are all trying faithfully to follow Jesus—though we have serious disagreements about how best to do this.
Perhaps one important difference between inerrantists and post-inerrantists is that a post-inerrantist may be comfortable saying something like this:
The fact that Jesus is the Son of God is the fact that dictates that the scriptures must now always be read—if they are going to have significance for Christians—with him in mind.
Whereas an inerrantist might feel more comfortable saying something like this:
It’s the scriptures that dictate whether Jesus was right or not, whether he was the Son of God, and it would be mostly on the basis of their authority that we believe.
But, as I see it, this has it exactly backwards. It is Jesus that gives the scriptures meaning (for Christians) in the first place. To ask, “What is the best way to describe this? Should we call it the “authority” of the Bible?” does not make post-inerrantists the devil’s advocate. It’s a believers’ relation to Jesus that attests to this, not how one decides to approach scripture.