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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009
What if someone in the second century decided that orthodox Christianity had been sufficiently defined. That is, what if the whole church got together and agreed that our understanding of all that is Christianity was complete - that all things were perfectly understood and could no longer be improved upon.

Well for one thing, we probably wouldn't have infant baptism in any church, since we have no record of infant baptism until later on in church history. But before all us credo-baptists rejoice and say, amen, let it come - we would also not believe that the Holy Spirit is God, nor would we believe that God exists in three persons as One God. That is, we would not be trinitarian.

My point is not that Christianity "grew" over time inventing new things as it went. Hardly. Christian theology, when attacked, responded to attacks by articulating more precisely what the scriptures revealed. If the Holy Spirit opens our understanding that we may see the truth of scripture and comprehend it - He doesn't do so universally. Detractors suggest that Christianity is irrational, illogical, and flawed. They say, "Here is a contradiction in your scripture, how can you believe it?" and the church answers that accusation by explaining that this is only a contradiction if one interprets the passage poorly, or worse, reads the passage out of its context. The work of the apologist, in the early church, formed much of the basis for our modern day theology.

It isn't that Christianity changed, it is that Christianity became more precise. What was vague, became, over time, more clear. They didn't see the Trinity clearly at the first, but in time it became more and more obvious that the Holy Spirit was not some impersonal force, but a person, and not merely an angel or principality, but as much God as our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit as God was not a new Christian innovation, nor was the illumination that brought about our understanding brighter or more clear - rather this truth became evident the longer enlightened Christians were exposed to it. To be sure, people weren't all that interested or concerned about whether or not the Holy Spirit was God in the first couple of centuries after Christ. No one was asking those kinds of questions, and so not many gave the matter their full attention, if they gave the matter any attention at all. But when it became an issue, the church stood up, took notice, and answered the question.

Nothing new, not more light - just a more precise understanding.

Now, I asked at the first, what if we had stopped in the second century and imagined ourselves to have full and complete knowledge, to imagine that Christianity had now been fully defined, given that we had a completed bible, and that Christianity had been unloosed in the world. If we had done that, we would have been as arrogant as we were ignorant.

I am convinced that even today our faith, our doctrines, and our understanding - while orthodox and substantial are by no means complete or perfect. It isn't that orthodoxy is wrong, rather it is wrong to imagine that because we have orthodoxy we necessarily have defined forever what orthodoxy is. Just as it would have been arrogant at any other time in Christian history to hold to the idea that we had finally fully defined everything Christian - so too we are arrogant today, and perhaps more so, if we think that orthodoxy is as polished as it can or needs to get.

I cringe when I hear zealous defenders of the faith arbitrarily dismiss doctrine that isn't perfectly "orthodox". I believe, as other sober men do, that orthodoxy is more correct than unorthodoxy - but I don't go so far as to dismiss anything because it doesn't perfectly line up with the present orthodox understanding. Instead I examine a thing and see if it contradicts the truths the orthodox understanding labours to articulate and preserve. If it doesn't, then I don't dismiss it, but I examine it to see if it is compatible - that is, I consider the implications of the thing, I consider whether it leans to this side or that, and only after careful consideration to I amend my own theology by it, or reject it as flawed.

I will give an example that all of us can relate to: The atonement. Do you think the second century Christians were seriously debating which model we should use to understand the atonement? No doubt there was some discussion on the matter, but by and large people understood on some base level, given the whole levitical sacrificial system, how the atonement worked. It was imprecise however. They didn't really grasp the depth of it all - their understanding remained shallow until it was challenged, then it grew more precise. When that new definition was challenged, it was answered with an even more precise definition. But then people stopped asking "what?" and started asking, "why?", and "how does that work?" and suddenly new models came into being to answer these new questions. Some of these models attempted to maintain what was orthodox, but others abandoned what was understood to be orthodox, and "re-thunk" the whole orthodox notion.

Think of that whole new perspective on Paul fiasco that was so big a few years back - that is, some bright star says, Hey, I don't think we ever understood this stuff, so I am going to go back to some previous point, and starting from there I am going to build upon different presumptions and see what I end up with, and if I like it better than what I got, I will stick with that. Things like this are commonly done when we hold some "moral by worldly standards" position that chafes against, orthodoxy, so that we reinterpret scripture until it can be made to harmonize with our worldly presupposition. It happens all the time, and we need to be on guard against those wolves who come in the guise of sheep, who would prefer a pack of wolves to a flock of sheep, and set about devouring whom they may with their worldly theology dressed up as "new" Christian doctrine.

The point is there are two sides of this horse we can fall off on: We can imagine that we have finally arrived, and close the book on orthodoxy imagining that what we have can no longer be improved upon - let's call that falling off the horse on the left side. The other error is to abandon orthodoxy altogether, and reinvent Christianity in the image of our culture and its decaying moral standards. Both are wrong.

I was reading something this morning that sparked this post. In it a respected apologist was giving his opinions about one thing or another, and in doing so criticized another believer because that believer regarded some orthodox point as inadequate, in that holding to it, as is, produced a dilemma that is patently contrary to what scripture teaches. Rather than acknowledge the dilemma, the apologist was inclined to dismiss the source on account of this, and even go so far as to call that believer's faith into question.

God help us - those of us who love to study God's word, and who are teachers, and especially those of us whom others look up to - let us be careful with our words; full of grace. Let us be on guard against bad theology, certainly, even zealously so, but let us be careful not to allow zeal to so blind us that we start to call out the tares as though we had better insight than even the angels of God.

I don't say that we must embrace as a brother those who are obviously deceived in their claims to be a Christian, nor do I say we should embrace every doctrine as being "possibly" true - some are self evidently false. What I am saying is that we should let scripture alone determine whether we give a strange doctrine a hearing. Much of our theology is derived from previous theology rather than from scripture directly. Just as the highest row in a house of cards rests on the rows beneath it, much of our theology is based on precepts we presume to be as true as scripture - as we build our theological house higher and higher, we are doing the very thing that the prophet said was the source of error in Israel - that is, we build precept upon precept, and that is why by Christ's day, they had so corrupted the scriptures, that children could dishonour their parents in the name of righteousness. We must be on guard, I say, especially those of us who teach - not to rest our theology on presumption, but rather on scripture directly - and to be on guard against any theology that cannot be shown from scripture directly, and again to be open to any theology that can - even if in doing so it challenges some orthodox point. I truly believe that some of what we hold as orthodox today can be improved upon - explained more precisely. When in time we see the earth is not the hub around which our solar system orbits, we must adjust our model, not defend it.

Anyway, I gotta get to work.


posted by Daniel @ 6:39 AM  
  • At 1:27 PM, November 24, 2009, Blogger donsands said…

    That was deep. A lot to think about.

    "we need to be on guard against those wolves who come in the guise of sheep, who would prefer a pack of wolves to a flock of sheep, and set about devouring whom they may with their worldly theology dressed up as "new" Christian doctrine."

    I like this statement. Jesus said we will know them by their fruit, or their lack of fruit.

    And yet there are those we think are wolves that are not. And perhaps there are those who are wolves, and we think they are sheep.

    It's a difficult portion of my walk with the Lord this discerning, and so forth.

    I have a friend who is a full preterist. We have had our discussions, and he seems to think this teacher, James Russell was like Luther, and he showed us the truth that Christ did return in fact, and gathered His elect, spiritually, and there is no bodily resurrection. I told my friend he was outside Orthodoxy. Would you say i made a good statement there.

    Also, in my last church one of the pastors was open to Openness, and liked Greg Boyd's teachings.
    In SS class we were discussing the sovereignty of the Lord, and I said, "We need to be aware of a heresy, and fasle teaching within the church: Open Theism. This doctrine says God doesn't know the future."

    Do you think I ws right in doing that Daniel?

    Thanaks for the good post.

  • At 1:59 PM, November 24, 2009, Blogger Daniel said…

    Don - I am not familiar with Mr. Russell, but I would agree that he is outside orthodoxy if he believes that the second resurrection has already come. The first resurrection, one might argue, takes place the moment we surrender our lives tochrist in faith and are thereby born again. That being the premise, the second resurrection happens when we are raised again on that last day. If however Mr. Russell is preaching that this has already happened he is quite outside the veil.

    Open Theism denies what scripture plainly teaches about God. I think you were bang on.

  • At 3:03 PM, November 24, 2009, Blogger donsands said…

    Thanks Daniel.

    Have a joyous Thanksgiving Day with your family, and Christ our God and Friend!

    Psalm 111:1

  • At 10:24 AM, November 25, 2009, Blogger David said…

    Interesting post. You've given me a lot to think about, as usual.

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