Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)

October 26, 2012

The common grace of God is His acts of love to all men, whether those men be good or evil (Mat 5:43-45). This common grace includes giving mankind men who see more clearly than most what is true, good, and beautiful, even if they are not His children. Indeed, sometimes the children of this generation are more shrewd than the children of light (Lk 16:8).

One such man, who lived 24 years beyond our allotted fourscore, was Jacques Barzun, who died yesterday. Barzun’s magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence, was written when he was 92. For an encyclopaedic account of the collapse of Western culture, this may want to be your first choice. His account of the dissolution of Western society (especially when read alongside Alister McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea), will give any Christian leader a strong sense of the history and consequences of ideas.

It was several years ago that I picked up The Culture We Deserve, and found myself underlining paragraphs, and asterisking whole sections. Barzun is like an updated Matthew Arnold: seeing the importance and virtue of high culture for preserving a consensus of the good and the beautiful. Barzun was not afraid to call it as he saw it: the West has been disintegrating, not progressing, in its cultural life. The Use and Abuse of Art, I’ve been told, is another gem.

His book on writing, Simple and Direct, made me feel as if I had done nothing but write in clichés my whole life. I still think this book is superior to Zinsser’s On Writing Well and, in some respects, Weaver’s Rhetoric and Composition.

Barzun, though he made no profession of faith in Christ, taught me more about thinking clearly, writing well, and loving the good, than many of those I found within the household of God. And I, for one, am thankful to God for His common grace in giving our generation such men.

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Christmas Thought from Tozer

December 23, 2011

“Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!”—Phillips Brooks.
That there were in the world multiplied millions who had never heard of Christmas did not matter to our poet for the purpose of his poem. He was expressing an emotional fact, not a statistical one.
Throughout the Western world we tend to follow the poet and approach Christmas emotionally instead of factually. It is the romance of Christmas that gives it its extraordinary appeal to that relatively small number of persons of the earth’s population who regularly celebrate it.

So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all. A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the Incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. The English mouse that was not even stirring, the German Tannenbaum so fair and lovely and the American red-nosed reindeer that has nothing to recommend it have pretty well taken over in Christmas poetry and song. These along with merry old St. Nicholas have about displaced Christian theology.
We must not forget that the Church is the custodian of a truth so grave and urgent that its importance can not be overemphasized, and so vast and incomprehensible that even an apostle did not try to explain it; rather it burst forth from him as an astonished exclamation:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
This is what the Church is trying to say to mankind but her voice these days is thin and weak and scarcely heard amid the commercialized clangor of “Silent Night.”

It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning; but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import. The same man who will check his tires and consult his road map with utmost care before starting on a journey may travel for a lifetime on the way that knows no return and never once pause to ask whether or not he is headed in the right direction.
The Christmas message, when stripped of its pagan overtones, is relatively simple: God is come to earth in the form of man. Around this one dogma the whole question of meaning revolves. God did come or He did not; He is come or He is not, and the vast accumulation of sentimental notions and romantic practices that go to make up our modern Christmas cannot give evidence on one side or the other.
Certain religious teachers in apostolic times refused to believe that Jesus was actually God come in the flesh. They were willing to exhaust the language of unctuous flattery to describe His glorious manhood, but they would have none of His deity. Their basic philosophy forbade them to believe that there could ever be a union of God and human flesh. Matter, they said, is essentially evil. God who is impeccably holy could never allow Himself contact with evil. Human flesh is matter, therefore God is not come in the flesh.

Certainly it would not be difficult to refute this negative teaching. One would only need to demonstrate the error of the major premise, the essential sinfulness of matter, and the whole thing would collapse. But that would be to match reason against reason and take the mystery of godliness out of the realm of faith and make of it merely another religious philosophy. Then we would have rationalism with a thin Christian veneer. How long before the veneer wore off and we had only rationalism?
While faith contains an element of reason, it is essentially moral rather than intellectual. In the New Testament unbelief is a sin, and this could not be so if belief were no more than a verdict based upon evidence. There is nothing unreasonable about the Christian message, but its appeal is not primarily to reason. At a specific time in a certain place God became flesh, but the transcendence of Christ over the human conscience is not historic; it is intimate, direct and personal.
Christ’s coming to Bethlehem’s manger was in harmony with the primary fact of His secret presence in the world in preincarnate times as the Light that lighteth every man. The sum of the New Testament teaching about this is that Christ’s claims are self-validating and will be rejected only by those who love evil. Whenever Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, a judgment seat is erected and each hearer stands to be judged by his response to the message. His moral responsibility is not to a lesson in religious history but to the divine Person who now confronts him.
“Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.” But Christmas either means more than is popularly supposed or it means nothing. We had better decide.

(“The Meaning of Christmas”, chapter 22, The Warfare of the Spirit)

Towards Conservative Christian Churches -1

April 1, 2011

A few weeks ago, I posted my opinion that the form of Christianity which omits certain distinctives is a truncated and emaciated Christianity. Conservative Christianity, as much as it is accused of adding non-essentials, is simply trying to preserve a healthy, full-orbed Christianity that can weather the era it is in, and be passed on to others.

If the Christianity that is not conservative is truncated, what are the marks of a robust, full-orbed Christianity? With a hat-tip to Dever, and a nod to Bauder, I’d suggest these might be the “8 Marks of a Conservative Christian Church”:

  1. A full understanding of, commitment to, and defence of the gospel.

  2. Understanding, teaching, and defending biblical, systematic and practical Christian theology.

  3. Understanding, practising, and defending biblically-regulated worship.

  4. Understanding, teaching, and encouraging individual piety.

  5. Understanding the Christian life as a life of love, therefore being committed to understanding rightly ordered loves and corresponding affections.

  6. Understanding and teaching the means of furnishing the inner life with those ideas and images that encourage these loves and affections.

  7. Committing to understanding the meaning of the world, so as to rightly parse worship, affections, and the correct application of biblical principles.

  8. Loving the Christian church past and present, therefore rightly viewing and using the Christian tradition. Reconciling  permanence and change.

I use the term “8 Marks of a Conservative Christian Church” not merely to play on Dever’s title, but because I strongly agree with Dever that reform must take place at the local church level. Restoring or reclaiming Christianity from its current abbreviated revivalist incarnation will require pastors steadily pruning what is foreign to Christianity, and including what has been omitted in the last two centuries. Let me be clear, I don’t think this is something which can be ‘fixed’ with a list. I think the kind of reform we need may take more than one generation to achieve. However, we must build with what we have, encouraging what is needed, removing with is unhealthy, and keeping some things alive for future Christians, who may be better prepared to love, honour and use them.

In the coming weeks, I would like to examine each of the eight points, with an eye towards how these things may be encouraged in the local church context. My aim is to encourage members in general and pastors in particular to consider practical methods to recover a more full-orbed Christianity in the context of a local church.

You Say Non-Essentials, I Say Truncated

March 15, 2011

Conservative Christianity is concerned with conserving all it means to be Christian. Broadly speaking, all Christians want to see Christianity conserved; our disagreement consists in what we think must be conserved to achieve that.

Generally, evangelicals and fundamentalists think that the preservation of Christianity consists in the conservation of the gospel itself, along with a strong commitment to biblical doctrine. If I read them right, methods which preserve and propagate the gospel and sound teaching are the means to conserve Christianity. Therefore, a large amount of hope is being placed in expository preaching, church membership, church discipline, biblical discipleship, spiritual leadership, theological literacy, clear evangelism and robust missions. Certainly, the revival of emphasis on these aspects of Christianity is to be applauded and welcomed.

While I agree with the commitment to the gospel and biblical doctrine, I don’t think these alone are enough to conserve and propagate biblical Christianity. I think several other things are essential to Christianity and need to be conserved. I believe Christianity is a life of love; therefore, Christians have to be very concerned with the matter of the affections: what we are to love, to what degree, and in what way. We further have to be concerned with what shapes those loves, what affects and moulds our imaginations. To navigate these issues, we have to be concerned with meaning, discovering what various objects, things, gestures, practices or other cultural artifacts mean, since we end up using them in life or worship. Therefore, I urge the study and understanding of such things, not because I want some complex form of Christianity, but because I think these things are essential to Christianity.

I think that Christianity lacking these distinctives is, in fact, a truncated Christianity. That is, instead of being a sleek, supple, essentials-only Christianity, I see it as ultimately incapable of sustaining the life of faith. I think that the removal of a right understanding of the affections, a neglect of what shapes the imagination, an incorrect understanding of how we know, and a failure to relate the centrality of the affections to the doctrine of sanctification will result in a severely under-developed spiritual life. The resulting Christianity walks into the gale-force winds of modern unbelief with something barely more than a mental and volitional commitment to certain biblical facts. In the face of such a storm, quite literally the majority of those who have grown up with such a minimalist Christianity are blown off into apostasy or a secularized form of religion. A small minority of people barely hang on to their creed by the tips of their fingernails. Sadly, this massive fall-off is considered normal, and is proof-texted with the parable of the soils.

In other words, my commitment to conservative Christianity is not due to cultural imperialism, or an obsession with particular applications of the Bible to behavioral standards. I embrace conservative Christianity because I think it is a full-orbed Christianity, and the only kind that will ultimately survive. I think that it is the kind of Christianity that had always existed in various shapes and forms before its secularization in the 19th century.

So here is the irony and the misunderstanding. As I look at Christianity, I think that the conservative take on it is not baroque and ornate; it is simply what is required to sustain healthy Christianity. I look at those who disagree with me and I see  a reduced, skeletal Christianity that can barely keep its own head above water, let alone seriously defend or propagate the faith in the challenging years ahead. I see the current state of evangelicalism and fundamentalism as emaciated and spiritually anaemic, scarcely holding on to life. Worse, it regards its weak pulse and laboured breathing as evidence of its healthy commitment to ‘core essentials’, and thanks God that it is not as other men are: legalists, cultural snobs, elitists, or even as this tax collector.

On the other hand, those I’m looking at see my take on Christianity as a massive confusion of non-essentials with essentials, of turning applications into doctrines, and of seeing inferences and non-biblical knowledge as authoritative. I’m the guy wearing four woolen jerseys on a summer’s day, unnecessarily laden-down with joy-killing extras. As far as they are concerned, they have streamlined, flexible, gospel-centred Christianity, free from cultural imperialism and fundamentalist taboos, brimming with nothing but Scripture and Scripture alone.  Conversely, I think this Christianity is not supple, slick and Scripture-centred; I think it is abbreviated, inconsistent and intentionally agnostic where it needn’t be.

I know God can do anything, and that God’s ultimate purposes will prevail. I know that God continues to use all kinds of means and imperfect men and methods. However, a steward does not have the right to be careless and sloppy because his Master is sovereign. I urge the ideas of conservative Christianity because I love Christ and His church, and want to see Him honoured and His church conserved and propagated.

In the Dark Age we’re in, we can’t afford to defend anything but the essentials. I’m convinced that’s what I and others who share these convictions are doing.

Will the Real Legalist Please Stand Up? – 4 Judging Culture

November 19, 2010

Christians often imbibe facile and unhelpful definitions of legalism. One of these is the idea that legalism is the act of judging the meaning cultural phenomena, or to put it another way, the act of judging the meaning of things in our world.

Christians live in the world, and therefore Christianity is to be lived out in the world. Christians live in a world that is full of meaning, because it was created by an intelligent Creator who invested it with His intended meanings, and because it has been fashioned and shaped by intelligent creatures who have fleshed out their understanding of its meaning.

Meaning is everywhere. Wedding ceremonies have meaning. Eating at a dinner table instead of eating a TV dinner in front of the box has meaning. Meaning exists in churches with high arches, as it does in churches with flat ceilings lit with fluorescent-lights. The colors worn to funerals have meaning. The music played at Arlington National Cemetery has meaning. A mini-skirt has meaning, as do ties, earrings, sunglasses, tatoos, and lip-stick. Having a cell-phone has meaning, as do the paintings on your wall. Your choice of words has meaning, as does sculpture and painting. Economics has meaning, as does your choice of car.  Everywhere they turn, human beings give the raw materials of creation meaning, or discover that they already possess meaning. We are intelligent beings created in the image of an intelligent God, and it is in our nature to shape or interpret the meaning of  our environment, whether or not we are always conscious of those meanings.

Sometimes these meanings exist purely because they have come through use. In South Africa, there is a mini-language used by commuters who catch mini-bus taxis. It consists of holding up a certain number of fingers held in a certain direction that indicates your desired destination. Taxi-drivers and taxi-riders know the meaning of this ‘language’, a system of meaning that arose purely through use.

Sometimes these meanings exist through association. The ‘rainbow-flag’ is now associated with homosexuality. The living-dead look is associated with Gothic music. Whether the meaning created the association, or whether the association created the meaning is debated. What is clear is the practical result: the shoe fits, and the current meaning-by-association exists.

Sometimes these meanings exist because there is something intrinsic in the thing which dictates what it can or cannot (or ought not) signify. Darkness comes with some meanings inherently opposite to those of light. Loud sounds inherently communicate differently to soft sounds.

Whether people correctly perceive these meanings does not make them non-existent. If I am in an elevator and three Bulgarian men are mocking my clothing in Bulgarian, my blissful non-comprehension does not mean their conversation lacked meaning. Perception of meaning does not affect its existence. It is post-modernity to suggest that meaning is in the mind of the interpreter alone.

In a world full of meaning, it is up to the church to understand the meanings of things around them. Scriptural principles must be applied to life in the world. The only way this can be done is if the truth of life in the world is connected to the truth of Scripture. In other words, we need to know both the meaning of Scriptureand the meaning of the world. If we know only the meaning of Scripture, we lock it within its own covers. If we know only the meaning of the world, we may know the problems well, but we’ll lack solutions. We must know both Scripture and the world around us.

Is a mini-skirt a violation of 1 Timothy 2:9? Does Proverbs 18:24 affect the use of Facebook? Does James 1:19 speak to blogging? Does a church that builds an ugly building disobey Philippians 1:9-10? Do Christians who use shoddy music in worship fail to practice Philippians 4:8? Does Romans 12:2 speak to how we use the mall? Does wearing beach-ware to church violate Hebrews 12:28? These questions can only be answered if we examine the meanings of mini-skirts, Facebook, blogging, architecture, music, the mall, beach-ware,  and so forth.

It has become a kind of reflex action to accuse Christians who examine the meaning of modern cultural phenomena of legalism. This is particularly true of matters like music, entertainment, technology, ministry methods, dress and the like.  However, Christians and particularly Christian pastors who cannot discern the meaning and implications of the environment in which they live will fail to bring Scripture to life, in both senses of the term. Pastors must lead the way in scrutinising life. The excuse that “we didn’t know it meant that” will not exonerate us at the Bema seat.

It is easy to lampoon the fundamentalist pastors who forbade wire-rimmed glasses, beards, and bell-bottoms in their time. One forgets that, in some cases,  such men were trying to deal with the meanings of those things at that time, in that culture. When meaning is purely associative or conventional, it may change with time, meaning it is no longer hostile to the Christian message at a later time. This makes men of earlier times seem alarmist, just as faithful pastors who warn their congregants against current threats to healthy Christianity may seem so to future generations.

In an increasingly complex world, Christian living (and shepherding Christians to live like Christians) is an increasingly complex task. The amount of devices, technologies, media, and social sub-cultures seems to grow exponentially every few years. These are not without meaning. Conservative Christians argue that timeless Scripture has something to say to them; therefore, conservative Christians regard it is an obligation to learn what these things mean. If we love Scripture and love obedience, we should love to learn how to apply Scripture in our world.

Regardless of whether meaning is conventional, associative or intrinsic, it is there. For Scripture to be faithfully applied, we need to know the meaning of Scripture, and the meaning of the world around us. This is not legalism; this is wisdom.

Will the Real Legalist Please Stand Up ? – 1

October 29, 2010

Conservative Christians are not strangers to the charge of legalism. Begin tinkering with the sacred cows of worship music and Christian culture, and you will attract the title legalist like running past a hive with honey on your head attracts a swarm. As a pastor, one of the most painful things that can be said of you is that you or your church is legalistic. After all, Christian pastors are ministers of the gospel of grace. To be a Christian pastor and be called a legalist is really like being called a traitor. Instead of ministering grace, you are said to be bringing people into bondage.

Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon to hear people throw this charge around, particularly toward those who hold conservative principles. I sometimes half-wonder if any pastor who simply expounds the Scriptures has not been called a legalist by someone, somewhere. Nevertheless, there is a real perception that Christians who seek to conserve the best expressions of biblical Christianity are probably legalists. At least two factors make it likely that Joe Christian will associate conservative Christianity with his current perception of legalism.

First, authentic Christianity calls man to submit to God in every area of his life. Our era is one that is deeply suspicious of authority, and hates dogmatism. If a church begins applying Scripture to real-life situations, resisting certain cultural trends, and calling for obedience to the Scriptures, it is not unlikely that people used to autonomy and independence will feel constricted and begin to struggle. Many call this sense of constriction legalism. For such people, a church is “grace-filled” as long as it keeps its messages broad and generalised, as long as it does not try to bridge the cultural and time gap from Scripture to today’s living, as long as it accommodates current popular culture, as long as it does not mention the duties and obligations of a Christian too much, and as long as the leaders of a church do not act as if they have any real spiritual authority. We should expect that conservative Christianity is going to collide head-on with this kind of thinking, and we should not be surprised when the occupants of the crashed car get out and start blurting out, “legalism!”

Second, on the other side of the coin, we know that real legalism has often found a favorable host in churches ostensibly regarded as conservative. I would argue that such churches are conservative in name only; however, the generalization has some truth to it. Pastors are sinners too, and not every pastor or Christian leader properly understands or always properly communicates what it is to be under grace. Horror stories of spiritual abuse are a dime-a-dozen. Some churches in the evangelical and fundamentalist tradition have been guilty of binding the consciences of God’s people to matters without Scriptural warrant. They have been guilty of creating the perception in God’s people that certain acts, or a certain level of conformity would commend them to God or grant them meritorious status before Him. They have been guilty of ruling God’s people with force and cruelty. While self-identified progressive churches can be just as guilty of legalism, it is often those churches that are nominally conservative that are guilty of these things.

In other words, while many are confused as to what legalism is, real legalism is a serious problem. Legalism is an attack on the gospel and on biblical sanctification, and every Christian should be very aware of what it is, and how to avoid it.

But that’s just the problem: little consensus exists on what legalism really is. Legalism has become a kind of pliable word that is used by disgruntled Christians to express distaste or disapproval of a church or ministry, or by theological opponents who wish to tar their enemies. All too often, it becomes a kind of smear-word to dismiss the arguments of conservatism before they have even been heard. The word seems to have been vacuumed of clear meaning, and is now used in all sorts of ways. And if a word can mean anything, then a word actually means nothing.

Conservative Christians believe they are conserving authentic Christianity. Since all would agree that authentic Christianity is not legalistic in nature, conservative Christians ought not to be guilty of legalism. We may be falsely labelled as such; we should never be so in practice. If we are to avoid true legalism, we must strip away false connotations of the term. Once we have done that, we can see what Scripture insists we do and do not do as true ministers of grace.

Why We Christians Should Mimic Popular Trends

March 24, 2010

* Because popular trends are such permanent things.

* Because that way, we will never be irrelevant (not even in 50 years).

* Because popular trends are so truthful in their communication.

For example, see below.

A Tale of Two Sons

February 1, 2010

A great king had two sons, who were come to the age where one should be named as the crown prince. The custom of that country was that the king would choose his heir directly, without weight given to birth-order. He was hard-pressed at the choice, for they both loved him and had noble and kingly traits. He decided to test them. Whichever son pleased him most in the test would become the crown prince.

He summoned his two sons to his throne room.

“My sons, you are both fine sons, more pleasing to me than all the wealth and splendour of my kingdom. I am torn at the thought of choosing but one of you to rule in my stead, but the tradition of our country knows nothing of two kings ruling on the throne, nor should it. One of you must rule; indeed, one of you must rule over the other.”

 His sons stirred, but did not glance at one another.

“I have chosen to put your kingliness to the test. I will judge the winner according to my own counsel, and there shall be no debate entertained. As I could crown one of you this moment without objection from the other, so I may judge the winner of my contest by my own wisdom.”

His sons nodded, their gazes still down, as was the law in that land for one in the presence of the king.

“The test is this: you will gather as much fame for my name in one year as you can. At the end of the year, your efforts will appear before me, and I will judge one of you to be king after me.”

The princes departed, wished each other luck, and immediately sought counsel from the wise men of the land.

The younger prince consulted with the old men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved greatly. Bring him some people who love him deeply and truly, however many or few, and you will be judged the wiser son.”

The older prince consulted with the young men. “Your father is looking to have his name loved widely, for he is a great king, and greatly to be praised. Bring him throngs of people, by whatever means, and you will truly have brought him the fame he seeks.”

The younger prince travelled amongst the people, staying in one town for weeks at a time. There he taught the people patiently, every day explaining the glory of his father’s wars, his mercy with his enemies, his justice in ruling, and his kindness as a father. Some were taken by the descriptions of his father. Many were indifferent, and the young prince’s heart often grew discouraged. Often he felt like he was trying to kindle a fire in green wood. What would he have to show for his work? A handful of obscure people who loved the king dearly? He at times questioned the counsel he had been given. Nevertheless, he persevered.

The older prince travelled amongst the people, setting up fairs and stage-plays, tournaments and circuses, contests and puppet-shows in the name of his father. He knew how much people loved these things, and knew that they would be drawn to them. Once they found out that such were provided by the king, they would love him as well.

He was not disappointed. Crowds gathered wherever he went. People thronged his demonstrations, and enthusiastically took his invitations to appear at the castle on the day of the king’s judgement. Occasionally, he would question the sincerity of those who followed his train and eagerly awaited the next amusement. However, he dismissed such doubts, certain that it was better to present a large crowd of king-lovers than a thin one, even if a few were there for the wrong reasons.

On the day of judgement, the older prince filled the castle’s courtyard with hundreds of cheering people, with many others outside the walls. When the king appeared from the royal balcony, the crowd exploded in praise, and the younger prince sensed he had lost the contest.

The king proceeded to give an oration, climaxing with the promise that his subjects could forthwith have direct audiences with him in the throne-room upon request. The crowd seemed unimpressed. No applause was offered, and a silence settled over the courtyard. Here and there a shout echoed, calling for more jousting tournaments, cock-fighting and banquets. The shouts turned into disgruntled jeering. The crowd was now angry and hostile. The king ordered his soldiers to dismiss the crowd from his castle.

The king retired to his throne-room and sat down. The younger prince came in, bringing with him a strange group of unimpressive peasants: a little child, a blind beggar, a woman of the night, a leper, a cleric, a widow, an orphan and a soldier. They had been weeping during the king’s oration, and now prostrated themselves before him, along with the younger prince. The king rose, called for a meal to be set out for this group, and lifted up each one by his own hand. He led them to the banqueting table and served each one himself.

Which son had brought more love of his father? Which son had been more ‘successful’?

Which of the two did the will of his father? (Matthew 21:31)

Thinking About Adiaphora – 3

December 10, 2009

To find grounds to apply Scripture requires that one has more than Scripture in hand. It ought to be obvious to us that God did not aim to write an exhaustive manual detailing His will on every possible event. The Bible would then fill several libraries, and be an ongoing work.

It ought to be equally obvious to us that God does want us to glorify Him in every detail of our lives (Col 3:17, 1 Cor 10:31). He has a perfect will, and He wants us to know it (Rom 12:2, Eph 5:16). Therefore, it ought to be plain to us that what God has supplied in the Scripture must be applied to life using information not contained in the Scripture.

Why are Christians so intimidated at the thought of getting grounds to apply a Scripture from outside the Scriptures? Probably because we have, as Dr. Bauder put it, confused sola Scriptura with nuda Scriptura. Sola Scriptura teaches that Scripture alone is the final authority for life and godliness. There is no higher bar or court of appeal than the Bible. There we find God’s will revealed. No information outside of the Scripture is to be considered as authoritative as Scripture itself.

However, nuda Scriptura is the idea that Scripture can come to us unclothed, apart from the understanding imparted from the believing community of faith and the Christian past, and apart from any other accompanying information from beyond the Scripture, even if it be true and given by experts or authorities in their fields. Scripture’s authority becomes limited to the naked black-and-white text, and nothing more than its own explicit applications will be admitted. In supposedly wanting nothing more than the unadorned statements of Scripture to guide his life, such a person ironically destroys the authority of Scripture to speak on life in general. Scripture’s protectors become its captors, not merely keeping competitors out, but keeping its own authority locked within the prison of its own two covers.

Most nuda Scriptura practitioners are unaware of how inconsistent they are with this attitude. They oppose abortion, but the Bible nowhere says that the killing of an unborn child is an instance of murder. They oppose taking God’s name in vain, but they cannot point to a single Scripture which gives an explicit application of that command. They regard recreational drug use as sinful, but cannot find a verse which links drug use to principles forbidding addiction or harm to the body.

And yet they oppose these things. That’s because they have been unwittingly violating their nuda Scriptura ethos, and supplying outside information to make a valid application. They have found out from doctors that life begins at conception; they have reasoned that using the actual name of God in an everyday slang fashion is to treat it in an unworthy manner; they have found out information on the addictiveness and physical effects of the drug in question. In other words, Scripture did not supply the link to the application. They did, through the use of reason and outside information.

We do this all the time, and God expects us to do so.

I think the disingenuous attitude of “the Bible doesn’t say that” really begins once a cherished idol is under fire. The person lives by sola Scriptura in every other area of his life. However, should one of his loves be challenged – his music, his entertainments, his dress to worship, his use of disposable income, his reading matter – suddenly he reverts to nuda Scriptura. Now he wants the Bible to speak explicitly to the matter under question, or his supposed devotion to chapter and verse will throw it out. This is a lying heart.

However, if we are of the truth, we must understand the need to get good and reliable sources of information outside the Scriptures, combine them with sound reason, in order to make right applications of Scriptural principles.

Thinking About Adiaphora – 2

December 2, 2009

No discernment is required for obeying explicit commands and prohibitions. However, more skill is needed to correctly interpret and apply Scriptural principles.

A Scriptural principle is one that states a timeless truth. Its axiomatic nature means it is generally true. However, its general nature is just the problem for those seeking to implement the Word of God in specific, practical ways. Generalised, timeless, and axiomatic principles do not translate well into specific, concrete applications, except through some applied thinking.

For example, Paul’s desire that believers be able to approve the things that are excellent suggests (at least implicitly) that God desires believers to approve excellence and disapprove of the opposite. How does that general principle find its way into my everyday life? Does it have applications in the realm of aesthetics? Of music? Art?

For a general principle to find a specific application, we need some kind of ‘bridge’. We need a justification – a warrant – to connect a principle of Scripture to something never mentioned in Scripture, but which nevertheless occurs in our lives.

To get from what is stated in a non-specific way to a valid and conscience-binding application of it, something needs to be supplied which Scripture does not supply. Scripture gives you the principle, but it does not (frequently) give you an application of it. It is this lack that causes many of the legalists mentioned in the previous post to dismiss the force of principles. In other words, such legalists want the principle, the bridge that connects it to the specific situation, as well as the application in concrete terms. And to this kind of thinking, it must be asked, Why would God bother with principles at all, if such are needed to make principles morally binding? If a biblical principle alone is an inert piece of information, relevant for no one in particular, and unable to be applied to anyone (since such application requires a non-Scriptural bridge), what possible reason could God have had for giving it?

In truth, many such legalists are being disingenuous, using their supposed devotion to explicit Scripture as a means of excising from a Christian’s obligations just about every Scriptural principle or matter considered to be adiaphora.

However, it is quite clear that God expects man to supply such a bridge between the principle and its application. Jesus clearly expected the Pharisees to have correctly applied the principle that God loves mercy to several specific situations.

It is up to the devout Christian then, to find clear grounds for connecting a principle to a specific circumstance. Further, the Christian should have a clear understanding of how to find such grounds for applying principles to the numerous and variegated circumstances he will face.

First, he must recognise that the grounds for applying Scripture will emerge from outside Scripture. The extra piece of information that is needed to make a valid application must of necessity be extra-biblical, otherwise the principle would not be a principle but a clear precept. It is no violation of sola Scriptura to look for information outside of the Bible to enable us to apply the Bible.

Second, he must have good grounds for his selection of sources. Not all information is equally valid or useful. A Christian must be able to sort through ‘secular’ sources of information.

Third, he must evaluate such information using right thinking. We’ll examine these three in turn.