Previously I blogged about the summer school I attended in July (see here and here). This is a wrap-up entry with a few questions that keep nagging at me even after the event. These questions relate to the participants, the church as a whole (in North America) and one significant theological issue.
The folks in attendance were great people with sincere hearts and minds, but I’m left wondering “what next” for them? Equally, I ask that question about myself too. I ask it on two levels.
First, our calibre is nowhere close to that of the presenters. It is amazing being in the presence of (in some cases) sheer genius. The presenters were often educated to a PhD level and their knowledge of the material is inspiring. But we’re not there, and a one-week course – most of which was spent drinking out of the proverbial fire hose – will barely scratch the surface. Then we hit the real world. Then we have answers to bring to those who are asking, but will we remember them? And if we remember them, how do we handle the follow-up questions? As profoundly valuable as a single week of intense training is, I sincerely hope all those in attendance do two things.
- Continue studying. We were pointed toward a plethora of books, DVDs, websites and more; I hope the majority of those in attendance take in upon themselves to immerse their minds in those resources.
- Actually engage in discussion. This is the only way to know what questions people are going to ask, and to learn how best to engage those questions.
Second, the cultural climate of the churches we will return to may or may not be conducive to taking intellectual matters of faith seriously. I fear for those who have suddenly had their eyes opened to the wonder of how deep and fulfilling a whole-life (including our human intellect) Faith can be, then having to return to churches and small groups that in some cases don’t understand why that would be important and in other cases explicitly shun such a Faith. In other words, there are plenty of Christians out there who misread Mark 12:30 as saying,
… And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mindand with all your strength.
This misreading does nobody any good, and merely empties the Church of some of her intended strength, especially as the intellectuals in our culture realize there is no home for them within the walls of such a church. And for those who have tasted of the glorious depths of Christian intellectual knowledge and wisdom that exist, to have to go back to such a church can be a case of culture shock, frankly. I fear the possible consequences.
Speaking of the Church, there is another nagging question that haunts me about it. I had a chance to discuss this concern with somebody on the RZIM staff and he agreed it was an issue and shared RZIM’s take on it.
RZIM does some excellent outreach work, and I admire their drive to help believers think and thinkers believe as their slogan says. I pray for their success in their efforts, but the reality facing the Church in North America today is that for every new believer coming in the front door of the Church there are plenty more ex-believers leaving out the back door. Evangelism is wonderful, but perhaps the bigger issue at this point in the Church’s history is discipleship.
Is the Church prepared to disciple? Is the Church prepared to create an atmosphere within which growth, maturity, depth, sanctification are the norm and expectation? I’m skeptical. Rather, I see the current trends continuing for some time. As wonderful as RZIM’s ministry is, and as necessary as their summer school is, we need to change the culture of what it means to be Christian, and what Church understands its mission to be.
But enough of that. On to the content itself. Prior to attending the conference I had already been wrestling with the doctrine of Inerrancy. Something Dr. Craig Evans said really shed a different light on the subject. He discussed, at length, what the process of writing the Gospels would have looked like for the authors. He chastised the theory that the New Testament authors would have felt compelled to write the exact words of Jesus verbatim. In fact, he suggests, the norms at the time would have found that bizarre and contrary to the essence of what it meant to be a disciple. As he said, it would have been expected that the disciples would have taken Jesus’ message and reworded it for their audience, sometimes cutting parts out and other times probably adding some clarifications in. This is described in some detail at this link.
The implications of this for the Inerrancy discussion seem obvious. If the Gospel writers felt free (in fact, felt required!) to paraphrase Jesus in order to make sure his message is clearly understood by their audience, on what grounds can we start nit-picking this word and that word? In fact, if the definition of “error” is “a deviation from accuracy or correctness” and if we in the 21st century define accuracy and correctness as word-for-word reproduction of the material, then it would seem the Gospels are, by definition, “errant.” The words that the Gospel writers report that Jesus said are not the same as the actual words that Jesus uttered – they “deviate” from the precise words that left his mouth – therefore it seems difficult to maintain Inerrancy (according to this understanding).
This also raises some interesting questions for interpretation and translation. If the New Testament writers felt free to paraphrase as required, should we get caught up in how the Bible uses this particular word or that particular word in this or that passage? What is the best Hermeneutical approach, given this knowledge of how the Bible (at least the Gospels) was compiled? The implications of this reality on Inerrancy, at least, is alluded to in this podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. It seems there are many questions that deserve consideration in light of this reality.
I’m sure there were other content questions that emerged in my mind from my time there, but I’ve taken too long to put together these blog posts so I’ve forgotten them by now. My bad.
All in all, an excellent time was had, much was learned, and further thought seems inevitable. I’m delighted I went and I would encourage all Christians to take these matters seriously, including attending training sessions like this.
And the availability of all the lectures on MP3 is a real perk!