How do we read the Bible?
Why don’t Christians always speak with the same voice?
Let me tell you about one of the saddest things I’ve witnessed in my Christian life. It was a Sunday morning TV studio discussion on BBC1 and the subject was the very emotive Creation vs. Evolution debate. As is usual with such discussions, the audience were generally more insightful and Biblically astute than the invited “experts”, but one exchange lives long in my memory. A very prominent Anglican had just been confronted at length by a creationist, who was asking him why he seemed to over-sympathise with the position of the non-Christian evolutionists. The Anglican then turned to his chief protagonist in the debate, a hardened atheist scientist, and said something like this; I feel a greater kindred spirit with you than the creationist over there.
Let’s take a step back and analyse that statement. This Anglican publicly stated to millions of viewers that he felt a greater connection to a man who aggressively denied the existence of God than to a man to whom he was connected as a fellow member of the mystical Body of Christ and indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. And what was the basis of this statement? A point of doctrine.
This may seem trivial, perhaps because it is so commonplace these days and at least we are not screaming “heresy” at each other and brandishing weapons, as Christians used to do to drive the point home (sometimes literally!). Yet this seems to be a new development, where we are seen to showcase what divides us rather than what unites us and where issues take priority over absolute truth. In other words, in order to stay relevant to the World in which we live, Christians are entering into the great debates of the day, not as a single unified voice, but boasting a plethora of views and opinions, little different to the broad spectrum of commentary that we see in our daily newspapers and on our TV screens. Current examples of this are the debates over homosexuality, women in leadership and the Israel/Palestine conflict.
We have no problem understanding the variety of opinions over such issues, because our World is no longer as black and white as it used to be, with a deluge of views informed by religion, philosophy, politics, gender, race, culture and whatever newsfeed/blog you subscribe to. Truth is no longer seen as carved on stone tablets, but rather as etched on soft clay, to be stretched and pulled about to fit any mould. This is a given in our age of relativism and feeds the political correctness and tolerance of our Western society, for which certainties are seen as dangerous and fundamentalist and the source of most of the key global conflicts of our day.
But we Christians, we members of the Body of Christ, shouldn’t we be defending absolute truth, shouldn’t we speak with the same voice? After all, don’twe all have the same Holy Spirit living in us? Is he speaking to us all differently? Something is not right here.
I’ve just watched another TV debate, interestingly a revisit of the same subject as above, the Creation vs. Evolution thing. This time the audience was divided into two, facing each other, with the presenter striding between each. Christians were on both sides, but those who sat among the atheist scientists were passionately defending the science but extremely flaky when quizzed on their faith. In other words, if pressed, they would probably declare themselves as scientists who happen to be Christians, rather than Christians who worked as scientists. Their identity was defined by their professional career, rather than their faith.
Many centuries ago, there was a philosopher called Justin, a follower of the Greek thinker, Plato, and he was a proud wearer of the philosopher’s cloak, as a badge of his office. As a result of a meeting with a stranger on a beach, Justin converted to Christianity. But he continued to wear his philosopher’s cloak for the rest of his life, an act that proclaimed that he may now be a Christian, but he was still a philosopher. This man is better known as Justin Martyr, one of the Church fathers and a very influential one in terms of the transition of Christianity from its exclusive Jewish origins to an inclusive faith for all. But … and this is a big but … he was still a philosopher, a Christian philosopher.
So what? How is that a problem? Well, a philosopher is, by definition, a “lover of wisdom” and a Christian is “a follower of the Christ”. If we dig deeper we have to admit that the goal of a philosopher is to live his life according to wisdom, wherever it may be found. The goal of a Christian is focussed on a person, Jesus Christ and is achieved through the exercise of faith. So a Christian uses faith to achieve his goal, whereas a philosopher uses his reasoning abilities to achieve the same.
More next week …
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