Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Jumping Off From A Pretty Devastating Critique Of Evangelical Theology

It's funny how life works. Last night, as I made sure I traveled no more than 25 mph over unplowed roads to get to work (my 9 mile drive took just under half and hour), I was musing a bit on the differences between what I have come to learn is a certain evangelical/fundamentalist approach to Christian faith, and my own, liberal position. Part of this was sparked by a conversation I had a few days back with ER. I was trying to figure out how to approach the topic, when I came across this over at Street Prophets, which is a brief commentary on this post over at a blog. I shall repost the relevant portions from the original post.
The Evangelical Hermeneutic is what keeps the Contemporary Christian Culture Cancer growing. As insidious as an undiagnosed Leukemia, the Contemporary Christian unwittingly brings this disease to the text.
It is, for one deep inside the conspiracy, impossible to see a passage any other way. The cancer can not be removed—the patient must be—and that only by death.
When approaching a text such a one unconsciously applies the following principles to elicit its meaning.

1. It is about me. Whatever the book, be it Pentateuch, prophets, psalms, gospel or epistle—it is talking about me.

2. It tells me what to do or what not to do. An action is required on my part. My ability to do or not to do what the bible tells me is equal to my goodness or wickedness.

3. It condemns those that are different from me. People who are non-Christian (those who freely admit their lack of faith or worse profess a false faith) or unchristian (people who say they are Christian but demonstrate their lack of salvation by their actions, whether it be thinking premarital sex is not bad or going to an Episcopal church).

4. It implies the opposite. Every pronouncement of grace points to my own condemnation if I fail. Every promise is a threat. Everything that God does, reveals what I must do.

In comments, JHCFleetguy takes the writer of this criticism to task, with the following pretty good summary of an alternative Evangelical hermeneutic:
I have failed, am failing, and will fail. That is a given - to think otherwise is the worst of arrogance and pride. I am not condemned, and will not be condemned, because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross - and that promise of scripture is there for me to accept and pick up if I will just do so.

Let me begin by saying that, while JHC sums up a kind of mainstream evangelical theological position quite well, I am actually more sympathetic to the former view. Especially the narcissism involved, with an emphasis on personal moral perfection, and the threat to eternal salvation posed by any immoral act. Historically, JHC's view is more in line with what could traditionally be called "evangelical theology". On the other hand, the four-point presentation of an "evangelical hermeneutic" is far more in keeping with my own, recent exposure to what I can only call a poisonous approach to the Christian life.

Here were some of my thoughts from last night, keeping my preference for the critique above in mind.

Between the fundamentalist and myself, the crucial difference is quite clear, although only after some careful reflection. For the former, faith is a place at which we arrive. For me (and I can only speak for me, and will only speak for me), faith is the journey itself. For the former, it is a rigid moral code. For me, it is living life the best way I know how at the time, with the full understanding that I will fail, and anyway, it isn't about just me getting a free pass through the pearly gates. For the former, it is about avoiding condemnation. For me, it is about following Jesus and serving the world. The decision about my own future status, whatever that might be (indeed, if it even exists) is not in my hands in the end.

For those whom I have encountered who have reflected the kind of hermeneutic described above, I believe that the journey is one to faith. For me, it is one of faith. For them, it is a realized eschatology, a kind of atomistic new creation embodied in one's own moral code. For me, it is a non-eschatological attempt to live out God's call for me, knowing that there aren't any answers to my hundred million questions, so the only thing to do is to keep on plugging. If I fall, well, that's what grace is about.

What do you think?

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