Saturday, October 06, 2012

When We Can't All Agree

Do you sometimes hear people say, "The Bible is clear on ________" and think, Clear to you, maybe; it's not quite clear to me?

Some issues, what I think are "essentials," really are clear: God created the world; Jesus commanded us to love each other; Jesus never sinned; he died for us.

But Christians who take the Bible seriously can disagree on other issues, particularly on certain "hot topics." On such topics, where sincere biblical Christians may in good conscience disagree, I find Greg Boyd's attitude and example tremendously helpful:

I can fully appreciate and understand how someone for exegetical reasons comes to the conclusion that Calvinism is true… I don't agree with that but I really understand how you can get to that position exegetically.
"Greg on the Open View: Video One"
recorded in 2008 at Azusa Pacific University (video link)
That view, of being able to appreciate and understand how someone can study the Bible and come to a different conclusion than I currently do, is a terrific example for me as I consider some "non-essential" issues.

With that background, let me outline four possible positions regarding an issue which is no longer controversial today, though it was at one time. Ready?

  1. The only reasonable position is that it's absolutely OK.
  2. I think the Bible permits it, but I understand others may disagree.
  3. I don't think the Bible allows it, but I understand others may disagree.
  4. The only reasonable position is that it's absolutely forbidden.
Oh, the issue I had in mind was slavery. On that issue I think I find myself at #4, though the viewpoints of 19th-century American Christians—even white American Christians—probably spanned the spectrum. American Christians moved over time away from #1 and toward #4 on slavery.

How about... can women be ordained as elders and pastors? There I think early 20th-century American evangelicals may have been mainly in the #3 and #4 camps, but over time more of us fall into #1 or #2 (though not all of us - click here for example). There we moved overall away from #4 and toward #1, but not all of us. Keller is a #3 on this issue but the PCUSA's position is #1 (link).

There are at least two hot-button non-essential issues in the American church today, which I need not mention here. But on these issues I think #2s and #3s can get along with each other. #1s don't seem to want to tolerate #3s, and #4s don't seem to want to tolerate #2s.

This model, with #1–4, is not original with me, but the originator didn't want to be quoted (I'll update this if they change their mind). I find these categories helpful as I think about these issues, and about others' positions on them.

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