On the Sola Panel, Tony Payne of The Briefing considers ‘generous orthodoxy’ and writes,
I for one have a new-found determination to bend over backwards in order to be kind, generous and forbearing with any brother of a more fundamentalist cast of mind. I will not nitpick and be censorious. I will give them many free passes. And where I do have to express disagreement (even over issues that are significant and have serious implications), I will do so in the spirit of gentleness and brotherhood because I am dealing with brothers.
However, I don’t think I should retain the same sort of generosity for those who have given up on the fundamentals and who seek to teach others likewise — people, for example, who no longer believe in the supreme authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, or who deny penal substitutionary atonement or justification by faith alone. The New Testament urges me to fight with people like this, even if they are the kind of people I naturally warm to because of cultural preferences, affiliation, shared history, intelligence, sophistication of mind, personal charm, political views, and so on.
In a way, I find this a strange point. I suspect that the fundamentalists to whom Tony refers actually share something significant in common with him: a clearly defined belief system. They certainly have some differing beliefs but, like him, they probably know their own beliefs.
The thing is that Tony and friends, including me, are the hyper-articulate Christians. We strive to mark out the corners of faith with precision. We explain, analyse and synthesise the lines of faith with conscientious and exacting regularity. And this great gift can be our great weakness — we are particular to a fault. (I’ve just started theological study, so I’m becoming even more concerned with doctrine!)
Yet for most of the world’s Christians, faith in the Christ is a simpler thing. All Christians have the notion that Jesus saves them, but many brothers and sisters have not thought or sought much beyond that. Not everyone is as hyped about doctrine as we are! And that’s completely okay, because true faith in the Christ really can be so simple — faith that even a child can hold. Now, when Tony is determined to fight those who don’t believe in “the supreme authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, or who deny penal substitutionary atonement or justification by faith alone”, has he considered that many Christians just might not have thought about such things? These brothers and sisters are not liberals or apostates; they just don’t think a whole lot about doctrine.
While even the simplest Christian faith might imply doctrine, such a saving faith need not be articulate. What then could be the point of thinking about doctrine? Its importance lies in its ability to build faith. Much of the church lives in peril because, when tested, its faith is not equipped to robustly interact with the stuff thrown at it. So, like Peter writes, an articulate faith is a faith ready to bear up in the world.
Now I reckon one challenge for us supreme articulators, like The Briefing crew, is to ensure we’re not just preaching to the choir of ‘thinking’ Christians but serving the whole of God’s people as best we can. Of course, continuing to articulate the faith for articulate Christians is useful, even when such Christians, like me, may be lacking in joyful simplicity. But let’s remember the whole body, the whole scope of Christian expression and discipleship, and work out how to exercise our gifts for the benefit of all. The elbow’s not much good if it’s just in a perpetual chatter with its arm! How can we winsomely show other brothers and sisters the importance of biblical thinking, doctrinal clarity and mindful cultural engagement? More than that, how can we build broader relationships so that we can broadly model such things?
Of course, let’s not discount questions of doctrine (as if we were actually thinking of doing that, anyway!) but let’s also consider questions of culture. Amongst the spectrum of Christianity, I reckon our best contribution could be cross-fertilisation rather than self-reinforcement, playing our part to build our polychromatic church.
Categories: Written by Arthur
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.