In my tribe, biblical nearly always refers to a way of reading and interpreting the Bible as the correct way, the Christian way. Ferreting out potential heterodoxy or slippery slopes that lead to heresy rest on the often indeterminate unbiblical, the un-Christian way. He or she who follows such patterns and tactics becomes the arbiter of both what he or she means by biblical and also the one who determines what you mean.
Chris Tilling calls for setting aside the use of biblical unless accompanied by some specificity. In his piece, Tilling references the phrase biblical Christianity. For my tribe this is a redundancy since we have been narrating our story as the denomination that has resisted any leftward drift or slide because the battle for the bible was won in the Conservative Resurgence.
The problem now arises from within our denomination that differing visions of soteriology place this posture at risk since both sides lay claim to biblical. While these two side press their own visions, and specifically so, the rhetoric includes a reference to biblical that problematizes attempts at qualifying meaning. I should note that I believe there is no real binary in the SBC but that there are multiple nuanced positions on soteriology.
Category mistakes are made when the positions on the spectrum are couched in terms of how many points of a reductionistic description of Calvinism as TULIP to which one adheres. Questions of how many points do you hold creates the impression there are no other ontic possibilities.
For example, one question I do not hear discussed in my tribe is what to do with the ontological vision at work in the Council of Nicaea built around the then reigning philosophy of substance, ousia, in light of ongoing scientific alternatives that call into question the foundational elements of creation beyond substance – Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and other possibilities. These are theories of which I would have to go some to even be considered a novice. But, I find the conversations important to the same degree the Copernican Revolution was to Medieval Christianity.
Tilling uses the Open Theism of Clark Pinnock and a comment where a writer suggested that Pinnock had walked away from biblical Christianity. While Tilling does believe Open Theism may be disputed, he hardly believes there is no way the Bible could be invoked to support such a position. He writes,
Thing is, though I am not an “open theist”, a pretty good biblical case can be made for a version of this doctrine – it relies on close exegesis, as many have now shown. I think, for example, of various comments in John Goldingay’s stellar theology of the OT volumes. In other words, I suspect that it is a version of biblicism which can lead to Open Theism.
Open Theism falters, I think, in not thinking theologically enough, in failing to consider its various proposals in terms of other doctrinal themes as these have been hammered out in both the scriptures, and in the reception of these scriptures. In other words, I suspect that in part Open Theism is a child of a myopic biblicist agenda, founded upon a certain (mis)construal of the notion of the perspicuity of scripture.
Assuming you have wondered over and read Tilling’s piece, I wonder, what do you think about his suggestion? Here is his appeal,
Hence, I suggest we take leave of unqualified uses of the phrase “biblical Christianity”. It only plays into the hand of naive and unreconstructed biblicism, which is the bane of so much popular Christian literature, ignoring as it does the role of doctrinal coherence, the development of the canon, trinitarian ontological reflection, and many more matters beside.
What other matters should be considered beside those mentioned?
3 comments on “Qualify Your Biblical or, Chris Tilling Says “No More” to Unspecified Meaning”
It’s interesting to me how these inter-tribal disputes are based on such outdated philosophical and scientific frameworks, something you allude to at the very beginning of this piece, Todd.
Consider the paradox of God’s foreknowledge versus His omnipotence. If the future is already determined (insert Newtonian model of the causality), then God cannot change it and therefore cannot be omnipotent. Eliminate Newtonian mechanics and insert Quantum mechanics, and you have light behaving as particle or a wave depending on how its behaviour is calculated – i.e., do the math. Similarly, the position and velocity of a particle cannot be “known” simultaneously.
Those are the models of the experience with which we currently deal, and no doubt they will be supplemented / superceded by other models in the future. Yet the conceptual models used to discuss God remain profoundly rooted in Greek philosophical concepts (Plato) which are sorely at odds with contemporary thought.
One question that puzzles me, personally, is why contingency and mutability are such dirty words in Evangelical (and other) Christian circles. In real life, the inability to choose or to change would be construed as serious constraints on meaningful existence, and place a huge damper on the ability to sustain relationships. Yet this is the nature of God that so many advocate and defend. Go figure.
I was hoping you might be inclined to response to this piece.
Your illustrations raise the sorts of questions that keep me up at night. Many of us do not find safe places to have such conversations because, after all, they are not biblical or biblical Christianity according to the powers.
Todd – While I’ve not been able to chime in as frequently as I’d like, I continue to follow your posts and the larger conversations quite closely, though sometimes it feels like voyeurism.