Qualify Your Biblical or, Chris Tilling Says “No More” to Unspecified Meaning

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?

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.