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Theology > Jesus > Introductory Considerations > The Dilemma


How should a believer who accepts classical orthodoxy with its explicit presuppositions relate to another individual, who, while claiming to be a believer, has succumbed to a set of presuppositions inconsistent with orthodoxy and when adhered to and applied to the Christian Scriptures lead to the dismantling and ultimate evisceration of orthodoxy? This is the dilemma.

The question is the proper relationship of a believer to one who claims to be a believer and yet has accepted the presuppositions of modernism, perhaps the best word to describe the prevailing academic view in the West.

Since the Enlightenment reason has replaced Revelation, nature has replaced the supernatural, critical investigation has replaced faith, science has supplanted the Scriptures, and, in the broadest possible manner, man has replaced God—this is modernism (two other acceptable words to describe this state of affairs would be “secularism” or “humanism”).

Explanations for reality begin with nature and natural cause and effect, therefore, any reference to a metaphysical perspective is unacceptable and unnecessary. Ultimate Reality is not a consideration when the parameters for investigation are synonymous with the natural order. The modern world view is opposed to the ancient perception which was open to the possibility of gods or God. What does not happen today, so goes the mantra, could not have happened in the past; examples would be the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, miracles, and resurrections, especially of Christ. Anything that cannot be verified by a naturalistic world which utilizes critical and scientific tools is to be abandoned since verification is impossible. What cannot be proven cannot be believed. So God, especially the God of the Bible, is not an option.

Theological reflection had been Theocentric, but slowly the transformation over some two hundred years was to a foundational anthropocentric perspective. Man, in the words of the ancient Greek (Protagoras), became the measure of all things. All things, especially the metaphysical aspects of the Christian faith, came to be critiqued in terms of man and his rational capabilities. In such an endeavor there was and is no place for God and His supernatural intervention into the affairs of man. The creature has excluded the Creator from the discussion.

In this environment Christ is divorced from Christianity; in fact, the continuing success of Christianity is not dependent upon the historical Christ. The religion that goes by His name does not even need Him. The ancient “Jesus” becomes through the evolving creation of the Church the social and ethical “Christ” that is needed in order to enhance our lives and to assist in regulating society. The facts of the Gospel do not matter; it is the concept of the Gospel that is significant. The concept is to guide our lives; the precise history, if there was one, is irrelevant (see: Relationship of Theology and History). In this way man can embrace his modernism and still be religious.

But presuppositions matter, because variant premises lead to variant conclusions.
And it is impossible to synthesize doctrine erected from differing foundations
when the foundation are in stark competition.

The following incident from the Scriptures serves as an example:

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:16-17).

This incident is recorded by Matthew and did or did not take place—it is either true history or is not true history—and a decision regarding the record must be made (see: The Source Material). Assuming that it is history, then the incident reports a confession, a confession that has become the confession of the Church, and the reason for the confession is given—Revelation.  The confession does not arise from personal attainment nor is the confession the conclusion of the reasoning of the Church, but the confession is said to be the result of the visitation of God, the grace of God shown to a man by informing his mind concerning the nature of Jesus. A simple reading leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the incident is meant to be accepted as history, that is, the report is consistent with the literal happening of the incident.

The opposing option is that the confession that is reported is not literal history; it did not really occur. Perhaps some nucleus of the record occurred but the confession itself and the accompanying details never happened. Rather the confession’s true origin is found in the early thinking and reflection of the Church. The confession is the confession of the Church. The confession is the Church’s understanding of the significance of Jesus, and the confession is placed in the recorded setting in the mouth of Peter in order to enhance and to facilitate the spread of the Church’s understanding of Jesus, which understanding deemed Him to be the Christ. This is not deliberately intended to deceive; this is simply what happened, and it is perfectly understandable. By such a record, the Church is preaching what it believes to be true and, at the same time, is defending its message by ascribing a credible setting for it.

But to reject the option of history is to reject the plain implication of the Text. To associate this incident with the creation of the early Church is to associate the text with a concept that is foreign to the Text. Really, it is an outright rejection of the plain meaning of the Text. And by doing so, the very foundation for the Faith—the Sacred Scriptures we call the Bible—is undermined, and the locus of authority is moved from the objective to the subjective, from what God has revealed to man to what man assumes to be true about an ancient book.

Into this troubling and destructive situation the dilemma presses itself on the believer, the believer being one who accepts the historical affirmations of the Church. How should the believer respond to the individual who rejects the obvious meaning of the Text, and the historical affirmations of the Church, and yet still desires to be accepted as a genuine believer by other believers?

First, the obvious needs to be stated: no person knows the true state of another person’s standing before God. So the dilemma does not involve an attempt to discern one’s eternal state. The focus is not on the individual’s eternal state but on the theological position held by the individual, and a decision is being made relative to the individual based on the creedal position that is being espoused by the individual.

Second, it is difficult to understand how an individual can accept Jesus the Christ and yet reject the recorded facts concerning Him. The same Scriptures that ascribed saving significance to Him also ascribe historical facts to Him. How can He be accepted if what is known about Him—virgin birth, worker of miracles, bodily resurrection, and ascension—is denied? All that we know about Him, both the historical details and the saving significance, is known from the Text. And the two are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.

Third, a person who denies the historical essentials of the Faith should be honest in his conduct. If one cannot accept the Faith, one should not redefine the Faith in order to be able to accept the Faith. A person who is troubled by the orthodox expression of the Faith—the historical details—should exhibit intellectual honesty and simply remove himself from the Faith.

The modern consciousness starts out—does it not?—with the absolute causal categories of nature, categories by which the possibility of supernatural entities or of miracles is excluded. And since supernaturalism is a conditio sine qua non for the church, the antithesis must be openly and honestly acknowledged (G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, 12).

To remain in the church is unthinkable for a man of principle, and so there remains only the possibility of a break for anyone who perceived the incompatibility of Modernism with ecclesiastical Christianity (Ibid).

Fourth, the Church must decide which must have priority: the supernatural character and elements within the Faith; or the changing theories of those who are more conditioned by being modern than by the concept of ancient Truth. In other words, which is most important: the historic Faith, or the current and fluctuating opinions of men?

Fifth, if such a perspective—removing theological content that is objectionable to modern man—is validated as a viable option by the Church, then what becomes of the message for the purpose of missions? Is there any real reason for missions? If mission work is even deemed proper, then its scope becomes more ethical and social, certainly not theological. The ultimate point one is driven to is that what one believes is not vital; it is one’s sincerity that is paramount.

Sixth, attempting to secure acceptance of the Faith is not the business of the Church. Effecting belief within the individual life is the work of the Spirit; through His work an individual is embraced by Truth, the written Truth and the living Truth.

We shall never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith unless God touches our hearts; and we shall believe as soon as he does so (Pascal, Pensées).

The charge of the Church is the proclamation of the Truth, the telling of the Gospel. And in connection with the telling is the protecting of the Truth. The Church is not to attempt to make the Truth relevant; the Church is to maintain the authenticity of the Truth.

For instance, a distinction between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus is a false distinction, a distinction, however, that is intended to lessen the so-called objectionable elements in the Faith. With this distinction one can accept Jesus without accepting all of the statements in the Text about Jesus. But such a distinction is without justification, and one that is ultimately damning to the Faith.

Seventh, if there is discussion by orthodox believers with those who hold to this innovative position that is foreign to the historical nature of the Faith, the discussion needs to focus on the inconsistent foundations not on the conflicting doctrines. And while the variant foundations are being discussed, a distinction must be maintained between the faithful believer and the individual whose position is undermining the Faith. But the Christian Faith must never compromise its essential character.

In sum, evangelical theology has nothing to gain but everything to lose should it attempt to baptize the historical-critical method. That method by its very nature generates unwarranted doubt concerning the objective reliability of the biblical records, and doubtful biblical records necessarily mean a doubtful Christology, for all we know of Christ comes from Scripture (J. W. Montgomery, “Why Has God Incarnate Suddenly Become Mythical?” in Perspectives on Evangelical Theology, 65).

Critiques should focus on the suppositions that undergird the conclusions rather than engaging the conclusions; the conclusions are deemed to be flawed because the foundation is unstable. To critique the conclusions rather than the foundation is to attach viability and, therefore, possibility to the conclusions as acceptable options when the fact is the conclusions cannot stand if the suppositions are erroneous.

Eighth, the plain teaching of the Scriptures regarding this matter must be considered and emulated:

And Yahweh said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14);

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15);

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve (Rom. 16:17-18);

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim. 6:3-5);

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).

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