Monday, January 24, 2005

Creed and confession

I had the following discussion with a friend:

What do you think about this McLaren dialog (from "A New Kind of Christian")?

I protested "Neo, I never said that my interpretations were infallible. I'm just saying that the Bible itself is." He responded, "Well, I'm wondering, if you have an infallible text, but all your interpretations of it are admittedly fallible, then you at least have to always be open to being corrected about your interpretations, right?" I was nodding again. Yes. Of course. Neo kept talking: "So the authoritative text is never what I say about the text or even what I understand the text to say but rather what God means the text to say, right? So the real authority does not reside in the text itself, in the ink on paper, which is always open to misinterpretation---sometimes, history tells us, horrific and dangerous misinterpretations. Instead the real authority lies in God, who is there behind the text of beyond it of above it right? In other words, the authority is not in what I say the text says but in what God says the text says.

I don't think McLaren would argue that we should then, never say anything about what scripture says, but rather we should just be careful to not think that we have all of the answers correct. Perhaps there are things in our current theology that will, in 200 years, look like the theology that allowed for slavery 200 years ago (slavery was the "horrific and dangerous misinterpretation" referred to above)?

My friend replied:

Thanks for the opportunity to continue the discussion.

What McLaren is saying has some merit. However, the question arises, "How then can I know anything with certainty, with certainty enough to live my life on"? Is there not a place for the acceptance and deeper yet, belief, in something that the Church has set out to be true, i.e. the Creeds and Confessions? Certainly we must hold our beliefs with humility, but this does not mean that our beliefs can have no authority in anyone else's life. Or am I missing the point?

My final reply:

You're right. The danger in postmodernism is towards relativism where no one has any right to believe anything with "certainty". McLaren would call such a person a "bad postmodern." McLaren agrees that there is a place for confessionalism and creeds. I might summarize McLaren by saying that we need to hold onto Confessions and Creed loosely and with faith. We need to hold on to them and cherish them as the ancient story of our "family"; as our story. We need to hold onto them as the best efforts of countless Godly men and women to understand God and his purposes in our life. We should not hold onto them as a rigid and unchangeable rule by which we can separate those who know God from those who do not. We should not hold onto them like facts that you memorized in Biology class. We should not hold onto them as a substitute for wrestling with hard questions about God. We should not hold onto them as a substitute for God Himself.

I was thinking about reading the Bible the other day, and had the thought that we should disdain the reading of scripture if it's not a place where God is met. On those days where, for whatever reason (I think it might be God training us to seek Him and only Him), we don't experience God in reading scripture we should be disappointed in the waste of time because there is no value in reading scripture if God is not there (I grant that it's not entirely wasted... God may use your invested time later)

I think a key point is that with confession and creed, it's easy to learn and recite a "theological fact" and never think about it again just like you never think about what 2 + 2 is. Doing this closes one door to experience God and never lets Him mature your thinking.

One more thought... I don't think that reason is the only way to experience certainty. Do you love your wife? Are you certain? Did you come to that conclusion by reason? I'm "certain" that I know God, and that he loves me because of how he has moved in my heart. I did not need Confession or Creed to come to that conclusion. Creed and Confession are less important and less infallible than we think.

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