Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Discussion on Statements of Faith and Post-Modernism

I had a very encouraging e-mail discussion in response to my recent post on statements of Faith by Greg Strand, the Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing at the EFCA Home Office, and also Chair the Spiritual Heritage Committee.. The evangelical Free Church is already dealing seriously with the post-modernism issue. Here is the discussion, with minor editing out of small talk:

Here is the first e-mail:

Donald,

Greetings in the Lord!

I appreciate what you have written in your Monday, August 07, 2006
blog, "Post-modernism and Statements of Faith." Here is the statement
in particular: "I have not in any way been involved in the Evangelical
Free Church's recent enterprise of evaluating and revising its
Statement of Faith. But I am curious whether they have considered
Adding any clauses that would deal with the problem of post-modernism.
Perhaps a statement of faith that forecloses post-modernism would need to
acknowledge what people reject as well as what they say they believe?"

We on the Spiritual Heritage Committee are very much aware of the
effects of postmodernism on epistemology and the notion of
propositional truth. In the First Draft Revision we included this statement in the
article on the Bible, #2:

"2. God's gospel is authoritatively announced in the Scriptures*
We believe that God has spoken through the Scriptures, both the
Old and New Testaments. They are the verbally inspired Word of God,
without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His
will for salvation, sufficient for all that God requires us to believe
and do, and the ultimate authority which stands over every realm of
human knowledge. We confess that we cannot know God's truth
exhaustively, but we affirm that we can know it truly. Therefore, the
Bible is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it
teaches; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; and trusted, as
God's pledge, in all that it promises."

What I have italicized gets at the heart of postmodernism. There is a
meta-narrative, that is the Bible is the ultimate authority, the
meta-narrative, which stands over every other realm of human
knowledge, the narrative. Moreover, we also address the correctives
postmodernism brought to modernism without completely capitulating to it as well.
This is how we explained this in the commentary:

the ultimate authority which governs every realm of human
knowledge.*
This strengthens our statement on Scripture by affirming that no area
of human activity, including any area of study, lies outside the
authority of the divine Word of God. The Bible speaks with divine
authority in every area in which it speaks. With this statement and
the previous one we have unpacked and clarified the words in our current
statement: "the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and
life."

We confess that we cannot know God's truth exhaustively, but we affirm
that we can know it truly.*

Perhaps the most debated philosophical issue of our day is
epistemology*

how do we know what we know? Postmodernism has issued a
strong rebuke to the hubris of modernism in this area, shattering the
false assumption that there can be a neutral point from which to
observe the world, thereby causing the modernist epistemological foundation
based on rationalism and empiricism to crumble. Many postmodernists
then claim that since there is no absolute and certain knowledge based on
the foundation of reason or empirical sense perception, there can be no
real knowledge of truth at all. This we deny.

This statement is a recognition that we have heard the postmodern
critique and that we do not stand on modernist assumptions. We seek to
avoid both the epistemological hubris of modernism, claiming that
everything is knowable, and the epistemological despair of
postmodernism, claiming that the search for knowledge is fruitless. We
believe that for the gospel to be good news it must be intelligible.
Reliable knowledge of truth, though not exhaustive, is still possible
and attainable through God's revelation of Him-self. Hence, we say
that we can know God's truth "truly."

When we confess that we can know God's truth in Scripture truly, we
are also affirming the doctrine of the perspicuity or clarity of
Scripture, i.e., the Scripture is able to be understood. This was one of the keys
of the Reformers, for the Book was to be in the hands of ordinary
people, of all people, to be read and obeyed; it was not reserved only
for the elite to read and interpret. With roots in the Reformation, we
recognize this is still a vi-tally important doctrine of our understanding of Scripture.

In our Second Draft, based on a number of comments we received, many
did not understand what was meant by the statement above in the First
Draft. We attempted to resolved that here:

2. God's gospel is authoritatively announced in the Scriptures*
We believe that God has spoken through the Scriptures, both the
Old and New Testaments. They are the verbally inspired Word of God,
without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His
will for salvation, and the ultimate authority that stands over every
realm of human knowledge and endeavor. Therefore, the Bible is to be
believed in all that it affirms, obeyed in all that it requires, and
trusted in all that it promises.

In our explanation of the deletion we stated, "Though we believe this
statement has something important to contribute which has been
appreciated by a number of comments, it has occasioned many questions
and is not well understood. For the sake of simplifying the statement,
we suggest deleting it."

Since we have heard many comments about including it. Either way, we
are very much aware of the importance of responding to postmodernism,
and a number of other things. If an explicit statement does not make
it into the actual SOF, we will include a section on postmodernism in the
written commentary addressing the article on God's Word. You will
also be interested to know that in the commentary we will address 1) what
we believe, i.e. what is being stated in the article, 2) what we deny,
i.e. what issues are being denied in this article, and 3) areas in which we
have agreed to be silent, i.e. which is one of the marks of the Free
Church as we major on majors and minor on minors, The Significance of
Silence (A. T. Olson). This does not mean we will not talk about our
areas of disagreement, e.g. Arminianism and/or Calvinism, we will do
so strongly and passionately, but we will not divide over it.

Greg Strand

I responded as follows:

Dear Dr. Strand,

I agree with you and the committee on the problems of modernism.
Empirical knowledge or human reason alone cannot "prove" or know
anything without a prior use of revelation. God must be the center, and
we must use what the divine light gives us to understand and know and
prove. The Bible is the one set of propositions we can trust to
calibrate and direct our minds, emotions, morals, etc.

I am glad the committee is doing such thoughtful and difficult work as
wrestling with these issues. I look forward to hearing more in the
future.

Is there a scheduled completion date fro the revised statement?

Thanks again.
Donald R. McConnell

Dr. Strand’s responding update:

Donald,

At this past summer's national Conference, we had a Resolution before the Conference regarding the process of discussing the SOF. The Resolution was strongly affirmed, for which we are grateful. You can read the update at the following link: http://www.efca.org/about/media/sof_resolution_update.pdf

We are planning a Third Draft Revision now, and if approved by the BOD at their fall meeting made public the first week of October, and we will likely be ready with a Fourth Draft Revision next April, which will probably be the Draft brought to the national Conference. If this is done next year, the earliest the Conference could vote would be 2008.

Because of Christ,
Greg

2 comments:

Doug E. said...

That is good news.

Doug

Benjamin Bush Jr. said...

There seem to be many who are rather surprised that Post modernism has gained a foothold among those naming the name of Christ. The major reason is rather simple and to the point.
The knowledge of the Scriptures many people claim to possess is nothing more than a cursory knowledge gained from some process other than extended personal Bible Study. They neither know the Book nor can they live it. What they say they believe cannot be verbally demonstrated using Scripture. Their belief is nothing more than a figurehead. The result is the same kind of life. What they say they believe is not really lived externally. Or, it is only until sufficient pressure is exerted by outside influences which convince them to abandon their belief. Furthermore, most Americans believe an American form of Christianity, not a biblical form. Scripture ends up being interpreted according to an American Hermeneutic. True context is abandoned for an American context, thus a false truth is arrived at, a truth appropriate for the American faithful. This American tradition is elevated above the Word of God, thus the elevation of America's preeminence as a sign of God's blessing rather than true Biblical context.
As a result, God's people are worldly while claiming Christ and they wonder as their lives crumble around them.
The true dichotomy between God's people and the World, though understood by many, is nevertheless ignored for a more palatable fare of changing the world for Christ rather than winning the world for Christ. Rather than convincing people to change citizenship to the Kingdom of God, they, instead join the World culture in order to influence it to change. And God's people wonder why they continue to lose. They are fighting a battle God never encouraged them to join.