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« Grown Up Youths | Main | The Incredible or Inedible Word? »

The Particularity of God

“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” 1 Corinthians 12:27

Speed-readers excepted, anyone familiar with the Bible is acutely aware of its details.  Gung-ho newcomers soon discover that the excitement that sears the pages of Genesis and Exodus cools down to somewhere just above freezing in the sacerdotal rituals of Leviticus.  Minutiae like the begats, the intricacies of tabernacle furniture, listing the animal entrails for sacrifice, and so on, seem superfluous to the twenty-first century mind, but they send a strong signal to the reader:  Pay attention to the details! 

God’s insistence on particulars doesn’t square well with the evolution of Biblical hermeneutics of the last few decades.  The theologians’ brushes have grown increasingly broader, while they softened their fundamentals from convictions to preferences.  Formerly untouchable doctrines are now mere footnotes in recounting many church histories.  The distinctions between denominations began blurring in the early twentieth century as the social gospel gained popularity, and, consequently, doctrinal differences diminished in importance.  Cries for ecumenism resonated with seminarians, and eventually, with the laity.  The search was on to find the lowest common denominator among all who called themselves Christians. 

In 1983, Martin E. Marty wrote “The Baptistification of America” in which he contended that  Baptist polity and power had displaced other denominational traditions as influencers and shapers in American religion.  Two years later, the editors of Christian History responded with this:  “Marty sees the two alternatives as both opposed yet complementary and ‘urges the need for both styles if the church is to be healthy …’ He observes that: ‘For the moment, baptistification is the more aggressive and effective force, and the circumstances that make it so could prevail for a long time to come.’”  The ultimate doctrinal position that appeared to satisfy everyone was the quintessential Baptist formula, “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.”  All other planks in the theological platform were subordinated to this one, overarching tenet of faith.  

As reasonable as this development seemed, the next step was predictable to interested observers—once started, it couldn’t be stopped.  The slide was not a function of achieving a goal, but rather moving in a liberal direction.  The momentum that carried American religion to the Baptist position only stayed there temporarily.   To the chagrin of the Baptists who had exulted in their victory, the bulk of Christianity kept going to a more generic belief of “love Jesus.”  Then, “love your neighbor”, with the connotation being that we should love our neighbor whoever he is and whatever he believes.   The prevailing position is now deeply rooted in multiculturalism and diversity.  We are pressured to affirm that other belief systems are as credible as Christianity, and in some cases, even superior to it.  

This trajectory also has a negative side.  Those who failed to join the majority as it moved toward ecumenism were initially classified as ignorant, hopelessly stuck in the past.  True believers became the butt of many jokes, routinely vilified in the media, and often the targets of the movie industry’s antagonism.  All kinds of pejorative names have been used to characterize fundamental Christianity:  “Bible-thumpers,” “screamers,” “mouthbreathers” for starters.  Much of this flies under the radar because overt or codified persecution could still wind up in a lawsuit.  Yet, the reality of this subtle bigotry is undeniable.

 Now, the official word is that we are in a post-Christian era.  Those who maintain an allegiance to the Bible often find themselves forced into awkward positions because the prevailing view is that this is no longer a Christian nation.  Many issues that once could be downplayed as irrelevant to public life, e.g. sexual orientation, sanctity of life, same-sex marriage, cohabitation, tolerance of alternative faiths, creationism vs. evolution, etc., are now essential to one’s résumé for all to see—and judge.  

Answers in Genesis President/CEO Ken Ham recently surveyed 200 U.S. Christian campuses about their belief in the Bible and creationist view.  His results should shake Christian churches to their foundations.  Only 17.3% of Christian colleges believe in the authority of scripture. Moreover, a mere 35.3% said they are taught the bible is true. “The two most popular answers after that were ‘it is inspired by God’ (25%) and ‘it is a book of guidelines’ (23.1%).  When the administration says it believe the bible is “foundational” and “inspired by God,” Ham says they are misleading prospective students and their parents.  Their definitions are very different from the inferred meaning of those who are checking them out.  “We’re well down the road” of secularism, Ham said.  The survey also covered many related topics about faith, social values and traditional convictions of fundamental Christianity. 

Ham’s book, “Already Compromised,” issues a strong warning about the shocking drift from orthodox Christian beliefs into secularism.  He wants to force Christian families to thoroughly scour so-called Christian colleges and universities.  We are at a crisis moment. 

The point of recounting these trends is this:  once you begin to freely move from particulars to generalities, something begins to shift in your attitude about the Bible.  To that end, one organization discarded all of their “holiness” standards and replaced them with holiness principles.  While all the logic seemed to validate such a move, the unintended consequences were staggering.  Not only did they lose their standards, they also lost their principles!  Yet, it should not have been so mystifying.  If principles cannot be translated into practical, real world applications, then the principles lose their meaning.  For example, if a pastor were to say that he upholds the principle of modesty, but will not define what that means in practical terms, then modesty will mean whatever an individual wants it to mean.  The algorithms of such a strategy can almost be documented ahead of time. 

There is much more to be said about the particularity of God.  Nearly every Bible subject— salvation, lifestyle, doctrine, discipleship, spirituality, and on and on—is replete with scriptural premises from which we draw our positions.  One of the first things to consider is the timeless question of “why.”  Why did God pay attention to intricate details throughout the Bible?  We then need to consider “what.”  Who, when and how are not far behind.   

I will attempt to explore these ideas more in depth in future posts.

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