Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sola Scriptura--The Prey of Cultural Influence

As said before, these next few entries will be aimed at exposing those things that most often hinder our ability to read the Bible in context. They will hopefully shed much light on how we often force the Bible to say what it is not saying.

The first barrier to correct interpretation that I want to talk about is cultural influence. This may take two or three entries. Christianity has been effected in a great way by the culture in which it exists. Some of it's effects have been wonderful and some of it's effects have been awful. Each culture brings both good and bad to the table.

One of the great new movements that is sweeping across the country is the Emergent Church movement. This movement is way too large and diverse to make any general characterizations, but a few things can be said for sure. The Emergent type churches see the need for Christians to engage their culture in greater and more profound ways. The culture has changed much over the past few decades, and therefore our approach to the people in our culture ought to be different than it was before. For example, you would approach evangelism much different if you were in China than you would in America, because China's culture is much different than America's.

I am not part of an Emergent Church, but I do see the value of much of what they are pushing for. I also see many (at least) potential problems with this movement. I recently read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and was not overly impressed (Not all Emergent types are like Bell). Bell had many positive things to say, but many of His statements were informed more by culture than by Scripture. In fact, it appeared that his view of Christianity has been shaped, in a great way, by culture.

It appears that culture has so influenced Bell that he looks more to what culture is saying, than he does to Scripture, to judge what is best and most important for 21st Cent Christianity.
For example, on pg 167 Bell informs us that if we have an agenda, when talking to non-believers, then we cannot truly love them. He says, "we have to surrender our agendas." Bell could not be further from Biblical truth. The 21st Cent culture teaches that love (go ahead and give it [love] your own definition) is to be the only agenda. The Bible teaches that the Gospel is to be the agenda. The Gospel then produces love. Paul, in Col 4 tells us to "make the most of every opportunity." We are to let our speech be seasoned with salt and grace so that we might be able to know how to answer every man. You are disobedient if you are agendaless. Culture has so shaped Bell's ideals and practices that he has missed the primary role of the community of faith, which is intentional evangelism.

Bell's problem is much like the RCC's (Roman Catholic Church). The RCC interpreted the Bible in light of Church tradition. Bell interprets scripture in light of 21st Century Postmodern Cultural influences.

This Catholic tendency in much of the Emergent Church has caused them to go so far that many (not all) of them question whether or not Homosexuality is a sin. Mclaren even questions the Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which is the heart of the Gospel. Why does he reject the Biblical view of the atonement? Well, why do the Catholics believe in purgatory (something that cannot be found in scripture)? Because they are not heeding the call of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone).


Christians of all sorts: Doctrinal types, Practical types, Charismatic types, Arminian types, Calvinst types, Denominational types, Introspective types, Emergent types, Emerging types, Democratic types, and yes even Republican types, see the need for change to occur in modern day Christianity. All agree that Christianity is in need of change. What we cannot find agreement on is what needs to be changed, and how that change needs to be brought about.

One obvious question is raised in light of this observation; How are we going to discern that which is most in need of change for Christianity here and now? In answering this question it is most important to start with what the Word of God has to say. Only after the Bible has been consulted can we then look elsewhere to find help. Our search for what needs to be changed must begin with the Word of God so that we may have a sufficient rule by which to discern those changes which would be helpful for Christianity, and those which would be destructive.

For example, suppose we were to seek to change the face of Christianity for the sake of reaching those in a culture which hated absolute truth (which is true of much of our radical postmodern culture). If we were to start our search for change by first consulting the culture, which says that absolute truth is bad, then the Bible would become useless (since it is full of absolute truths). Is there a problem in this? Of course there is. Why? Because the Bible is the very Word of God given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteous (1 Tim 3:16). And because the Word of God is the revelation of who God is and what He expects of us. God’s will is revealed in the Bible, not in the culture. Therefore, if one were to set out to change Christianity to better reach a certain culture, it must first start with the Bible so that it may discern those aspects of the culture which are not right.

What would be the purpose of reaching the culture in the first place but to change that which is bad about the people and make it good. But if we use the culture, which has many areas of weakness, of discerning what is bad in the culture, will we be able to discern what is in need of change? Of course not, because we will be using the flawed culture as a standard to decide what is flawed about the culture so that it can be changed. The reason why the Bible must be the starting point is because it is the only perfect standard. The Bible does not need to be changed, but the culture does. If the standard we use to decide if something is flawed is flawed in and of itself then we can have no assurance that our standard will be able to accurately detect that which is flawed in the thing being tested. If a perfect standard is used however then anything that does not agree with that perfect standard can immediately be seen for what it is–a flaw that needs to be changed. The reason the Bible is the standard is because the Bible is not in need of change, therefore the agenda’s set forth by the Bible (i.e. intentional evangelism, seeing homosexuality as a sin, upholding Penal Subsubstitutionary Atonement etc.) are to be that which we use to discern what is good and bad about culture.

All changes, therefore, must be grounded first and foremost on the Bible. The problem with much of the American church is that it does not begin with the word of God, but rather with the culture. Therefore it morphs Christianity to look just like the culture since the rule and standard is not the Word of God, but the culture itself. Christianity then begins to be tested by the truth claims of the culture and there you have it, Christians begin to speak more about the changes that need to take place within the church than they do about the changes that need to take place within the culture. I do not deny that Churches are always in need of becoming more conformed to the Bible. But the NT emphasizes the fact that Christians are to go out and effect and change the culture more than the culture is to come in and effect the church. The goal of the church becomes to look more like the culture rather than more like the NT church. Much of the church therefore adopts the agenda’s of postmodern culture rather than the agenda’s of scripture, which are to be what informs us of what agenda’s are most important. Culture cannot inform us of what is most important, only the Bible can do that.

These misunderstanding of how to assess the problems of Christianity, at the outset, may not seem like all that big of a deal. Many conservative fundamentalist Christians find it hard to speak out against the average church in America because they have not completely rejected the Bible. No, the majority of churches have not rejected the Bible, but they have distorted the Bible, because they force the Bible to cater to the agenda’s and slogans of
post modern culture, in much the same way that the RCC has distorted the Bible because they force it to cater to the agenda's and slogans of Church Tradition.

It is of utmost importance that Christians do what they can to find ways to cater to the needs of the culture in which they are presenting the Gospel, but it is also of utmost importance that these same Christians do not learn more from their culture than they do from the Word of God. Christians are to inform the culture of what is most important, the culture is not to inform Christian’s as to what is most important. Christians are to go forth and do what they can to meet the felt needs of their culture, but this is never to take precedence over what is most important. Meeting the felt needs of a certain culture is to be the platform upon which the Christian works to meet that cultures true needs–those needs which are revealed in the Bible.

I have much more to say about cultural influence. The next post will be more geared toward how culture influence hinders even non-emergent types to not heed the call of Sola Scriptura.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

You go Jimmy! I have always thought the enemy of our pulpits has been the desire to please. We twist, (or worse ignore) scripture to make sure everyone leaves church feeling good. (wouldnt want to upset any one!)