"What are the Boundaries of the Central Truths of Christianity?" Guest Contributor, Josh Wise

What a cool thing it is to connect with so many people, from so many places, and with so many perspectives.  This is a post that was birthed out of my OPEN MIC blog post (BTW- still accepting submission ideas).  I want to hear from others, about how God is at work in their own theological, philosophical, cultural, and social ethics journey.  I personally do not endorse everything that the guest contributors have to say; and it is possible that I will outright disagree with them on some points, but I am always open to dialogue :-)   Here is our first guest post by a Facebook friend, Josh Wise.

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I was listening to a Q & A on Greg Boyd’s church website (Woodland Hills Church) and he described our beliefs as concentric circles. In the center are the dogma’s, the central truths of Christianity. The next level is doctrine which Boyd describes as usually its a way of explaining the dogma (central truths). This is what churches/denominations usually form around. The outer layer is opinion. These are ideas that you have about the faith that really just opinions.

My question is: where do we draw these lines? I know some individuals who want to take an opinion or a doctrine and elevate it to a dogma. You could also go the other way and reduce the core of Christianity to something that no longer resembles the christian faith. So my question is: where do we as a body of believers draw these lines and what do we do when someone is tries to distort them?

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  • http://findingmeaningin.blogspot.com/ Tucker

    I think this raises many layers of questions. I recall seeing a chart in a text book for one of my undergrad theology texts which attempted to enumerate all possible topics of systematic theology and place them within these concentric circles, so that things like Christology and Soteriology were in the center while things like liberation theology were on the periphery. That made sense at the time, but distance has shown me how silly that chart was.

    First- postmodern thinking has attuned to me questions of intellectual authority. Who gets to draw that chart? Who is it that decides that a particular conception of Christology is central while liberation theology is mere opinion? Certainly not the liberation theologians.

    Second- we may agree on language of certain central and dogmatic issues, but the actual content of our beliefs may vary widely. So, this begs the question of whether the central boundary is defined simply by affirmation of creedal language, or whether one has to have a particular view of the subject in question. For example, I confess that the Bible is the inspired word of God. But when I say that sentence I mean something different than my fundamentalist friends mean when they say it.

    Third- I began to learn that this central circle in my textbook was shaped almost exclusively by contemporary evangelical thinking and did not represent the majority of Christians either in the world today or throughout history. Things like penal substitution atonement, biblical inerrancy, or dispensationalism are not shared by the spectrum of Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, and mainline protestant traditions. Was I truly prepared to anathematize the majority of Christians?

    The same approach has other problems when put into practice. Beyond dogmatic issues there is the question of ethics. And here I believe popular opinions are shaped not by the Bible or by Christian tradition, but by our own current political climate. I have heard many Christians state explicitly that the issue of homosexuality is at the center of our ethical discernment. That, they say, is the line you can not cross without ceasing to be Christian. But caring for the poor and social justice is merely the level of opinion. (Despite the clear weight given to the latter by both Scripture and tradition, and the sparse or even nonexistent treatment of the former).

    So with all of that in mind, I would propose a different approach altogether. What if we stopped trying to draw boundaries, to determine whom we may exclude? What if we found a different way to define community than by who is not in it.

    Mark Baker describes the difference between the “bounded set” and “centered set” models of community. Bounded set model is what we have been talking about to this point- defining community as inside or outside a given line. He proposes Centered set as an alternative. Here, instead of focusing on the outer boundaries of the community, you have an agreed upon focal point. And participation in the community is determined by movement toward or away from that center, with the recognition that we are all in constant state of flux. For the Church, of course, Christ is our center.

    But that leaves us with another problem. I think it is important to recognize that Christ as the center is different than Christology as the center. Our churches need to be defined as mystical, spiritual engagement with the living presence of Christ in our world, not by our ideas about Jesus. That does leave us with the same problems described above though regarding boundaries and intellectual authority. How do we identify movement toward or away from the Living Christ if we have different ideas about Jesus?

    • Josh Wise

      Good night. That was a great comment. I totally agree. I’ve been struggling with this for a little while now. What kind of initially got the wheels turnining was I was reading about the whole creationist moventent (I grew up believing in that I’ve started migrating awar from it over the last few years but thats another post). You have leaders saying that unless you believe in they’re interpretation of Genesis you’re somehow not christian or a less of one at any rate. That doesn’t set well with me. I started thinking what makes us christians. Is it doctrine, ideas what? I was talking to a friend of mine and he said that one of the problems with contemporary evangelicism is we’ve made the Bible our god. I think think there’s a lot of truth to that. We’ve made our “ideas” about Jesus more important than the person of Jesus himself.

      I think this is where your idea of focusing our idea of community on the center as opposed to its boundaries. I hadn’t heard it explained like this before or at least this simply. If Christ as at the center of our community this opens up a whole new realm of possibities for dialogue between differing theologies. Instead of a Protestant debating with a Catholic on who has a it right and who is within what boundaries; we can acknowledge the fact that we’re all trying to follow Jesus who we believe to be the center of our community.

      I agree that this doesn’t solve all of our problems. What constitutes motion toward or away from the center? And whose Jesus are we placing at the center? Let me think out loud here and feel free to critique me. I’m just working this out as I go. Ok, We all acknowledge that Christ is the center of the community we call christianity or the church, but we can’t really know this Jesus. We can read the Gospels and get an idea, but there are so many different interpretations of who Jesus was. How do we know which is the right one? I think maybe this is where the Holy Spirit comes in? To guide us and lead us as we wrestle with who Jesus really was? We must accept that there is a possiblity that our ideas about Jesus may be wrong, we see through a mirror darkly, but we trust that God doesn’t base salvation on adhearance to a set of idea but rather upon our reaction to the extending of grace. Maybe? I don’t know. Anyways great point. Blew me away. Thanks bro.
      Peace

      • http://findingmeaningin.blogspot.com/ Tucker

        Thanks Josh. I think you expressed well the difficulty that I have found with a centered-set approach to defining Christianity and church. I definitely agree in principle that we need to define our faith not as a set of boundaries that people are either inside or outside of, but as a shared journey of movement toward Christ.

        But as soon as I say that I am in the midst of the same old argument. What do I mean by the word “Christ”? And is it the same thing that my neighbor means? We all know that different people have very different images of Christ, and there are times where actions that I conceive of as movement toward the center would be thought of as movement away from the center by my neighbor.

        I also think you are onto something with your response. The Good News is that Christ is not a doctrine or creed. Saying that Christ is the center really is different than saying Christology is the center. Because Christ is alive. We are not the only actors in our effort to define faith and community. Unlike our ideas about him or about other theological questions, Christ is a vital, dynamic living presence among us calling us toward the center and helping us to find it if we have eyes and ears to receive it. This still doesn’t solve all my problems. But it does give me hope. And maybe that is enough.

        • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

          I find it instructive that when Jesus was asked about core doctrinal issues, he didn’t have any problem answering. Matthew, Mark and twice in Luke have Jesus answering the question of eternal life with ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength’ followed very closely with ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ John phrases the same theme slightly differently in Jesus prayer when he left the last supper. He says “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Knowing God (particularly in the way John talks about it) and loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength are more or less the same thing. These words were said shortly after Jesus commands the disciples to love one another with a deeper love than just loving neighbor as yourself. Jesus wanted his disciples to love each other as he loved them.

          I find it strange that Christians have glossed over these core doctrinal statements. My guess is that people have felt that these statements do not express the uniqueness of Christian belief. However, I suspect that any theologian would agree that a person who lived consistently those commandments would be a ‘Christian’.

          If we practiced loving God and neighbor of our understanding to the best of our ability, then I suspect that God would be faithful to reveal himself more fully to us. If we had wrong beliefs about him, yet we truly tried to love him with everything we had, God would show us the error of our ways and have grace on our blindness.

          And if we are truly loving our neighbor as ourselves, or as John puts it loving other followers of Jesus as Jesus loved us, then we’re going to have a lot of grace for those who view God/Jesus differently than we do.

    • http://www.charismanglican.com The Charismanglican

      Seriously great comment. Geesh.

      Christ as the center rather than Christology – that theme goes along with some others that I’ve been kicking around for a while.

      Whether you are saved isn’t dependent on how you think salvation works.

      God isn’t impressed with what you think the Bible is but what you do with the Bible.

  • http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/ Robert Martin

    From the facebook conversation. The question was raised as to whether or not we can come to any agreement on the “central truths”. I stated:

    Actually, I think the council of Nicene did a pretty good job of setting those boundaries in the 4th century. And, if you look at what they came up with, it leaves a LOT of room for the doctrinal interpretation and opinion areas.

    So, as a set of boundaries within which conversation can happen, the Creed works well. But it is not detailed enough to prevent continued conversation within the realm of doctrinal theology.

    • Amy Stone

      I’m hesitant to define the center (whether in a bounded or centered model) as doctrinal or creedal. Doing so seems like we are neutering the gospel, reducing a powerful interpersonal reality to an intellectual endeavor, one step removed from scripture and two steps removed from actual persons.

      I’m with Tucker on placing Christ at the center, perhaps surrounded by the Body of Christ. How can we agree on what that means? What about recognizing the gospel testimonies to the person of Jesus as irreducible and letting them inspire and inform our vision of Jesus?

      I realize that this is a more slippery approach, but I just don’t envision us successfully domesticating the text. The Bible grows from “heirloom seed” not “GMO”.

      • http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/ Robert Martin

        Very good points, Amy.

        However,even by saying, “Christ is the center” and using that as our standard, aren’t we therefore being creedal? We’re stating a central belief and building other parts from that.

        The Council of Nicene did nothing different. They wanted to establish “What really matters”. Now, the Eastern Orthodox then wanted to use that as the boundary within which conversation can happen. But the western church, the Roman church, wanted to use that as a rule and then continue to tighten the boundaries.

        I think we might do well with the Eastern methodology. Instead of using the Creed as “This is the starting point”, use the creed as “this is the outer limits within which ANYTHING can be discussed”.

  • Eric

    Interesting thoughts. I think we form too many boundaries around who Jesus is when we form a specific idea of Him. Even from the Gospels alone, we see the sacrificial lamb, the man who drove the moneychangers out of the temple, the carpenter, tranfiguration, the revolutionary who told the pharisees how it was and so on. That’s just the quick view we have from three years of His earthly ministry, not to mention what appears in the book of Revelation. We must remain open to everything the Bible tells us about Christ while maintaining faith that the Holy Spirit is leading us in the right direction.

    I think that its important to realize that God inspired the Bible to be written exactly the way it was. Specific issues that need to be addressed have been, and we are to use the Holy Spirit to determine the rest on a personal level.

    • Amy Stone

      “I think that its important to realize that God inspired the Bible to be written exactly the way it was.”

      Interesting that you use an “outer circle” to support your argument about Christ :? (Don’t assume that I disagree with your assertion. I’m just pointing out how we tend to assume that our own imperatives are central, but aren’t necessarily).

  • http://cheekfam.wordpress.com/ Richard Cheek

    I am really not comfortable with the concentric circle analogy for many of the reasons already raised above. If we cannot even agree on what it means for Christ to be the center, how can there be any consensus about the content of the circles as you move away from that undefined center? I prefer the web concept with our ideas and beliefs about Jesus, (who is was, what he did, what he taught and what difference does it make) all inter-connected.

    • Amy Stone

      I’d like to hear more about how a “web” model works/looks.

  • jason

    I am making this comment without reading all of the comments…. but what I have read (I am talking to you tucker) is great so far…

    I love this conversation because it brings up a lot of underlying assumptions/presuppositions/other questions. One that I would like to bring up is the question of using the word “lines”. The problem I have with “lines” is that it automatically presumes 100% knowledge and delineates an in and out group with full knowledge (when how do I know I what I am saying is true)… I like to think of it more as directions… in other words, which direction are we moving… toward Christ or away from him…

    BUT… as I am typing this I am realizing that I have an argument against what I am saying in that there are lines in the sense that I believe in Jesus not a peanut butter sandwich…. that is a line. Anyways… I am curious to hear what more of you all have to say…

    Shalom

  • John Holmes

    Actually, I think the council of Nicene did a pretty good job of setting those boundaries in the 4th century.

    Robert, I think you laid down the most astute observation of the history of the church on this blog… The Apostles and Nicene Creeds came from many other ancients’ creeds, which were in local areas and bishops of the first few centuries used for baptism…

    The amazing thing is the creeds are so similar… So to say Constantine is a big problem in this, is to me a misnomer historically… It has no bearing… Athanasius, Irenaues, Augustine, all would affirm these creeds, the best theologians of the church’s first 1000 years.. And the second 1000 years, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther and others all would affirm this!
    So to think we have a theological free for all is a lack of history!

    The creeds are not two steps from the bible; they are the bible, incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, outpoured Holy Spirit, Second Coming…

    So it is a historical error and a theological, to say that the central truths around the “Christ the Center,” Bonheoffer….. Is a free rush of my fallen thoughts and my personal opinions, the center is more set than some of us know!

    The Council of Nicene did nothing different. They wanted to establish “What really matters”. Now, the Eastern Orthodox then wanted to use that as the boundary within which conversation can happen. But the western church, the Roman church, wanted to use that as a rule and then continue to tighten the boundaries

    Robert, what proof do you have of this in history? The East seems to be very rigid in theology, not open. Anyone who does not agree with the Patriarch’s are out,… Where is the openess the last 500 years demonstrated?

    • Amy Stone

      John,

      “The creeds are not two steps from the bible; they are the bible, incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, outpoured Holy Spirit, Second Coming…”

      So I guess we can leave the Bible on the shelf then. What’s it good for if we’ve already squeezed the important stuff into the historic creeds? Is it just a source document that supports our creeds and dogmas?

  • http://cheekfam.wordpress.com Richard Cheek

    I must protest the idea that the “creeds are the Bible”. The doctrines which are the heart of the Nicene creed led to a thousand years of of hierarchical authoritarianism both in the East and the West. This is why some of the radical reformers referred to the conversion of Constantine as a great apostasy. For the first time in its history the church had political power and rather than rejecting the use of civil authority, it developed a structure to help it consolidate and wield power. The teachings of Jesus were given lip service but were no longer central in the teachings of the church. If Christ is the center, then his teachings must be central. And as Maria said above, Jesus had no problem defining what was central.

  • John Holmes

    Amy,

    No, the bible is the voice of God to the church, it is the last word, Heb 1:2,
    ” He spoke to us in his Son”… The foundational truths that are the bible, come from the bible the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene, summarize, and layout better than any summary ever give. My point is the multiple churches in the first two centuries, all had very similar creeds, and there was fundamental agreement… So there was a ” mind of Christ” at work inthe churches.. ! Cor 2:16…

    These early creeds that are a reflection of the Apostles and Nicea, were hundred year or more before Constantine, so that is taking an issue of history and trying to make an issue when in this case, it is not one..

    I think Constantine, and heirarchy, did get away from the essence of the New Testament like a typical Anabaptist would fear.. But in relation to the central truths before discussed, incarnation- substitutionary atonement, the Deity of Christ, not our deity, its all there and a very holy and sound guide..

    I once heard a very excellent theologian tell me, exegete the scriptures do theology but if you come up with something contrary to the creeds, you left yankee stadium and you are no longer playing by the rules, you made a mistake!

  • http://cheekfam.wordpress.com/ Richard Cheek

    John, we will just have to amicably disagree about the nature and influence of the creeds. Your professor sounds very much like the one I had who said in regard to biblical interpretation, “If it’s new it’s not for you.” I did not accept it then and am even more convinced now that he was wrong. I continue to have serious reservations about something being “a very holy and sound guide” that can lead to and be used to support the perversions of Christianity that resulted in the Reformation. Of course from a radical perspective, I do not think Luther and Calvin went far enough. The one area I wish you would address from a creedal perspective is the lack of emphasis on the central teachings of Jesus. For many of us, that is the primary problem with the creeds. As someone said way back in the beginning of this discussion: I think we will have trouble coming to any agreement on what the “central truths” are.

  • http://cheekfam.wordpress.com/ Richard Cheek

    One more thing, that was a nice little historical jump you made, to start talking about the sufficiency of the Nicea and then jump back to the apostles in order to avoid dealing with Constantine.

  • John Holmes

    Richard Cheek

    One more thing, which was a nice little historical jump you made, to start talking about the sufficiency of the Nicea and then jump back to the apostles in order to avoid dealing with Constantine.

    It was far from a jump, it was more like a logical step… Kenneth Scott LaTourette, History of Christianity, shows this in one of his books as I recall.
    There were many baptismal creeds that go way back in the second and third century, and show a great deal of similarity… not difference that you could blame on Constantine!

    These are way before his time of Constantine, so your argument falls apart like old papers sacks that got wet… The Apostles Creed and Nicene are made from the same grid… It like a good skeleton, great structure for the body… The bones are sound!

    That is why the greatest theologians of the first 1000, years and the second thousand years would have no trouble affirming these two great creedal statements of the Christian faith…

    Do they say everything, no they are summations, and by definition brief, but they keep the wild cat nature from getting out of control and to see the rules of the house, no scratching the paintings on the wall, there heirlooms! HA!

    Richard, what central teachings are you referring to ” Love your neighbor, or take up cross and die daily to your sinful self” Can you be specific?

    Peace…

    • Amy Stone

      John,

      “The creeds are not two steps from the bible; they are the bible, incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, outpoured Holy Spirit, Second Coming…”

      I’ve read the Bible, and the creeds aren’t in there. They could have been canonized, but there has never been an attempt to do so.

      I’ve never met Jesus in the flesh (if I don’t count the Body of Christ), but I’m pretty sure he was a human person, not a historical document. The creeds include articulated ideas about what the scriptures say about God. They are not flesh-and-blood. Neither are they events such as the death, resurrection, etc. They are distillations of reports of events (at best). You must know that there is a difference between

      you and a photo of you,
      a painting of a photo of you,
      an interpretive analysis of a painting of a photo of you,
      a critique of an interpretive analysis of a painting of a photo of you,
      a report of a critique of an interpretive analysis of a painting of a photo of you,
      a summary of a report of a critique of an interpretive analysis of a painting of a photo of you,
      a quotation from a summary of a report of a critique of an interpretive analysis of a painting of a photo of you…

      Need I go on?

      The creeds, as useful and biblical as they may or may not be, are not equal to the scripture. They have no parables, no biographies (unless you call a handful of bullet points a biography), no poems, no apocalyptic writings, no exhortations, no rebukes, no encouragements, etc. They are dry committee-written documents, not the dynamic, living, and active word of God. Not even close.

      Don’t misconstrue my words to mean that the creeds are particularly offensive of bad. They’re just not all you claim that they are.

      “That is why the greatest theologians of the first 1000, years and the second thousand years would have no trouble affirming these two great creedal statements of the Christian faith…”

      If this is true, that they would have “no trouble affirming these”, why was it so much trouble to ratify them? For that matter, why would the councils have to be called in the first place, if all of this was agreed upon already?

      There were significant disagreements and negotiated compromises were made. Furthermore, much of the wrangling was born out of political (church politics) alliances and maintenance of power (and I’m not talking exclusively about the influence of Constantine).

      To the victor belong the spoils.

      • Amy Stone

        To clarify, I am not the “victor” to whom I refer. I meant to indicate that, for better or for worse, the creeds represent the most powerful voices.

      • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

        If you accept the definition for scripture as being inspired by God, then would not the creeds fall into the same category? Creeds seem to not only be inspired by God in that they were formed out of consensus of men who knew God’s word, followed his spirit, and sought unity within the church, but have with stood the tests of time as each generation comes back to them as important declarations of faith. On one hand they seem to be rather quite rigid, but yet simultaneously open to interpretation. Very similar to the way scripture functions both in its historical narrative and in our present circumstances.

  • http://cheekfam.wordpress.com/ Richard Cheek

    First- Regarding the Jesus’ teachings, take your choice. What do you think is central to teaching of Jesus? And why is it left out of the creeds?
    Second- I am not denying there are historical roots to the deliberations at Nicea. I generally have no problem with what the creeds include although I do not see them as closely linked to the apostolic era as you do. My problem is with what they left out. It appears that they chose to include those truths which the state would not perceive as a threat. For instance, in 325 they did not include the Roman involvement in the crucifixion or references to the kingdom of God. Those were added later along with the statement about the established church. They focused on the “other-worldly” aspects of who Jesus was and what he did, but neglected his very real challenges to earthly powers. That emphasis is what allowed kings and tyrants of all sorts to use the church as a tool of oppression.

  • http://cheekfam.wordpress.com/ Richard Cheek

    John, I would appreciate if you could find the Latourette citations you refer to. I must admit it has been a long time since I read his history, but I do not recall any significant discussion of the creeds in his writings.

  • John Holmes

    Amy,

    I find it interesting just how widely accepted was the truths that the Apostles Creed establishes, that Calvin’s “Institutes” are written around the themes of each statement… He is assuming that all theologians accept this as a given…

    I don’t think one can argue that the Apostles Creed was a political move or the whim of a tyrant, though I don’t think you are saying that…

    To be honest just because one quotes this or memorizes it, does not mean salvation has come to them, many have come from different church traditions and quoted this in liturgy or church and it had no effect on them. We still need the converting grace of Christ and the work of the Spirit to make it real…

    But, I think the Creed and the Canon came together in history and is not anti-thetical but complementary…. I believe history has shown that Athanasius was scripturally right and the Arians were wrong in there interpretation of scripture, they had natural light he was in the Divine light studying scripture…

    So the creeds basically help us to say, that argument has already taken place it was won and all Christians and there best theologians agree on this, next!… In that sense it can be helpful to understand the creedal statements… I do not think this is true of later, statements, Westminster or Catholic Trent… Or the Seventh Ecumenical Council, those were political; they were not accepted by the whole body of Christ and therefore are much more open to exegetical debate…

    But the Apostles Creed is universal, its is agreed upon by the best theologians and one need be careful that he has not fallen into pride not to accept its basic propositions, which I believe come from scripture…

    As a charismatic, to say,” I believe in the Holy Spirit”, I would like more, but again they are laying beams, not walls, and decorations, and for what it does, it is very sound to lay your theological grid down on it like Calvin…

  • John holmes

    Schiff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, multi volume magnum opus…

    Richard:

    I think it was not LaTourette, it has been a while but I’m almost positive he has a very interesting discussion about the ancient baptismal creeds and the similar emphasis in the first few centuries… There was a wide agreement about the basics; this seemed to be conclusively demonstrated.

    I want to study more fully Constantine and his effect on the church, it is important, and his effects are real… We are more in agreement on that, than disagreement… Him not getting baptized until later in life does not bother me as much, because the church had no theology for after baptism sins at the time, so there was a theological problem there.. Do you think he was truly converted or just playing political games? Why?

    I think overall the church fathers got us on the right track but there was still much left to do… The reformations were not pretty, but I do think they made the church wrestle with the scriptures, like Jacob with the angel and made us more Christian…

    The radical reformation had keen insights of the New Testament, and later Baptist, Charismatics, and Pentecostals around the world practice there breakthroughs and don’t even realize in many cases the high cost for the them, of back to the new testament church…

    But to me it is too radical to take out the creedal truths, because I believe the church fathers were correct on the basic assumptions, Deity of Christ, Atoning death, Second Coming, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628922072 cheekfam

    Thanks, John. That does sound more like Schaff than Latourette. I’ll have to check my sources. Once again, I am not trying to take out creedal truths, I accept nearly all of them without reservation. What I have been trying to say is that if we are talking about the “boundaries of the central truths” and leave out the teachings and ministry of Jesus we have missed some of the most important truths. Does the Sermon on the Mount not belong among the central truths? The Greatest Commandment? The Love Command? My question for the writers of the creeds is “Why did you leave these out.”

  • John Holmes

    Its a valid question, and I do not have a good answer..

  • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

    Josh Wise – Your post was great, in that it obviously raised very important questions. As others have commented, I also was very pleased with the responses of Tucker, Maria Kirby, and Amy Stone. Actually, I probably shouldn’t be singling out individuals here, as I think all of the comments have been thoughtful.

    With regard though to John Holmes – and with genuine respect for you – I must disagree with the value you place on the ancient creeds. And I find this statement to be extremely surprising for someone who believes that the Bible alone is the ‘inspired Word of God’: “I once heard a very excellent theologian tell me, exegete the scriptures do theology but if you come up with something contrary to the creeds, you left yankee stadium and you are no longer playing by the rules, you made a mistake!” I certainly would not call that ‘theologian’ excellent. By that statement he has elevated the creeds above the ‘scriptures’ he claims as his foundation! The creeds become the touchstone by which we determine what is really ‘Christian’, rather than the apostolic writings themselves. It sounds to me like you and that ‘theologian’ open yourselves up to the accusation of Jesus (quoting Isaiah): “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9). You advocate those creeds because you believe them to be ‘correct’; but others of us believe them to be wrong in important points, and believe we can show that the apostolic writers didn’t hold those views. We’re not going to abandon what we find to be ‘Biblical’ just because the creeds say differently. We don’t judge the Bible by the creeds; rather we judge the creeds by the Bible – and as I said, some of us find the creeds to be ‘wanting’ when compared to the standard of the Bible. We won’t be intimidated by your ‘excellent theologian’ when he tells us we have to be wrong if we deviate from the creeds. :shock:

    But even if we affirm the creedal statements, we still wind up with the question raised by Tucker: does everyone who uses the language of a creed understand that language in the same way? For instance, the question of the ‘deity’ of Jesus Christ was hotly debated at the Council of Nicaea. Prior to that Council, the ‘church’ had been quite divided on that issue; and I have said more than once that whatever ‘spirit’ inspired the Council, it does not appear to have been the ‘Holy’ Spirit (more like a ‘spirit of contention’)! :sad: The church historian Eusebius was one of the representatives at that Council, and he was a friend and ‘supporter’ of Arius. Eusebius’ views were one of the various ‘flavors’ of Arianism, and the Council did not change him. He signed adherence to the Nicaean creed, but immediately wrote a letter to his church explaining that he found sufficient ambiguity in the wording of the creed that he could in good conscience agree to it without giving up his ‘subordinationist’ viewpoint (Jesus is not fully ‘God’, but was and is always subordinate to God). Since that was true of Eusebius, I strongly suspect that many another Arian representative at that Council felt the same way. (Whether or not that was hypocrisy, I’ll leave it to you to judge). It was only the oppressive ‘power of the sword’ which managed to eventually fully suppress that supposed ‘heresy’ (or force it ‘underground’), and that took a while. After Constantine died, his son favored Arianism, so the Arian position had a ‘revival’ for a while. Whatever may be the truth of historical creeds preceding the Nicaean creed, it did not prevent major (and hotly contended) divisions within the church over the matter.

    This is a very personal matter for me, as I do not fit with any ‘creedal’ position. The ‘major doctrines’ which John mentioned (the Deity of Christ, Substitutionary Atonement, and the Second Coming [future to us]) I do not accept. Yet I believe in the only true God, the Father, and in Jesus His anointed whom He sent. I believe wholeheartedly in those two ‘great’ commandments: love for God, and love for our neighbors (as we love ourselves). I believe Jesus is Lord (in subordination to God who made him Lord), and I even believe in the ‘inspiration’ of the scriptures – though like Tucker, I mean something entirely different by that than the ‘orthodox’ do. I long for Christian ‘fellowship’, but I don’t know where to go to find it except on the Internet in places like this blog. Orthodox ‘creedal’ churches repudiate me as a ‘heretic’; but ‘liberal’ churches generally tend to reject things that even I consider ‘basic’ to Christianity (for instance many consider the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be unimportant and probably myth). I am essentially Unitarian and Universalist, but the Unitarian Universalist Church has pretty much severed all ties with Christianity, and doesn’t even consider belief in God to be essential for ‘membership’ (atheists frequently feel quite comfortable there, with no motivation to reconsider their atheism). I have considered myself a Christian ‘Deist’ for a while now, and I participate in a Deism forum; but some of those Deists believe that Jesus was not even a historical person, and Christianity is totally mythology (not all of them feel that way, though). Most of them deny the resurrection of Jesus, and all of the ‘miracles’ – and imagine that Paul’s views deviated widely from those of Jesus and the other more ‘Jewish’ apostles.

    So I don’t seem to ‘fit in’ anywhere. :sad: But Tucker’s ideas seem to give me some hope of ‘fitting in’, :smile: while John Holmes’ don’t. Anyhow, I find even the willingness to engage in discussions like this very encouraging. Please keep it up. :grin:

    • http://findingmeaningin.blogspot.com/ Tucker

      Mystic44- thanks for your thoughtful and passionate post. It looks like we are finding ourselves in substantial agreement again. I have also struggled to find a church community that takes Jesus seriously and thinks deeply about his presence and centrality in a whole and redeemed relationship with God and neighbor, but doesn’t impose propositional, creedal formulae. If you live in the Fresno area, I would like to invite you to First Congregational (the Big Red Church). It is where I worship and serve on the ministry staff. I feel at home there and am hopeful that you might as well. Plus, if you came we could become real life friends.

      • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

        Thank you so much, Tucker. I would love to at least visit First Congregational in Fresno; but unfortunately for that desire, I live across the country near Raleigh, NC. I have cousins in Sacramento, and my wife has relatives in other areas of California, but it doesn’t seem likely we’ll be getting out to visit them. I’ve driven through the area a number of times as an “18-wheeler” truck driver, and enjoyed being out there (except for the 55 mph truck speed limit :grin: ) If somehow I do find myself out there, particularly on a weekend, I’ll see about paying ‘y’all’ a visit.

  • John Holmes

    Mystic:

    Reason is fallen in classic Christian theology, and man needs revelation, by the Holy Spirit because his reason is full of sin, unbelief, and darkness. So, that being a foundation, I’m sure any argument that I can give you to the Deity of Christ, you will not be able to see it.. But I find it facinating that you have a high view for the bible, which is a big plus for you in your journey….

    But, for me I do not see a dichotomy of the bible and the Apostles Creed, and I’m glad that it teased out your rejection of the Deity and the sustituional aspect of the Cross…. Athanasius, is best here, Only God could rescue man from sin, and only as a man could he relate truly to us, and our deepest spiritual needs… The book of Hebrews also touches on this idea…. A man Jesus cannot conquer sin that takes a god, and we found the only true one Jesus Christ… 1 John 1:1

    My prayer for you is you will come to Christ like Thomas, and say my Lord and my Theos…….. John 20… Christ impressed me so much when he was not intimidated by Thomas doubts, he said, put your hand into my wounds, and see, its me resurrected, so by definition the real Christ who is really God is not scared of your questions, may you find him on your quest…

    • http://mystic444.wordpress.com mystic444

      Thank you for your prayers, John. They represent love and good desires from your heart, and so are valuable and a fruit of God at work in you. I may think your ideas are a bit misguided, but the desires of your heart are godly.

      I don’t know whether my view of the Bible is as “high” as you infer from what I wrote previously; I believe the scriptures are ‘inspired’, but that does not mean I grant them infallible authority. Nevertheless, my view of scripture has risen recently as I have been reviewing my preterist understanding of Biblical prophecy. To see the prophetic statements of the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles fulfilled in real events within that first century AD can’t fail to heighten one’s estimation of the Bible. Still, there remain many things I find repulsive and extremely ‘ungodly’ in the ‘scriptures’, and which I repudiate.

      I definitely believe that God was, IN Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. But that does not mean that I believe God IS Christ, or that Christ IS God. God is also at work IN me to cause me to willingly do His will (Phil. 2:13). All the fullness of God dwelt in Christ bodily; but it is also the purpose of God that WE shall be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). I doubt you would say that makes us all ‘Persons’ in an ‘Omnitarian’ Deity. When Paul said (1 Tim. 2:5) that there is one mediator between God and men, he didn’t say the ‘god-man’ Christ Jesus; he just said the MAN Christ Jesus. I don’t believe either the word ‘god-man’ or the idea of it ever occurs in the Bible. Yes only God can overcome sin and death; but He does so by working IN a MAN, Christ Jesus, and IN us MEN (and WOMEN) who are the brothers of Jesus Christ (he is the ‘firstborn’ among many brothers). God was manifest, or revealed, in Christ; but He will also be manifest or revealed in us as we walk according to the Spirit.

      Some people believe that because I don’t believe in “Hell”, I will most certainly go there! :lol: Others believe I’m obviously on my way to “Hell” because I don’t accept their idea of a ‘soon (to us) coming’ of Christ; instead I believe the apostles were correct in believing in a ‘soon (to them) coming’ of Christ. It would seem that in that matter I have a ‘higher’ view of Biblical inspiration than they do! :shock:

      This, to me, illustrates clearly the problem with imposing ‘boundaries’ (creedal or otherwise) on Christianity. To impose the views and interpretations of one group of men on others, as bounds which we are not allowed to pass, is both divisive and dangerous, and therefore wrong. We must always be free to use the statements of the first century followers of Christ to pass judgment on the statements of later men and women – not the other way around. I’m not required to interpret the statements of Paul or Peter by the opinions of Church Councils. Those Councils are more likely to be wrong than the the apostles themselves, and I can’t allow anyone else to judge for me on these matters. I myself am responsible to test everything, hold fast to what is good, and reject everything that appears evil (1 Thess. 5:20-22). No other person or group of people has the authority to do that for me, and I must not allow anyone to do so no matter how much they assert a spurious authority.

  • Amy Stone

    I hope you will all pray that I would come to Jesus. I sure could use some salvation right now. :) I’ll pray for you too, ’cause you can probably stand a bit yourselves.

    I’ve been thinking about this question of boundaries and centers a lot lately. It’s not a new question for me, but a recurring one, ever since I read A New Kind of Christian in 2001 and Adventures in Missing the Point in 2003. Back then, my friends and I started drawing diagrams with circles and arrows and dotted lines…trying to figure it out. In nine years of thinking, reading, and discussing, I still can’t reason out a tidy solution.

    In some ways these questions have grown stale for me and I’ve moved on to new things. In other ways, the challenge remains and it’s exciting to work together with other believers. Something I see rising to the surface from this group of comments is that many of us are still trying to define our faith through propositional logic. I am noticing how I, myself, get caught up in my “proofs” so easily (it is fun though, yes? ;) ).

    I was brought up on Evangelical Soft-Calvinism (ya, I just made that term up–multiple oxymorons noted). Individual salvation from an eternal future in, capital h, Hell was the big show. Church was for hanging out with other Christians, with the goal of making God look good, and trawling for “fish” while we all waited around to die (presumably of boredom).

    But, I have more lately come to see faith in terms of affiliation with the community of Jesus, and salvation in terms of restorative justice.

    I also have a renewed sense of wonder and childlike trust that the scripture is all true. It’s like this: Even though I’ve been backstage of a big production, and I know that some of it’s real and some of it’s pretend, when I’m in the audience I buy into every part of the show with all of my heart. Some may think I’m saying that the Bible is full of fairy tales. Okay. My point is, I don’t really care about proving or disproving the veracity or historicity of the Bible. What I do care about is this: that I’m fully sold on this kingdom of justice and peace. I’ve thrown in my whole lot, so without Jesus, I’m a dead woman.

    What does this have to do with defining an outer boundary, or a central focus? Honestly, I’m not really sure (I’ve written more coherent comments). I just know that the Christian faith is fundamentally relational, not propositional. Sure, we can create all kinds of logical arguments and proofs to describe the faith, but those are merely words that point to something else, something real.

    Far be it from me to capture exactly what that “something real” is exactly. At least, I know that without love we don’t have anything. It sounds ephemeral and flaky, but no creed, no matter how spot-on, can actually demonstrate truth. They’re only made of words, not actions.

    Instead of creeds, love of God and love of neighbor must be the outer limit. Dogma can be spewed without love, but love is independent of dogma. Love must be demonstrated in order to exist. It is action, not words.

    The problem with this definition, for those of us who consider ourselves Christians, is that we all move in and out of the bounds of love, daily. With love as the limit, none of us can afford to be cavalier in our faith. We can’t afford to test the outer boundaries, like “church kids” on prom night, but must stay close to the center, who is Christ. We must discover our own need for daily salvation, renewed faith, and restored relationships.

    • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

      Amy,

      I really like what you say here. The ubiquity of the golden rule confirms for me it’s truth. But then why choose Christianity over another religion? For me the answer is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the ultimate form of love. Christ was all about forgiveness; his teachings, his life, his death, his resurrection. Out of every religion I know Christianity has the most satisfying answer for forgiveness, and even more so since I realized that the God of the bible operates through restorative justice. I choose to be a Christian when I choose to live a life of forgiveness. But knowing experientially that I am forgiven by God gives me the confidence that I am a Christian.


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