Saturday, May 30, 2009

Certainty and openness


Some Christians seem "all certainty." Maybe it makes them feel heroic, standing against the tide. They see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset.

Other Christians seem "all openness." Maybe it makes them feel humble and cool. They see too few black-and-white areas. They're giving away the store. They have a liberal mindset -- though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty.

The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as "of first importance." Here is the center of our certainty.

From that "of first importance" theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical questions asking for our attention. The more clearly our logic connects with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further our thinking extrapolates from that center, the less certain and the more open we should be.

When a question cannot be addressed by a clear appeal to the Bible, our conclusions should be all the more modest.

The gospel requires us to have high expectations of one another on biblically central doctrines and strategies, and it cautions us to be more relaxed with one another the further we have to move out from the center.

A church or movement may desire, for its own reasons, to define secondary and tertiary doctrines and strategies as important expectations within their own ministry. That's okay. But then it's helpful to say, "We know this isn't a dividing line for Christian oneness. It's just a decision we've made for ourselves, because we think it will help us in our situation. We realize that other Christians will see it differently, and that's cool."

May we become more certain where we've been too open and more open where we've been too certain, according to Scripture alone. And where it seems helpful to provide further definition on our own authority, may we do so with candor and humility but without apology.