Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Hath Qumran To Do With Confessionalism?

I'd like to take a moment to respond to a question that Doug Wilson has posed to me on his blog. He writes:

Stellman tags, as he ought to, the importing of worldly techniques of marketing, entertainment, and so forth into the broader contemporary world of evangelicalism. And I am right with him when he does this. But radical two kingdom theology has no problem with bringing worldly standards of science and academic history into the church, for example. Why is that?
The charge, if I'm reading Doug correctly, is that if two-kingdoms theology (or as he calls it, "radical two-kingdoms theology") draws a line in the sand when it comes to the creeping into the church of marketing and consumer trends, then why stop there? If those things are rejected for being secular, then it is arbitrary not to also disallow all secular disciplines, including the findings of historians or other mucky-muck academy types.

Perhaps this is best answered by focusing on his phrase "worldly techniques" or "worldly standards." There is a difference, I would argue, between a historian saying something like, "Jesus of Nazareth wasn't really born in December, nor was he born in the year 0 BC" (claims which are relatively benign), and another historian saying something like, "Jesus of Nazareth may have been crucified under Pontius Pilate, but he wasn't raised from the dead." The latter claim is obviously a direct attack on a central tenet of our faith, while the former merely challenges some of our extra-biblical traditions.

Turning, then, to the issue of "worldly techniques of marketing, entertainment, and so forth," we must ask the question of whether we reject such things because we don't trust secular society and therefore must refuse its advice, or whether we reject such things because, like the second of our two historians, they represent an attack on some aspect of our most holy faith. I think that Doug and I would agree that a Saddleback approach to worship is idolatrous and, from a Reformed perspective at least, sinful. In other words, it is not rejected on the basis that we are pilgrims and there are two kingdoms, but because it is in direct opposition to our tradition's reading of Scripture and its regulative principle of worship.

And finally, Doug asks:

When someone says that we need to take full account of what the old earth scientists say, or that we need to accept what professional historians say about the period of Second Temple Judaism, why does Stellman not reject this out of hand, on the simple ground that we are sojourners and pilgrims? If we don't need no stinkin' church marketers because our congregation is a mere band of wayfaring pilgrims, then does it not follow that we don't need no stinkin' geologists either?
My response is that I do take into account the findings of old-earth scientists because the age of the earth has no bearing upon my faith. If those scientists reject the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, however, I will stop listening to them, but this has nothing to do with their being pagans. Same with the historian's findings with respect to Second Temple Judaism: it's one thing to have my exegesis of certain texts challenged by, say, the claim that the Judaism of Paul's day was more characterized by nationalistic pride in various ethnic boundary markers than by the obsession for individual salvation from the burden of sin, but it's another thing to be expected to reject the doctrine of justification by the imputation of alien righteousness received by the instrument of faith alone. Last I checked, it was specific doctrines, and not the specific exegesis of biblical texts, that I vowed to uphold as a minister in the Reformed tradition. Of course, if the exegesis no longer allows me to hold my doctrinal positions, then the honorable thing to do would be to inform my presbytery and resign my post (but that's a whole 'nother topic).

Lastly, I must say that, after a rocky start, the tone of the discussion at Doug's blog is very charitable and courteous for the most part, and I really appreciate that.