Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Importance of Not Being Too Earnest

Where Is Riggo
 When You Need Him?

Hall of Fame running back, John Riggins, created a minor Washington, D.C., scandal in 1985 when, seated at the same table with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at a black tie dinner, he said to her, ''Come on, Sandy baby, loosen up. You're too tight.'' He then went under the table and fell asleep. Apparently Justice O'Connor has a sense of humor, because several years later, when Riggins was appearing in a play, Justice O'Connor attended, went on stage after the performance, and gave him a bunch of roses.

Lately it occurs to me that we all might benefit from Riggins' counsel and Ms. O'Connor's sense of humor. Perhaps we become too earnest and take ourselves much too seriously.

I think about the political warfare going on in Mississippi where I spent a collective 25 years. With the general election now about six weeks away the conflict is not between the Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, but within the Republican Party. The aggrieved loser of the June 24 party runoff has sued the winner, and the case is now before the Mississippi Supreme Court. If you go to the two Facebook pages maintained by the one who lost, you see earnestness in the extreme on the part of both the candidate and his supporters. They truly believe that God is on their side and that the real contest is between cosmic good and evil. So great is their outrage that at least some of them plan to vote for the opposing party in order deny the winner of their primary re-election and to teach the corrupt party leaders a lesson. They hope that they can then cut down the wicked tree at its roots and plant in its place a new pure Republican tree. The candidate takes himself entirely too seriously, and his followers are full of zeal without adequate knowledge of political and historical realities. They can't laugh at themselves.

But, what interests me more is the earnestness that takes place within the conservative Reformed branch of Christianity. I am now an Anglican, though, as a 39 Articles man, I remain Reformed. However, to some extent I can stand back and look at the Presbyterian-Reformed world with the insight of having been a part of it for 40 years as an ordained minister and with the detachment of someone who has not been a card-carrying member of it for a year. 

My observation is that, if folks don't lighten up, their world may fall apart. One example of what am talking about can be seen at the Green Baggins Blog. The current matter of much earnestness is related to Dr. Doug Green, the now "retired" professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary-East, and the "Christotelic" hermeneutic. 

The matter is serious for a number of reasons. One is that it finds Westminster, a seminary that must be loved by all who look to Machen as a hero, enduring another controversy. Shepherd. Enns. Green. (In my opinion the Shepherd and Enns departures from Reformed orthodoxy are much more serious than those alleged with regard to Dr. Green.) Another is that there are questions about what is described as a "personnel" issue which for some puts it out of bounds for questioning. Still another, and most important, is that the controversy involves important questions about how to understand, teach, and preach the Old Testament in light of the ways it is interpreted in the New Testament. 

As working preacher whose primary questions of the Bible are, "What does this mean?" and "How shall I preach it?", and who has not advanced much beyond Palmer Robertson's Biblical theology courses, and whose own way of handling Scripture is settled in his own mind, these matters are of some, but not critical, interest to me. Frankly, my greater concern in this particular matter is with the "how" of Dr. Green's retirement than the "what" of his hermeneutic. Over at Green Baggins the writer and his moderators and some of the commenters take the stand that this "how" matter is Westminster's business and no one else's.

The thing I keep asking, when I read Green Baggins and some other Blogs, is, How does someone keep up with all the issues and where one is supposed to stand on all of them?

Consider just a partial list:

1. Are you an "obedience boy" or a "grace boy"? How bad can you be and still be a Christian? How good must you be to be a Christian?

2. Are you a 6-24 hour days creationist or do you think the universe and earth could be old and that Genesis 1 can allow for some kind of process? (And for some of the 6-24 folks, this view alone is creationism. If you don't hold this view you (1) don't believe what the Bible says,  (2) you have capitulated to science, and (3) you are some kind of Darwinian no matter that you confess the Creed.)

3. Are you for or against distinctive culturally based and historically conditioned indigenous theologies? Particularly the  African American sort?

4. Are you pro or anti Redeemer (NYC)?

5. Do you believe women might be allowed to read Scripture (lectors we Anglicans call them) in worship or does that turn Paul on his head? And in general, what may women do and what may they not?

6. Do you think Westminster-West is a crypto-Lutheran institution or a mainstream Reformed one?

7. Do you see yourself as Old School, New School. or neither? And which Side - old, new, neither?

8. What if anything does Baptism mean? do? And the Lord's Supper? How often should the Lord's Supper be celebrated? Wine or juice? To intinct or not to intinct?

9. Where do you stand on experimental religion? revivals?

10. Are you a Lloyd-Jones man or a Stott man?

11. What is regeneration? What is conversion? What is union with Christ? 

12. Where do you stand on transformation? the cultural variety? the personal variety? 

13. Would you allow Warfield into your denomination?  How about Machen?

14. Who would you put out of your your denomination if you could? Who would put you out? 

15. Psalms? Hymns? P&W?

16. Which New Testament text? Allow for "lower criticism" or not?

17. Do you think that the PCA should have found a way to get rid of Leithart?

18. Home school? public school? Christian school?

19. To patriarch or not to patriarch? Pro-Baylys or anti-Baylys?

20. Are you really born again? truly converted?

There are so many issues, and so many lines being drawn, and so many places to come down that one needs some kind of list just to keep up. What's this week's critical issue? Where do you stand on it? Who's in? Who's out? How many checks do you need on the checklist to stay on the good list?

There are lots of matters that are important, some critical. It is good that we take theology seriously. But, how many issues can the relatively small conservative Reformed world have before there are break-ups and crack-ups? 

As for me, I have my own list of issues.

1. Should schools be allowed to start before Labor Day?

2. Should baseball players be allowed to wear jewelry? be allowed to wear pull their pants legs down to their shoes?

3. Should college football bowl games be allowed after January 1?

4. Does the NBA play basketball?

5. Should Florida retain Will Muschamp if he does not beat the Dawgs and Criminoles? Should Florida not try to get Spurrier to come home and fix things?

(Hint: if you want to be on my "in" list, the answers to all the above are "no.") 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read this post multiple times the last few weeks. There is a great deal of wisdom in it. I often wonder just how important catholicity is to us in the Reformed/Presbyterian camp.