Wednesday, April 04, 2007

In an age of theological change

Have you ever been waiting at a train station, sat patiently at your seat, whilst next to you another train is likewise waiting to leave? And then, as the train starts to move, for a few seconds you are not sure if your train is the one moving or if it is the next train that is starting to pull off. The way to be sure is to look at the platform. The platform after all doesn't move.

So it is in an age of theological change when definitions and doctrines are in motion. Our ultimate authority here is Scripture. This is exactly where Paul directs Timothy as he seeks to be faithful in an age of impostors and deceivers (2 Tim. 3:10-17). This is the fixed point for doctrine.

For evangelicals today there is also a desperate need to consider their own confessional history (assuming that they are the kind of evangelicals that have one). A failure to do this reduces doctrine to the whims of semantic card shuffling (as Francis Schaeffer called it). You may still have all the right words, names, and labels but the meaning of these words, their content and definition, has been radically altered. Or, to put it another way, there are theologies today that are pronounced evangelical and orthodox that our forefathers had no hesitation in calling error, false doctrine, and even heresy.

Here is a helpful comment by Al Mohler that pinpoints the change:

"Writing of theological and intellectual change...Charles Hodge once observed, 'When a drama is introduced in a theater and universally condemned, and a little while afterward, with a little change in the scenery, it is received with rapturous applause, the natural conclusion is, that the change is in the audience and not in the drama.'

This is a very important insight. Hodge's concern was the change in evangelical responses to Darwinian evolution. He was right--the change was in the audience. Similarly, we can detect that many of today's evangelicals now demand a new drama, a new theology. To some extent this is a reaction to a failure in evangelical demonstration. In other cases, it appears that a sense of theological fatigue has set in, prompting some to look for theological formulations that demand a lower level of defense in light of current controversies. Whatever the case, a new audience demands a different drama.

The drama of the gospel has not changed, but the audience for evangelical theology has changed--and not for the better."

Al Mohler, Afterword, in Gary L. W. Johnson & Guy P. Waters, By Faith Alone, p. 207-8

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