Monday, November 26, 2007

New light from the Bible or new darkness from the culture?

When the church is faced with serious internal threats from heresies it is right to ask questions about why we are facing these particular errors at this particular time. Doubtless, there are proximate and ultimate causes. These include:
  • The oppostion of Satan and his servants who masquerade as servants of righteousness. One of the Puritans said that the devil never lets the wind blow for too long in the same direction, and so it seems to be when we consider the variety of errors that confront churches.
  • The imbalance and reactions of ministers and theologians as they see one truth to the detriment of the whole counsel of God, and who fall into opposing errors as they seek to avoid the contagious diseases of the contemporary church scene (a point that T. David Gordon makes about the Federal Vision and Auburn Avenue theology in By Faith Alone: Answering the challenges to the doctrine of justification).
  • The presence of presuppositions that reconfigure and rule over the authority and content of Scripture (these would include the misuse of reason, wrong ideas about the extent of special revelation, and the collapsing of the Creator-creature distinction).
  • The lurking influence of acceptable cultural thoughts forms and prejudices that either dress themselves up in Christian language and use this to mask changed meanings, or else exert intellectual and moral pressures that heresies and false teachings try to appease.
Whatever reasons we may offer for why the church is facing these soul destroying errors at this particular time, we ought not to think that faithfulness to the truth and the God glorifying reality of churches that speak the truth in love is something to be taken for granted or treated as if it were an easy achievement.

Internally because of our pride, finitude, folly, and desire to be like God, and externally because of the cultural ideas of unbelief that we breathe in every day and the insinuations of the devil, there will always be the challenge to not to shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God.

David Wells has some insightful observations on this pressing issue:

It is important for us to discern why, at a particular time, certain issues come to the fore and engage the church's attention. Usually, the reason for this resolves itself into a choice between two options. Either the issue arises from within the church, as heretical deviations make their way through its life, leaving trouble and confusion in their wake, or the issue arises from without, as the surrounding culture intrudes worldly expectations and appetites upon the church, robbing it of its vision and conviction.

And there is little doubt in my mind that in the case before us, the uniqueness of Christian faith and the reality of God's abiding judgment upon unbelief, it is our modernized and secularized culture that is principally unsettling the church.

...the awkward fact is that the church, for nineteen hundred years, has believed in the uniqueness of Christ, the truth of his Word, and the necessity of God's judgement of the impenitent; and we have to ask why, in the late twentieth century, some or all of these beliefs now seem to have become so unbelievable. Is it that new exegetical discoveries now cast doubt upon what the church has always believed?...Is it that the church has simply misread the Bible and done so consistently over so long a period of time?

No, these truths today have become awkward and disconcerting to hold not because of new light from the Bible but because of new darkness from the culture.

From the Foreword by David F. Wells in Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The case for eternal punishment, p. ix-x