Thursday, February 09, 2006
What Happens When the Bible Shrinks?
Traveling in the Mideast; attending a Catholic funeral; mulling over the state of the mainline/sideline church in America. What do all these have in common?
All are exposures to the Incredible Shrinking Bible. (If you are old enough to remember the B-movie, "The Incredible Shrinking Man", you will get the reference.)
My basic observation is this: when the Scriptures are brought down from their God-intended role, something else will rush in to take their place.
The Catholic funeral I attended was depressing. Their was little hope given because we heard so little of the hope given in God's word. It became clear that the funeral was really all about the efficacy of the church.
Place after place in the Mideast has been declared a holy place, an idea repugnant to the faith of the New Testament (see the excellent book by Peter Walker, Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem.) Place replaced God's word and the result is a reversion back to an Old Testament mindset about "holy places."
What relevance does this have to theological liberalism? Again, when the Word is devalued, something else rushes in to take its place. That 'something else' is usually one of these three, or a combination:
1. The church itself. The theo-left is often obsessed by the church, its structures, instituitions and policies. This is one of the reasons that the left often comes to dominate denominational structures.
2. Social action. Faith is a big-picture endeavor. So let's change the world through social action! This blends into #3:
3. Political action. What do Stalin, Al Gore and Gary Hart have in common? All are former seminary students who dropped out to enter politics instead. The theo-left in America tend to have trendy causes of the moment: Vietnam, Nicaragua, South Africa, anti-Star Wars, gay liberation, anti-capitalism, anti-War in Iraq...the names change, the impulse doesn't. When the Big Cause set forth by Scripture (the Great Commission) fades away along with the Scripture itself, new causes arise to become the Big Cause du jour.
In 1983, when a friend of mine was finishing seminary, he was interviewed for possible placement by one of the most liberal ABC regions. (I won't say which one, but if you know Jack Benny's butler's name you can figure it out.) He asked what the region was doing in evangelism. "Well, we have a great refugee resettlement program." Great; what are you doing in evangelism? "Have we told you about our refugee resettlement program?"
When the Bible shrinks in the church, something else will grow, and in its growing distort and contort the church. The theo-left sees that as real health; in medicine, it's called cancer.