Humble Orthodoxy and Church Trends:
11 Questions with Justin Taylor
The interview presents some good points. Below are some excerpts:
But listening and understanding aren’t enough. Humble orthodoxy insists on the language of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Most of us are falling off one side of that horse or the other. We’re often loveless truth-speakers or truthless love-seekers. But the biblical model insists on both. So the other side of the equation is that we must resist the temptation–and it is indeed a temptation in this sea of pseudo-tolerance within which we swim–to have a sort of false humility that is always searching, always exploring, always dialoguing, always asking, but never concluding, never proclaiming, never coming to a knowledge of the truth (cf. 2 Tim. 3:7). We must insist that Truth exists, that He can be known, and that it is loving to speak of this One who graciously saved us and has spoken to us.
What we need to develop is the ability to be mature thinkers. This is what Paul was getting at, I believe, in 1 Corinthians 14:20: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” Sometimes well-intentioned believers will pooh-pooh conversation and subject matter that engages the mind because they insist we should have a “child-like faith.” Our trust and enthusiasm and single-mindedness toward Christ should indeed be like that of a child’s. But our thinking should be mature, like that of an adult’s.
We then contrast that with how the biblical writers treat what theologians call adiaphora (that is, things indifferent). A biblical example would be whether one can eat meat sacrificed to idols (see Romans 14). Paul is personally convinced that it’s fine to eat this meat, but it ultimately doesn’t matter whether one eat or drinks or abstains–as long as the decision is done in faith unto God’s glory and is permitted by God’s word. But mess with justification by faith and Paul gets livid. When we start to observe those sort of patterns, we start to see what ultimately matters in the mind and Word of God.
Question #5: How do we evaluate what is true–we can’t know everything, so how can we really know anything for certain?
JT: You’re right: we can’t know everything! A lot of people take that obvious fact and make the illogical jump from our lack of omniscience to our inability to be certain, which is required by neither Scripture nor logic.
The place to start is with what the Bible teaches, namely, that we can know some things with certainty. (A good place to start is with D. A. Carson’s list on p. 192f. of Becoming Conversant with Emerging Churches.) “That” questions are distinct from “why” statements. In other words, we can separate out the questions “Is this the case?” from “Why is that the case?” As an example, I believe God holds us responsible while simultaneously affirming His absolute sovereignty and our complete responsibility. Now unless your name is Jonathan Edwards, you’re probably going to get confused on this and have trouble sorting through the mystery and the complexities. But it’s important to remember that God holds you accountable for believing that He is 100% sovereign and you are 100% responsible, but not necessarily for understanding why–much less being able to explain why–that’s the case.
That’s not to say that epistemology is unimportant, only that obedience to biblical revelation is more important that offering epistemological explanations. The answer is that God has spoken–he is not silent and he does not stutter. His communication is clear and he intends for us to understand it rightly by using our minds in reliance upon His Spirit. It’s also important to remember that it’s not just me and my Bible, or just me and the Holy Spirit. We are to read the Bible, and to discern the truths contained therein, by reading it with the church, the communion of saints throughout the history of the Spirit’s work. Michael Horton has put this well:
“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age.”
Question #11: What resources do you recommend for understanding and evaluating trends in the church?
JT: The best advice I can give is to be careful not to get too caught up in trend-watching! C. S. Lewis is a great model for us in this. Lewis has been dead now for 44 years, and yet there is a virtual evangelical consensus that Lewis’s writings are extraordinarily relevant for our day and age. Yet Lewis could write to a correspondent and ask: “What is the point of keeping in touch with the contemporary scene? Why should one read authors one doesn’t like because they happen to be alive at the same time as oneself?”
When I was in college I read a very fair and insightful evaluation of Willow Creek Seeker Services by G.A. Pritchard. One of the points I recall him making is that Bill Hybels and company should have carefully studied and appropriated Augustine’s classic The City of God. At the time, I remember thinking (for some reason) that this seemed like unrealistic advice. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think Dr. Pritchard is right. Reading older books–books that have stood the test of time, that get our head out of our own century and culture–have such a helpful effect in helping us to “understand the times.” Studying church history has the same effect. One quickly discovers that there’s nothing new under the sun, and can learn from the mistakes and the insights of those who have come before us.