Several weeks ago I posted on the National Baptist Fellowship which was being held in Brisbane at that time. Along with my rejoicing in some of the blessings of my distanced participation in the meetings (via live streaming), I also made a few critical comments.
I explained then that I was doing so in the spirit of trying to open up discussion and interaction on issues that affect Australian Independent Baptists and indeed all Australian Fundamentalists. I was pleased to see that happen at some level. However, the feedback I’ve received suggests that many did not understand the basis of my concerns.
In order to give a clearer picture of my concerns with “pre-applied messages” and “enculturation,” I wanted to briefly set out a framework for understanding the Christian Scriptures. My thinking it this area has been greatly benefited by the ministry of Dr. Tim Jordan, chancellor of Calvary Baptist Seminary.
There are three separate elements in understanding the Scriptures: theology, philosophy, and methodology. For the purposes of this framework, theology has to do with the actual requirements of Scripture regarding faith and practice. Philosophy has to do with the reasoning behind the requirements of Scripture, and methodology has to do with the ways in which we carry out the requirements of Scripture. We could summarise it as below:
Theology ..What we are to do
Philosophy ..Why we are to do it
Methodology ..How we are to do it
I would suggest that Scripture offers insight on all three of these elements at times, but at other times addresses only one or two of these elements. To illustrate the point, I’ll apply the framework to mission.
Applying the framework
The theology of mission is clearly set out in Matthew 28:18-20. We are to “make disciples of all nations.” This is the what. The why is addressed at varying levels throughout Scripture, but for the most part depends on systematic theology. Someone who leans toward Arminianism will have a different why than someone who leans toward Calvinism.
When it comes to the how, it starts to get interesting. Scripture doesn’t tell us how we are to make disciples of all nations. Of course many suggest that Scripture does tell us how when it tells us about the missionary journeys of Paul. The question arises then, are Paul’s journeys normative (how it should be done) or merely descriptive (how it was done)?
I think it’s safe to say that much Fundamentalist preaching rests on the assumption that (almost) all Scriptural narratives are normative. But I think a strong case can be mounted to suggest that at least most of the time, Scriptural narratives should be taken to be descriptive.
The point remains. While we are clearly given the theology. The philosophy and methodology are not as clearly outlined.
Drawing some conclusions
The natural result of our application to mission would be to conclude that we are to make disciples of all nations (the what), but that the why will be informed more by our systematic understanding of theology, and that the how is open to discussion.
We might, therefore, expect Fundamentalists to develop varying methods for accomplishing the task. Indeed we do see this. We see tent-making methods. We see corporate missionary methods. We see pure faith mission methods. We see student work methods. We see deputation/field type methods. In fact, the only method that is almost completely absent in the Independent Baptist movement is the method Paul used in Scripture.
Of course if Scripture did clearly lay out a normative methodology for mission, we would be obliged to follow that method. But, if we take the actions of the movement as an indication, the movement takes the narratives about Paul’s methods descriptively leaving room for various methods.
But before we consider it a free for all on methodology, we must first be sure that Scripture has not outlined a methodology or put boundaries in place for our methodology. For instance, Scripture gives significant guidance for the theology, the philosophy, and the methodology for the office of the elder. Scripture explicitly teaches that an elder must fit certain qualifications and that the office is exclusively to be held by men. In such areas of methodology, we do not have the liberty to be creative. We instead humbly submit to the guidelines that God has placed on the methodology.
Tying it into my NBF comments
I used two illustrations in the NBF post: modesty and testifying to the gospel. In the case of modesty, the what and why are addressed in Scripture, but the how is not. Setting dress standards is one method of pursuing modesty. It’s not the only method. Nor is it mandated in Scripture.
In the case of testifying to the gospel, the what and why are also addressed, but the how is not. My concern was that door-knocking (a method, the how of testifying) was being preached as if it was biblical. But Scripture does not address the how of testifying at that level of detail.
Hopefully this will give more clarity to my concluding statement in that post…
My concern is that these types of pre-applied messages tend to render the actual Scriptural truth indiscernible from the cultural application. In other words, I suspect many will leave the meetings feeling that Scripture teaches that we should set dress standards and that Scripture teaches that we should use the door-knocking methodology. But it doesn’t.
Grace to you.