Yesterday I posted an introduction to Your Church is too Small. It was mostly about why we as a church should strive toward unity. Theorectially, I do not think many people disagree with the idea that the church of Jesus Christ should be more unified. The problem comes when we disagree with other Christians.
John Armstrong spends significant time dealing with the concept of Truth. Without getting bogged down, Armstrong shows that since Decarte there has been a radical change in the understanding of truth. Descartes was a mathematician and founder of analytic geometry which led to the discovery of calculus. He was a serious Christian, but because of his rational mathematic mindset he tried to understand his religious and philosophic ideas with the same mathematic understanding. Descartes asserted that all religious ideas (and all other ideas as well) could be proved like a mathematical proof; this led to a distorted understanding of scripture that look at it as primarily a scientific and historical textbook. Instead Armstrong puts forth a new way approach.:
This approach…allows us to see how faith transcends logical categories. To reject the modern a category of certainty does not mean the only choice left is postmodern relativism. All claims to knowledge are useful so long as we understand them to be human pointers that help us know the one who is the final word.
Armstrong then uses Lesslie Newbigin to point out two different ways to think about truth for Christians. First, “For Christians, all certainty must rest in the person of Jesus Christ.” Second, we must adopt a concept of knowledge as theoria (Greek). This idea says that we have only adopted something as real (meaning it is true) when we see the truth and then put that truth into action (praxis). Armstrong quotes Bonhoeffer, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” This is not too controversial at this point. The problem occurs when we strive to protect the church from error. Which Armstrong vigorously defends as the role of a faithful minister of the gospel.
One of the problems with Western Christians in general and Evangelicals in particular according to Armstrong (and many others), is our reduction of the gospel to “creation, fall and redemption”. This isn’t wrong, but when combined with Western individualism it changes the narrative of scripture to be about the individual, not the church. It focuses Christ’s work as a work for me, instead of his universal work throughout history. I think that this is the point where Armstrong could have spent some more time. God’s work in history is not, as many Evangelicals assert, to save me as an individual. God’s work is to bring about his glory, to redeem his creation and to re-create that creation to work as he intended it. Changing the story of God’s work in history back to the original story focuses us on the Church, as God’s instrument in history and away from us as individuals.
I have been also listening to Eugene Peterson’s Tell it Slant. Peterson says (paraphrase) “that modern democracy has help Christians loose sight of what a kingdom means. When we talk about kingdom growth, or kingdom work, many US Christians think of a modern democratic state. There you have a role in choosing the direction of the growth. Christ means kingdom. Where the king chooses and we have no say in the direction. This offends our sensibilities but that makes it no less true.”
Armstrong says no Christian is an “only child”. We are part of a larger church. And the role of the church is to be the church for those that are not yet a part of it. “We are to live so they will find the grace of God among us.” Armstrong then addresses us as Evangelicals to give us a new understanding of catholic(as in the Apostle’s creed) and a new appreciation of tradition. I think that it is only through Armstrong’s wrestling with the role of tradition and the concept of catholic that he can place Christ as head of the church and remove himself (or us) from the role of determining who is and who is not a part of the church.
Tomorrow’s post will be about defining the “true” Christian and Church and using mission as way to step forward.
Disclosure: This book was provided free for purposes of review. For more information about the book you can also go to the book’s website.