"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Monday, July 31, 2006

Tongues, American Individualism and Galatians

There's an interesting debate (so far, it's kind of one sided, but that should change before long) among Reformed bloggers. The debate started with a post by Dan Phillips on the Pyromaniacs blog. Adrian Warnack then posted a response on his blog. Dan is now on his third post responding to Adrian, who has left on "holiday" (vacation for us Yanks). Adrian's blog does have an entry from Dr. Sam Storms presenting a counter argument to Dan's first post. But I really don't want to talk about tongues here.

What I've been thinking about recently is the second and third items in my title. Peter Kirk, in a comment to Adrian's post, mentioned a series he was finishing entitled "The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible". The series seems to me to be largely an attempt to justify the egalitarian (as opposed to the complementarian) interpretation of the Scriptures. In responding to a comment to his first post in the series, Peter Kirk writes:

"Thank you, Brian. As for Dr Henry or anyone else being a significant theologian, I am with Paul on this: "As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism..." (Galatians 2:6, TNIV). Paul was talking about "James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars" (v.9, TNIV). If Paul would not defer on theological issues even to the recognised leaders of the church in his time, but in fact opposed Peter himself face to face (v.11), then who is anyone like Dr Henry that I should be expected to defer to them just because of their name or reputation?" [emphasis mine]

Apart from this series of posts, I do not know Peter Kirk. But it appears to me he is espousing a one of the more extreme forms of what I will call "American Individualism." This may seem strange given that he resides in the UK, but I think this is individualism is one of the more unfortunate exports out of the U.S. [Please note that I said, "appears." I do not know Peter Kirk, and he may not be saying what I'm about to write against. There is a bit of a language gap here (English to its less formal step-child American English) that makes this more likely. However, whether this is really what he is espousing with this statement, there are many who would espouse my interpretation of his statement. /disclaimer]

What I'm concerned about is the mixture of American individualism with the doctrine of soul competency that ends up saying, "I stand alone in my interpretation of Scriptures and do not need any help in determining what a particular passage mean." The passage in Galatians 2:6 can be cited as defending this position. However, I see two problems with this interpretation.

First, Paul tells us this immediately after saying that he had received his doctrine directly from Jesus, and not from the agency of humans (Galatians 1:11-12). Therefore, Paul is not concerned with what James or Peter or John might say, because his gospel came directly from Jesus. Whether these other men affirmed it or not was not significant. Unless, therefore, we are claiming direct revelation from Christ, I don't think we can use this passage to assert our own authority.

Second, the point of Galatians was to say that the Gospel is not a matter of interpretation. It is a fixed truth to which we must align our thinking. Therefore, we should not heed teachers who teach contrary to the gospel. But not every teacher teaches contrary to the gospel. Teachers who do not are to be respected and honored. This is evident in Galatians 6:6 where Paul says, "One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches." (ESV) There are, according to this verse, those who teach. They are to be respected to the point that receive compensation for their labor in the Scriptures (see also 1 Timothy 5:17-18). They are not to be ignored.

So Paul is clearly saying that we should listen to others. The point of the Scriptures is that we need to be discerning, testing every spirit to see if it is from God. The key is humility, sorely lacking in much of Western Christianity, leading to a willingness to be corrected when wrong. Soul competency is correct, I will not be able to blame my failures to interpret the Scripture on anyone else. It does not therefore follow, though, that I cannot nor should not look to others whom God has gifted differently to learn from them. Coming to the unity of the faith does not mean everyone agrees with me. It means we teach one another to agree with God.

What is interesting is that those who do not want to listen to anyone else do not practically apply this to you and me. They don't want to be able to dismiss everyone else's opinion, but do not want people to dismiss their opinion. I think this is done unintentionally. They have never thought the logic of their position through to this point, but it is clearly what they mean when they teach (in spoken or written form).

The proper approach, in my opinion, is to study the Scriptures and pray over them and see what they say to me. Then go to other sources and see how they have interpreted the passage. If my interpretation is significantly different, then the passage calls for more prayer and study. Are the alternative arguements convincing? We need to do all this with a humility that acknowledges that we could be wrong about the passage.

PS - 1 Timothy 2:11-15: The one thing I find lacking in the egalitarian attempts to explain these verses, most often by appealling to a cultural limitation, is that Paul bases his instruction not on what was (or was not) occurring in Ephesus, but on creation and the fall. This letter is post resurrection, post Pentecost. If either event was to fully reverse the effects of the fall, why did Paul cite the fall as reason for his instruction? Overall, the egalitartian position is not convincing.

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