Last week’s post about Challies and McLaren touched on some deep, underlying issues that I wish to press further today.
Challies writes out of an ethos which is prevalent not just in the Neo-Reformed universe, but also, to some extent or another, in all of evangelicalism. It says: The Bible is the foundation of all truth. As such, it is a storehouse and treasure trove of propositional truth. We can get at this truth using the tools of reason and logic.
This is a response to the challenges of Enlightenment, modernist thinking. In Enlightenment times thinkers and scholars argued that there is nothing beyond this world, nothing beyond what can be understood through science and proven through reason and logic. In response to this, the Western church has asserted that oh yes we do have a source of authoritative truth which we can all be certain of. In Catholicism this led to papal infallibility. In evangelicalism this led to the currently prevailing ethos.
But the world is changing. Within the last century there has been a scientific revolution. We have moved away from an Enlightenment-esque, rules-based understanding of how the universe works. Quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity have reintroduced mystery to the scientific realm.
In response to this, there has been a philosophical revolution. No longer is there any distinction between subject and object; instead we now recognize that we are all in an interconnected web of relationships. We no longer see ourselves as individuals interacting with the world around us like a scientist looking at a microscope slide; instead we now recognize that we all are on the slide. With this, the notion of absolute truth, the idea that there are universal principles which are binding upon all people in all places in all times, has vanished. Language is no longer seen as communicating absolute truths; instead it is seen as relative, that is, contingent upon context, place and time.
Of course this gives evangelicals the heebie-jeebies. If there are no absolutes and if language is a relative construct, then we can have no confidence in anything the Bible says, or that anything it said two thousand years ago is still true for us today. Therefore we can have no confidence that Christ rose from the dead. Admit it: You hear these voices running through your head as you read this.
In reaction against this, many evangelicals lash out in defense of the Bible as God’s authoritative, inerrant Word that we can stand upon with complete, absolute confidence and certainty. In so doing, they think they are defending the faith. But in reality, they are instead defending Enlightenment, modernist philosophy.
Don’t make that mistake, people!!!!!!!!!!
Instead, recognize that there are new opportunities for understanding and articulating the Christian faith in our age.
If there is no distinction between subject and object…
If there is no absolute truth…
If language is relative and incapable of communicating universal, objective truth…
Then all is mayhem.
And above the mayhem stands Christus Victor.
What is Christus Victor? It is a fancy Latin phrase for the dominant conception of the person and work of Christ for much of church history prior to the Enlightenment. Even if you’re not totally up to speed on your Latin, you should not have much trouble figuring out what this one means. It is Christ the Victor: Christ who has defeated death, darkness, and all the powers and principalities of this broken world through his death and resurrection.
In the Western church we have largely gotten away from this. The dominant conception of the person and work of Christ is as sacrifice. In evangelicalism and in conservative Christianity we focus on Christ’s sacrifice as an atonement for our sin. In the more liberal reaches of Western Christianity they focus on Christ as example, that is, on his teachings and on the moral and ethical influence of his exemplary work.
Our faith has moved from Christ-centered to Bible-centered. We equate defending the faith with defending the Bible. Yet Jesus rebuked the Pharisees: “You diligently search the Scriptures, thinking that by them you have eternal life. I am the one to whom the Scriptures point, and you refuse to come to Me for life.” (my paraphrase. I’m too lazy to look it up. Deal.) And don’t forget the countless times that Jesus said, “You have heard it said…. But I say to you….”
We have limited Christ’s work of redemption to the human race, and still further, to individuals who accept Christ as their personal Savior. Or are part of “the elect”, if you are of a more Neo-Reformed bent. In the liberal reaches of Christianity it’s even worse: Christ didn’t do anything more for us than teach us and provide us with a good moral example.
We have got to go back to Christus Victor–Christ reigning over all of creation, having won the victory over sin and death and darkness, and reconciling not just humanity, not just “the elect”, not just those who “gave their hearts to Jesus”, but all of creation to Himself. This is what Christ is doing, and this is what we get to be a part of. Any view of Christ’s work which stops short of this is woefully inadequate.