In (qualified) praise of evangelical pragmatism

So there I was this morning thinking about how squabblish (that's a new word I just invented) Christians can be.

I've been reading Meic Pearce's wonderful book The Age of Reason (about global church history in 16th-18th Cs). Meic Pearce has such a gripping and funny writing style. Anyway - they were all at it. Protestants fighting Catholics, Catholics fighting Protestants. Protestants fighting other Protestants (e.g., Lutheran v. Calvinist, Lutheran v. Lutheran, Calvinist v. Calvinist), Catholics fighting other Catholics (e.g., Dominican v. Jesuit, Jansenist v. Jesuit), and so on. The Orthodox were no better and everyone was fighting the Muslims (in self-defence, I ought to add).

And I thought about all those vicious arguments today that Christians have over all sorts of issues including theology. The word 'heresy' is so liberally thrown around in some circles ('heresy' here meaning anyone who takes a different theological view than God [i.e., me]).

Don't mishear me - I do want to hold on to the category of 'heresy' but much of the stuff that goes by that name these days is not heresy at all (mistaken theology is not necessarily heretical theology - e.g., limited atonement is wrong - even seriously wrong - but not heretical).

And don't get me wrong. I think that good doctrine matters and I do want to have a sound theology. But some Christians past and present seem willing to spill blood and throw generous amounts of bile around in the name of Jesus over such matters. We are called to speak the truth (and this will mean honest disagreement between Christians) but to speak it in love. It's the love bit that we need to keep revisiting if we are the kinds of Christian who emphasize the importance of doctrine.

It make me realise the virtue of the much maligned strand of evangelical pragmatism which refuses to divide over non-central issues if faith in the same Lord is shared. (I'm not suggesting that all evangelical share in this pragmatic strand).

It also made me realize just how good it is that the oft-criticized Evangelical Theological Society in the USA embraces Calvinists, Arminians, Pre,Post and amillenialists, feminsits and anti-feminists, creation scientists and Darwinians, Modernists and postmoderns, penal substitutionists and ... those who are not into that, and a whole bunch of other theological isms.

I know that there are tensions within ETS and I know that some think it too theologically narrow (e.g., by making inerrancy central thereby ruling out a whole bunch of evangelicals from joining the evangelical theological society) whilst others think it too theologically broad (e.g., Open Theists can be members and this really annoys some. As an aside, the Pope could sign the statement of faith so perhaps he could join ETS too!!!). But the society has held together people with some very different perspectives on theology and they have not killed each other yet. That's good, right! They disagree and debate. Sometimes a few members do so in harsh and unkind ways (and when that happens many members wince) but they still stick together.

It's just about the ever-present knife-edge walk of navigating the tension between affirming the importance of 'truth' and making love for the 'other' a priority. It's easy to overlook theological error when we don't care about theological truth. But when we love those who love the triune God we will be far more careful how we treat them when we disagree.


Theophrastus said…
Note that you misspelled Pearse's name, making it hard for someone to look up the book on Amazon.
Anonymous said…
You should think in the morning more often. I like this post, especially the closing line.
Brett Jordan said…
excellent stuff robin, no squabbles with it at all :-)
Robin Parry said…

you are right - apologies. Meic Pearse.

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