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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 8

February 28, 2013

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 5 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here.

One of the figures from the early church who has sparked the most controversy is Theodore of Mopsuestia, who lived in what is today southern Turkey in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Theodore lived his life in relative obscurity, but after his death his Christological thought (like that of his more famous student Nestorius) was condemned by the church. But scholars in the 19thand 20th centuries have argued that the condemnation of Theodore (and maybe also of Nestorius) was unjust, the product of church politics more than doctrinal inadequacies.

Part of the reason many modern scholars have sought to rehabilitate Theodore is the fact that they have regarded him as the greatest biblical interpreter in the early church. He is thought to have been the supreme example of the so-called “Antiochene school,” whose proponents sought to take the Bible literally and to take history seriously, in contrast to the “Alexandrian school,” whose proponents allegedly denigrated history through allegorical interpretation and philosophical speculation. This neat dichotomy between the two schools has been increasingly called into question by patristics scholars, but it remains very influential and still dominates most books on the history of biblical interpretation.

A couple of days ago I read a new translation of Theodore’s commentary on John’s Gospel. As I expected, I found much evidence of the concern for history that modern scholars find attractive. Theodore has a long discussion of the relation between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel. He injects many points of historical background into his exposition of specific passages. And he is particularly concerned to show how the various resurrection narratives in the four Gospels fit together without contradiction. All of these concerns are characteristic of Theodore as I knew him from other writings of his that I’ve read previously, and this historical concern is very commendable.

At the same time, this commentary also confirmed what I’ve long held to be the central problem with Theodore’s thought—he sees Christ not as God the Son incarnate, but as a man in whom the Word of God dwells. In John 3:13, 8:58, and 17:24 (among other passages), Jesus indicates that he—not just his divine nature but he as a person—has always existed and always been in fellowship with the Father. In his discussions of the first two passages, Theodore refuses to say that the Son as a person has come down from heaven or that Jesus as a person has existed before Abraham. Even more strikingly, in discussing Jesus’ statement that the Father has loved him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24), Theodore takes this to mean that the Father foreknew that he would love the man Jesus once he was born on earth, rather than taking it to mean that the Father loved the pre-existent Son from all eternity past.

These passages do indeed indicate that Theodore’s understanding of Christ was problematic (something I’ve argued on the basis of reading his other writings), but they also indicate something else. Why do scholars say that Theodore takes the Bible literally if he feels compelled to interpret some of Jesus’ most direct statements about his eternal pre-existence and eternal relationship to the Father in such non-literal ways? It is certainly true that Theodore takes many biblical passages more literally than orthodox church fathers do. But when it comes to passages on the most central affirmation of the Christian faith, Theodore seems much less literal than the orthodox church fathers. On what basis, then, should we classify Theodore’s interpretation as “literal” and others’ interpretation as “allegorical,” when the accuracy of those descriptors depends on which biblical passages one is considering?

You see, “literal” and “allegorical” are not merely neutral descriptors. They are labels with significant value judgments attached to them. To allegorize, we seem to think, is always bad. To take the Bible literally, we think, is always good. In fact, though, no one takes every biblical passage literally. All interpreters have a rationale for understanding some passages in one way and other passages in another way. When we study—and seek to learn from—the biblical interpretation of the early church, the value judgments attached to the labels “literal” and “allegorical” may hinder our task of understanding why they interpreted the Bible the way they did. Maybe we need to seek to understand more deeply, without being so quick to label patristic biblical interpretation as either “literal” or “allegorical.”

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 7

February 07, 2013

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 5 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here.

One of the things I tell my students is that unity among Christians—real unity, that is—cannot be forged. This usually comes as a surprise, because we often speak of trying to “be uniters” or to “forge unity” among competing parties or groups. But if we think about it, we recognize that “forge” can mean two things—either “manufacture” (as in forging a wheel out of iron) or “fake” (as in forging a painting). Almost by definition, if we fake unity by ignoring substantial differences between two or more Christian groups, what we wind up with is merely the semblance of unity, not the real thing. Likewise, we cannot manufacture unity. As hard as we may sometimes work toward unity, we cannot produce it out of nothing. If it isn’t already there, we can’t make it come about. In contrast to either manufacturing or faking unity, I tell my students that real unity has to be discovered.

To say this is to admit that many times, there is a real unity between different groups of Christians but that the unity is obscured, hidden in some way. In Christian history, what has sometimes obscured whatever unity may have been present was either ill will (refusal to believe that the other side had good intentions and even that that other side might agree with us) or terminological confusion (using the same words to mean different things, or using seemingly opposing words to mean the same thing, without realizing that this was happening). As I have studied the controversies of the early church, I have repeatedly been amazed by the way these two factors have conspired to obscure how much consensus was actually present on the great theological issues of the day.

One example on which I’ve written recently (in an article coming out this April in Journal of Theological Studies) has to do with the complicated interaction between two groups in the fourth century who were both trying to articulate the relation between God the Father and God the Son. We label these groups Homoousians and Homoiousians (notice the letter “i” that distinguishes those two words). The Homoousians affirmed that the Son is “of one substance” with the Father, using the Greek word homoousios which the Council of Nicaea had used in 325 and which would eventually be retained in the Nicene Creed in 381. The Homoiousians, in contrast, preferred to say that the Son was “like the Father in substance,” using the Greek word homoios (“like” or “similar”), and their phrase was not ultimately used by the church in its creedal statements.

It may look like these two groups did not share the same view of the Son. Indeed, the Homoiousians themselves did not think they were saying the same thing as the Homoousians, because at a synod in Ancyra (Ankara today, the capital of Turkey) in A.D. 358, they actually condemned anyone who used the word homoousios to describe the Son’s relation to the Father. Some of the Homoousians (like Epiphanius of Salamis) also thought that they were not saying the same thing, and they condemned the Homoiousians.

But I suggest that the two groups—who between them comprised most of the Christian church in the fourth century—were in fact saying the same thing about God the Son. After all, “of one substance” and “like in substance” could mean the same thing, if one takes “like” to mean “exactly like.” If I’m right about this, then the consensus in the fourth-century church about the Son’s relation to the Father was greater than we often think. There was more unity than we realize—or than they realized—but that unity was obscured and had to be discovered before a consensus articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity could be achieved.

Studying issues like this forces me to ask, How much more unity is there among us—between the fractured and sometimes fractious groups of the Christian church—than we realize? Do we allow terminological differences to obscure a consensus that is actually there? Do we not even try to look for any possible unity because of our ill will toward other groups of Christians? My research in the early church has led me to believe that back then, there was more of a consensus about the faith than our books normally tell us today, and even more of a consensus than people at the time realized. Might that also be the case today?

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 6

November 13, 2012

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 6 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here.

One of the most commonly repeated “Sunday-school” stories from the early church is that until the conversion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the Romans constantly and mercilessly persecuted the church. It is true that in some places and at some times, persecution was quite intense, but it was much more sporadic than constant, and persecution was rarely very systematic. Not only is the Sunday-school version of events incomplete about how widespread persecution was; it is also incomplete about how the church responded. To hear the story in Sunday School is often to come away with the impression that all Christians in those early centuries were heroes, valiantly going to the lions with the name of Christ upon their lips as they were torn limb from limb. Again, it is true that some Christians met their death in this way, but certainly not many. Far more people caved in during persecution, or sought to evade it, or something of that sort. After all, they weren’t that much different from us.

But before we disparage the Sunday-school version of events too much, we need to recognize that the early Christians themselves held up the famous martyrs as heroes for Christ. The martyr stories were the most popular and influential “biographies” of the early church, inspiring the masses of ordinary believers to be more obedient and faithful to Christ as well. What, though, did the obedience of the ordinary Christians look like? If few Christians were actually martyred, then how did the regular Christians emulate the brave martyrs who had gone to the lions?

Part of the answer to that question can be found during the most widespread persecution of the early church—the so-called “Great Persecution” that began in the year AD 303. Unlike most persecutions, this one did extend throughout the empire, although it lasted much longer in the East than it did in the West. Many martyr stories stem from events during this persecution, most commonly describing the brave Christians who refused to give up their copies of the Scriptures when the Roman officials came seeking them as part of their systematic effort to destroy the Christian Bible. In one particularly noteworthy story, a group of laypeople from the church of Abitina (near Carthage in what is today Tunisia) repudiated the action of their own bishop in giving up the church’s Scriptures, continued to hold Christian services without him, and were arrested, tried and executed for doing so. Christians have long celebrated the bravery of heroes like these Abitinian martyrs and have acknowledged the role their bravery played in the preservation of biblical texts.

But in addition to such overt acts of bravery, there were many smaller ones. Papyri sources reveal that some Christians told Roman officials that they had the Bible in their hearts (doubtless true, but probably also misleading, since there were likely to have been manuscripts somewhere as well). Others gave the Roman officials the runaround—giving names of church members who had the manuscripts, and those church members would give other names, and so on, until the officials would give up and inquire at a different church. Still other Christians gave up copies of heretical or even non-Christian writings, hoping the officials would not know the difference. And one account even indicates that a clever Christian handed over a copy of a medical textbook in the hope that the Roman official either couldn’t read or wouldn’t care, as long as he could go back to his boss with some confiscated writing.

Such duplicitous—even humorous—acts don’t make for great, inspiring reading, and it is not surprising that these were not the accounts that the church chose to preserve and pass on. But as papyri discoveries round out our picture of ancient history, we can recognize that such small deeds were acts of faithfulness nonetheless. Indeed the Lord has used the bold acts of people like the Abitinian martyrs to further his purposes and to preserve his Scriptures. But he has also used the little, ordinary actions of regular believers, who were being faithful to the degree that they thought they could.

In Finding God in Unexpected Places, Philip Yancey famously writes about “saints” and “semi-saints.” He has Ezra and Nehemiah in mind, but Christian history also has many examples of saints and semi-saints. Indeed, so does the present Christian church. And for most of us, who don’t feel very heroic and who read the stories of great saints with a bit of embarrassment and shame, maybe it is encouraging to know that God has worked—and does work—through semi-saints like us as well. Maybe the real role that the great martyr stories play in Christian history is that they inspire a lot of little acts of faithfulness—acts that, although small taken individually, amount to something when considered in aggregate. And maybe that is a sufficient reason to keep telling the Sunday-school version of the story.

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

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Hi, Dr. Fairbairn! I just wanted to say that I read your book, Life in the Trinity, and it has revolutionized my understanding of God and salvation. I'm now going through it with my small group. I praise God for you, dear brother. Please keep making known the good news!
Adam 1:33PM 01/30/13

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 4

March 16, 2012

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 4 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here.

Why should evangelicals care about the early church, about the first several centuries after the end of the New Testament? Another reason why we should take that period seriously is that the church fathers had a very different way of reading the Bible from the way we are taught to read it, and we may have something to learn from their interpretation.

Modern Bible study methods focus on “reading out” the message of each passage by focusing on the context to that passage—the history, the culture, the language. Such study methods implore us to avoid “reading in” any pre-conceived ideas that might corrupt the message of that text. In contrast, the church fathers read every passage of Scripture in light of the major thrust of Scripture, the single story they believe the Bible is telling. And that story, according to the vast majority of the church fathers, is the story of Christ. So they see the whole Bible—down to every last passage of the Old Testament—as a story about Christ. To state the contrast simply, we read from the narrow to the broad—from the meaning of each individual passage to the whole message of the Bible. They read from the broad to the narrow—reading each passage in light of what they think the whole Bible is about.

In light of this difference, we might accuse the church fathers of reading their own ideas into the texts—and we would be right in this accusation (at least in some cases). But before we are too quick to criticize, we should recognize that our narrow-to-broad method of Bible study emerged among modern scholars who did not believe the Bible was a unified book. They saw—and still do see—the Bible as a series of rather disparate stories that are not necessarily consistent with each other. So those scholars do not consider the big story of the Bible to be relevant to the question of what each individual passage means. Only the historical, cultural, and literary context of that passage is relevant to that passage’s interpretation.

When we look at the matter this way, we recognize that we evangelicals share the early church’s assumption and disagree with the modern liberal assumption. Unlike our colleagues in the liberal academy, we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, that it tells a single story, that it is a unity. It is thus ironic that we sometimes use a method of biblical interpretation unwittingly borrowed from scholars who do not believe the Bible is a unity, a method that focuses narrowly on the background to each passage, without as much attention to the broader context of the whole Bible.

If we do in fact share the church fathers’ assumption about the unity of Scripture, should we not take another look at the fathers’ interpretation of the Bible? When we read their interpretation, much of it seems very far-fetched, like finding Christ in minute details of the Old Testament, and I do not for a moment want to condone such exegetical excess. What I do want to commend, though, is the fathers’ attitude toward the Bible. It is a single book, given by God, telling a single story, and that story is ultimately about Christ. They believed that, and so do we. Because they believed that, they proceeded from the big picture to the details, from Christ to the individual passages, in their interpretation of Scripture. We usually do not do that. But should we?

Whether we adopt very many of the fathers’ specific interpretations of Old Testament passages or not, their focus on Christ can remind us that we too can and should make Christ the center of all our biblical interpretation. And the church fathers can also open our eyes to the possibility that there are more connections between the Old Testament and Christ than we typically see, even if there are not as many legitimate connections as they find. Thus, early church biblical interpretation has some important lessons to teach us about the Bible, lessons we might not learn without paying attention to the church fathers.

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , biblically-grounded , equipping leaders for the church and society , faculty blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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It is my first time hearing such difference among the church fathers and the contemporary evangelicals in interpreting the bible. In my understanding if they were not based on the central message “Christ”, they might accept other scripts in the canon and creates a great confusion. God never let His divine agenda to vanish. But, He uses His people according to His plan throughout the time. He knows how to use the early church fathers and us. At this time we might not interpret having in mind to elevate ‘Christ’, but our interpretation using history, the culture, and the language finally should have a message in connection with The Father The Son and The Holy Spirit. If and otherwise the interpretation has something wrong. The Bible is the story of the work of God, Son and The Spirit. I agree we should learn from church Fathers.Dr. God bless you I have got a new understanding.
Seleshi Andarge 2:10AM 01/15/13
Happy Easter.... Thanks for the post on reading from the best book:)
Ken Jensen 12:56PM 04/08/12

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 3

February 28, 2012

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 3 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here.

Why should evangelicals care about the early church, about the first several centuries after the end of the New Testament? Another of the reasons why studying that time period could be valuable to us has to do with the striking similarities between the first several centuries of Christian history and the age in which we live today.

In the Roman world, and later in the European world that gave birth to America as we know it, Christianity was “enfranchised” from the fourth century to about the nineteenth or early twentieth. That is to say, Christianity was given favored status within society, and the legal and political structures reflected that favoritism. (By the way, I should add here that Europe has never been the only place where Christianity flourished. But that’s a story for another time!) But it is no secret that in the past hundred years, Christianity has increasingly become disenfranchised in the Western world. The major cultural influences on American society have become more secular (even though most Americans remain Christians of some sort), and in Europe most people have actively abandoned the Christian faith. Europe and America have become “post-Christian.”

The Church has often had trouble adapting to this post-Christian environment. Our ways of presenting the Gospel typically assume a great deal of familiarity with the Christian message, our ways of doing ministry often assume that people respect “church” and will come to church to hear the gospel if we are friendly and inviting enough. Even our traditional ways of defending the Christian faith assume that people believe there is such a thing as truth and that they care about finding that truth. In many places and situations, these traditional approaches to outreach and ministry don’t work anymore, and as we recognize their ineffectiveness, we are beginning to think deeply about how we can best do ministry in a post-Christian, post-modern environment.

What we often don’t realize is that a POST-Christian environment looks very much like a PRE-Christian environment. In the Roman world of late antiquity (roughly the first three centuries of the Christian era), there were many parallels to our situation today. Most stunningly, that society was as rampantly “experience” oriented and entertainment driven as ours is. Although the philosophers cared deeply about truth, most ordinary people were pragmatic, eclectic, and blissfully inconsistent about the principles by which they lived their lives. They sought religious experiences that met their felt needs, but their religion had little impact on their entertainment choices, their moral decisions, etc. Also striking is the fact that the Roman government, while priding itself on granting religious freedom, actually reacted rather harshly to any religion in its midst that objected to an easy religious relativism or called into question the supremacy of the State over religious expressions. Sound familiar? It should.

As a result, Christians in the Roman Empire (and again, there were MANY Christians outside the Roman Empire as well) faced the monumental task of defending a religion that insisted on absolute truth in a society of relativistic, eclectic, pragmatists. They had to foster a Christian morality in a society where the average level of morals—by virtually any measure—was much lower than it is in America today. And they had to convince the Roman government that even though they claimed Christ was greater than Caesar, Christians were still the Empire’s best citizens and thus did not need to be persecuted. The Christians’ relation to the society around them was very different in the first through third centuries from what it would be in the fourth through nineteenth, but very SIMILAR to the relation between our society and the Church today. As a result, the early Church has a lot of insights to offer us as we try to minister in an increasingly post-Christian world now.

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

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Karl, You are right, to a great degree, about the use of force in the "evangelization" of northern Europe. That took place in a different time period and a VERY different situation from the one I was describing in the initial post. The forced conversion of northern Europe to Roman Christianity from 500-1000 is one of the decidedly mixed blessings of the Medieval era. It involved the suppression of other styles of Christianity as well as the suppression of paganism. But what I was describing was the attitude of the church in the Roman Empire up to the year 300 or so.
Don Fairbairn 9:51AM 01/28/13
I would be interested in Donald's perspective on early Christianity at the other end of Europe - in the Germanic and Scandinavian lands. There, the clear morality, dedication to religious freedom and integration of religion & daily life was clearly with the heathens, who were tortured, mutilated & murdered if they remained loyal to their native tradition and refused to follow the God of Love (!). The violence of the Northern Crusades (if you will) goes directly against the romanticizing of the Early Church, and is often conveniently left out of the discussion.
Karl E. H. Seigfried 10:46AM 01/25/13
The status of Christianity is certainly not that of 'enfranchised', but to call it disenfrnchised is to miss the continued privilege it enjoys. Ask a Muslim, an atheist or a politician. To call this era post-christian is to miss a whole bunch of nuance
Jim Yang-Hellewell 81 4:52PM 02/28/12

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 2

December 07, 2011

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 2 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here.

Why should evangelicals care about the early church, about the first several centuries after the end of the New Testament? Of the many answers one could give to this question, perhaps the most important answer is that we should care about the early church precisely because we are committed to the authority of Scripture alone. Since we have that commitment, we want to know as precisely and comprehensively as we can what Scripture actually means. And this brings us to a fundamental claim that I often make: What we think the Bible means is influenced by what we think the church has said the Bible means.

Consider this claim for a moment. As faithfully and carefully as we may read the Bible, we never come to Scripture as a blank slate. There is a long history of biblical interpretation that influences what we are looking for as we read Scripture—whether we know that history or not, whether we realize its influence on us or not. In particular, the great issues of the Protestant Reformation (16th and 17th centuries) and the subsequent issues of Pietism and revivalism 18th-20th centuries) have set up the categories with which you and I approach the Bible.

For example, one of the legacies of the Reformation (a legacy that the Reformation itself owes to High Medieval Roman Catholicism) is the tendency to think about the meaning of biblical passages in terms of clear-cut, either/or alternatives. “It has to be either x or y, so let’s go to the Bible to decide which it is.” Salvation has to be by faith (the right answer) or by works (the wrong answer). Sanctification is either distinct from justification (the right answer) or the same as justification (the wrong answer). The atonement has to be either limited or unlimited. (On this one we disagree about which is the right answer.) A true believer either can or cannot lose his/her salvation. (Here again we disagree about which is the right answer.) On these points and countless others, we usually accept the questions the way they are presented to us, and we inquire of the Scriptures to see which of the options is right.

When we read the great thinkers of the early church, however, we find that they often had a different way of posing the issues than we do. Rather than arguing over whether salvation was by faith or by works, they demonstrated their complete reliance on Christ by talking about him, rather than about their own faith or their own works. They regarded both justification andsanctification as things that God gives us at the beginning of salvation, and they defined both as the righteousness that we receive when we are united to Christ, who is the righteous one. And their whole conception of the atonement was one in which the question of limited vs. unlimited could not even arise.

My point here is not that we should necessarily follow the way the early church described Christianity. Rather, it is that by reading the church fathers, we gain another vantage point from which to look at Scripture. By seeing the Bible through their eyes, we can also see the way our own history has shaped the way we inquire of Scripture, the kinds of questions we ask of the Bible. What we think the Bible means is shaped by what the church has said the Bible means. Thus, understanding the history that has led our branch of the church to ask the questions we ask, and also gaining potential insights from Christians who had a different set of questions, can help us move closer to understanding the Bible fully, comprehensively, and accurately.

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , biblically-grounded , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , faculty blogger

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Dr. Donald, your post helps me to maintain my observation about the church history in relation to the Authority of the bible. The way the Church fathers described Christianity has a valuable contribution to the present biblical interpretation. I gain knowledge to see the church fathers through the question of “how they have been responding the matter of the Authority of the Bible?’’
Seleshi Andarge 1:28PM 01/07/13

Truth and Truthfulness

October 28, 2011

Dr. Dennis Hollinger

Evangelical Christians are rightly committed to truth. We have not always managed to affirm the corollary—truthfulness in every-day life. The reality is we cannot consistently affirm the truth of the gospel, Holy Scripture and essential Christian doctrines, and then overlook our commitment to truthfulness in the way we live and the way we articulate our faith. Truth and truthfulness are both affirmations of what is real and authentic.

Our need to affirm truthfulness in the realities of ministry and every-day life was brought home to me recently by reading Bradley Wright’s award-winning book, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, is well versed in statistical analysis, and in this book tackles some of the statistical portrayals of evangelical Christianity, by evangelicals themselves. His conclusion? They have distorted reality by misusing statistics.

As Wright notes, we are inundated with bad news about Christianity: “The Church is shrinking; Christians get divorced more than anyone else; non-Christians have a very low opinion of Christians; and on and on it goes.” There is just one small problem in all this. “Many of the statistics currently bandied about regarding the Christian faith in the United States are incomplete, inaccurate, and otherwise prone to emphasize the negative. Bad news has pushed aside the good news about the Good News.”

According to Wright one of the most blatant distortions of truthfulness occurs in a book entitled, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. The author claims, “When asked to rate eleven groups in terms of respect, non-Christians rated Evangelicals tenth. Only prostitutes rated lower.” This got picked up by a number of bloggers with a prophetic edge and one proclaimed, “Only prostitutes rank lower than Evangelicals.” But as Wright so clearly and patiently shows, the wording of the questionnaire and the statistical analysis itself were fraught with major problems. They thus failed to capture reality.

If we believe in truth and proclaim the truth, we must be committed to its corollary: truthfulness in what we say and how we live. Authenticity of words and life go hand in hand with the truth of the Gospel and God’s Word.

To explore this topic further, consider attending the Pastors’ Forum with Bradley Wright Wednesday, November 9. Click here for details and registration.

 

Dr. Dennis Hollinger is President and the Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA.

Tags: Author: Dennis Hollinger , equipping leaders for the church and society , faculty blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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