Monday, December 27, 2004

Exposition or Change

In what ways are the scriptures revolutionary to us? From my perspective, it seems like the topical guide and easily accessible ensign stories dictate the content of talks. In this regard, I think mormons are quite different from evangelical churches that seem to favor expositional approaches.

By faith online discusses this issue quite well. Since the best Elder’s quorum teacher I ever had was a cognitive psych PhD who’s lessons revolved around getting us to look at things from new perspectives, I found the following quote interesting:

“In a similar way, a preoccupation with psychological theory has in many cases eroded confidence in the Scriptures. When the essence of the human predicament is redefined in terms of a lack of self-esteem, it is almost inevitable that people will be directed toward a couch but not a cross, a psychologist but not a Savior. The extent to which this has happened can be gauged by listening to various strange blends of psychology and theology, some of which are even offered as attempts at expository preaching!”

While reading it though, a few things struck me as fundamentally limiting.

When pastors become convinced that the central issue facing the church is political or psychological rather than theological, exposition will be forsaken in favor of political speeches and calls to wage war for “the soul of the nation.

Obviously most people would agree that the purpose of religion is to expound theology. Where theology focuses on the works vs faith continuum is perhaps less important than the fact that there are certain issues that should be learned and then implemented. However, I wonder if we don’t err when we start thinking that the fundamental purpose of the scriptures and even religion in general is to lay out a correct set of beliefs.

I think it is often assumed that having a correct set of beliefs leads on to a unique perspective. The refining of this perspective is what religion is all about. Basically its aim is to provide us with a God centered philosophy. Hence, the etymology of theology. However, I wonder if this approach doesn’t give the appearance of making exposition worthwhile, while missing what may be one of the central points of religion. Is religion about the doctrines associated with theology or is it about change? Obviously many would say the action involved in the true comprehension of doctrine subsumes the type of change I mention. However, I wonder if this belief doesn’t present the same type of trap that is found when mingling the doctrines of men (psychology and all) with God. As is quoted in this article,

Sinclair B. Ferguson wrote of such preaching, “While it is denied that additions are being made to the canon of Scripture, it is nevertheless implied that an actual addition is being made to the canon of living. Otherwise the illumination of Scripture and the wisdom to apply it would be sufficient” (The Holy Spirit [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996, p. 231).

As believers in modern revelation, I don’t think mormons are as concerned about this as Ferguson is. To my way of thinking the world view of Biblical times certainly doesn’t make the inevitable slants that come with revelations any more correct than the same slants that have happened with modern revelation. There is always filtering that occurs in the transmission of things from God to man, especially when this gets transmitted down to other people. Fundamentally, I would say the whole case depends on whether or not the purpose of religion is to produce cannon, or whether it is to affect something else.

Of course some would say that the scriptures are to establish the agenda. However the most profound parts of the scriptures aren’t the expositories of other verses. In fact, for the most part, the scriptures we have are expositionary in nature. With an open cannon, focusing in on exposition then seems very counter productive. It, in effect, closes the door to a revolutionary mind set. For the religious conservatives, this is exactly the point. However, if religion is about increasing what we have, it is exactly the wrong track to take. The flip side would involve using scripture as a way to realize that personal perspectives, popular philosophies and well developed theologies really amount to nothing when compared to the outlook needed to understand God. If there really is such a large gulf between man and God, what is needed is a way to get these paradigms to constantly change and evolve.

No comments: