I was reading Scot McKnight’s blog this morning, and he offered some critiques of the 18 affirmations and denials recently signed by the fantastic four: Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever. Among other things, McKnight suggests that the statement leaves some important things out (e.g., second coming, Holy Spirit) while privileging Paul’s language over Jesus’ language.
My aim here is not to critique line by line McKnight’s short piece. I do, however, want to add my assent to the “Together for the Gospel” statment and to say that I think it is an important affirmation of core Gospel truths–truths that are without question being contested by voices both within and without wider evangelicalism.
The ironic thing about McKnight’s post is that an adjacent entry on McKnight’s blog could stand as “Exhibit A” as to why a statement like “Together for the Gospel” is needed. McKnight refers his readers to LeRon Schults’s piece on the Emergent Village blog. Schults argues that those participating in “Emergent should not have a ‘statement of faith’ to which its members are asked (or required) to subscribe. Such a move would be unnecessary, inappropriate and disastrous.”
Among other things, Schults opposes any attempt to reduce Christian faith to set of propositions to be affirmed (a contention I think almost no one would disagree with). In doing so, however, he ends up marginalizing the ability of human language to convey truth claims. This is precisely the kind of thing that “Together for the Gospel” is trying to combat. That is why Article III of the statement reads,
We deny that truth is merely a product of social construction or that the truth of the Gospel can be expressed or grounded in anything less than total confidence in the veracity of the Bible, the historicity of biblical events, and the ability of language to convey understandable truth in sentence form.
Folks like Shults and others in emergent are calling into question our ability to use language to express the truth of Christianity. Shults writes,
This fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.
This is a gigantic revision not only of church history, but also of Christianity. There is no other implication one can take from this except to say that all attempts to use human language to describe God is idolatrous. How can Schults say such a thing when the Bible itself is nothing less than “a culturally constructed symbol system” that is explicating and revealing God and His Son Jesus Christ?
I think the Fantastic Four have done a tremendous service in the cause of Chrsit in spearheading this move back to biblical fidelity. Make no mistake, “Together for the Gospel” is a timely word–a word that American evangelicalism needs to heed lest it succumb to the impious skepticism of postmodernism.