|Sources: www.albertmohler.com/about; www.andystanley.com|
First of all, Josh Daffern, the author of last week's linked article, warns us that the two men involved are indeed "heavyweights." If you don't believe, it, just go to their own Web sites! Mohler's site informs us that Dr. Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "has been recognized by such influential publications as Time and Christianity Today as a leader among American evangelicals. In fact, Time.com called him the 'reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.'" His site then provides us with an impressive list of the newspapers and television programs that have featured him, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution and The Dallas Morning News and television's Larry King Live, NBC’s Today Show, Dateline NBC, ABC’s Good Morning America, and the list goes on.
Andy Stanley's site is also not shy about listing his credentials. "A survey of U.S. pastors in Outreach Magazine identified Andy Stanley as one of the top 10 most influential living pastors in America. "That's not surprising in view of his audience stats, according to his home page: "In the digital world, his success reaches well beyond the Atlanta area. Each month, nearly 1.5 million of his messages, leadership videos, and podcasts are accessed from North Point’s website." His television program Your Move with Andy Stanley gives him "an even wider audience with which to share his culturally relevant, practical insights for life and leadership. Currently, over five million episodes are viewed each month through television and podcast, underscoring his impact not only as a communicator but also as an influencer of culture." Plus there are his live-audience events: "In high demand, he speaks to nearly 200,000 people at various annual events before audiences of both church and organizational leaders...."
Now that their "impact" has been "underscored," perhaps we're in a suitably respectful mood to evaluate their arguments. And it turns out to be much ado about rather little. Albert Mohler, whose education and position locates him in a very specific tradition regarding the Bible, naturally defends that tradition is being totally adequate and indispensable. If he or his institution deviate one degree from that position, his market evaporates.
Andy Stanley is also anchored within that tradition -- note how he uses famous mentors and documents to represent that anchor -- but his place in the religion industry involves attracting an audience whose upbringing, education, and employment may have no connection with the centrality/infallibility tradition at all. Mohler cannot afford to alienate the traditionalist audience; Stanley cannot afford to confine himself to that audience. I'm not saying that Mohler is limited only by his tradition, since it is also his sincerely held conviction. It is the flag that flies from his watchtower. Stanley, on the other hand, knows that this flag is an incoherent and incomprehensible symbol for post-Christian people. For both men, the Bible serves as God's provision for discernment as well as wisdom unto salvation, but somehow Mohler seems not to be able to believe that Stanley is as dependent as he should be on this provision.
Where am I in all this? (Forgive me if I leave out my super-impressive list of credentials!!) It seems to me that Quakers generally have a functional theology rather than a metaphysical theology. On the one hand, most Quakers clearly believe in the supernatural. Many of us are mystics, and most of us understand that the founding events of our faith -- the incarnation, the resurrection, and Pentecost -- are entirely beyond mechanical explanations. But, on the other hand, we don't tend to spend time creating metaphysical doctrines that explain those miracles, or require believers to hold to those explanatory doctrines.
In the case of the Bible, we honor its self-descriptions, observe how it functions as our family history and a unique resource for discernment, and we read it with prayer, asking to be in the same spirit as its writers were. We realize that the Bible was gathered and assembled as a work of the Church, ratified by the Church, and preserved by the Church -- in other words, it is a living collaboration between the Holy Spirit and the people. We totally rely on this miraculous and earthy (i.e., functional) understanding of the Bible, because we continue to base our present-day church government on the same understanding: the people can still gather and collaborate with the Holy Spirit to understand our Godly tasks for today. We cherish the Bible as the pre-eminent expression of this miraculous collaboration, but we emphatically do not make the Bible a fourth member of the Trinity.
I can honor Mohler's commitment to the Bible, but his white-knuckled defense of the Bible's inerrancy relies on supernatural qualities that the Bible itself never claims -- and furthermore can be incoherent to someone outside his tradition. However, Stanley's willingness to de-link doctrines about biblical authority from the Gospel's core message has hazards of its own. A kind of drift could set in where the Bible's family-history and discernment functions could eventually be lost as we become (as Mohler warns) "dependent upon historians (among others) to tell us what parts of both testaments we can still believe."
To me, the stubborn defense of biblical authority and the post-Christian imperative to communicate the Good News outside the traditionalist camp is an example of the dynamic division of labor in the Church. We have the mind of Christ, but NOBODY can comprehend all the vectors and tangents and facets of that Good News simultaneously, or apply it with total adequacy to every situation, every audience. We simply must consult, compare, and, if necessary, dispute!
One more thing: we're not just talking about theoretical doctrines or comparative piety here. Every day we hear about new occasions of suffering and cruelty -- or we fall into such situations ourselves. We are either watching people searching for refuge, or we are ourselves refugees. How does the authority and inerrancy of the Bible relate to these situations? Quakers in Burundi, trying to understand their tasks after the civil war, read Nehemiah in a new way, seeing themselves in the text. When the death squads invaded the University of Central America in 1989, killing six priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper's daughter, the Bibles too had bullet holes. U.S. president Obama, addressing the plight of undocumented immigrants, read Scripture to the nation: "[We] were strangers once, too." If we cannot figure out how to apply biblical authority in confronting violence, bondage, racism, despair in those concrete instances where we are present and have influence, we should not be surprised if biblical authority means nothing to those around us.
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