Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Schreiner on Theological Negotiables and Non-Negotiables

Last week sometime, I found a link (HT: Ben @ PaleoEvangelical) to Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner's sermon on The Millennium (preached on 6/14/09 from Rev 20:1-15). Dr. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) and pastor of Clifton Baptist Church (Louisville, KY).

Today, on my lunch break, I began to listen to this sermon and was delighted to hear the following perspective on theological negotiables.

Everything in God's Word is important, isn't it? Still, good Christians have different views on the millennium. A month ago, and during the whole series, I would have said, "I'm an Amillennialist." But I've actually changed my mind as I studied this passage. So, I mean, how much trust are you going to put in me, tonight? Right? I'm not very stable on this issue.

You know, that's a good thing to be reminded of; that our confidence is not in a preacher, but in God's Word. It's in the truth of God's Word. That's what matters; not my opinion towards something.

I think we also learn from this to be charitable towards different views. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind, at least if you can be. We must distinguish between central issues of the faith and issues which aren't central. Some people have a hard time doing that. Everything for them is of equal importance in the Bible. But that's not true, is it? There are some things that are non-negotiable in our faith.

The Trinity is non-negotiable. The authority of Scripture is non-negotiable. The substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone, the deity of Christ, and, of course, I could mention other things.

But there are less clear matters in the Bible as well; things like when the rapture will take place and what we're looking at today regarding the millennium.

We must beware of being divisive, and schismatic, and inflexible on matters that are less important. That really shows, I think, a character flaw in us--something that God wants to work on in us. And we need to be aware of being namby-pamby; don't we. That's another problem, isn't it? Not to hold strong convictions. We want to speak the truth of the gospel in love. That's what's crucial, isn't it?

We need balance. I need balance that comes from the Holy Spirit. We all need that. We need the Holy Spirit to be our teacher.
(Italics indicate words given verbal stress as I heard it.)
I appreciated this because I was once taught that churches cannot maintain unity if they do not hold to one eschatological view to the exclusion of all others. I have previously been a member in churches that hold so strongly to one particular view that membership required agreement with the position (or, at least, a commitment to not undermine the church's position on the matter). And at the same time, most of these churches attempted to affirm that eschatological views are, indeed, negotiable when it comes to the gospel. However, this sense of theological charity described by Schreiner was never advocated within the assembly.

I am now a member of a church that practices liberty in this matter. I have met and interacted with other members who hold to differing views on eschatology, yet our unity in Christ is not threatened. I have thus far found it to be a healthier situation. We are a confessional assembly, but there is no status quo in matters of negotiables. Rather, our motto is, In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty. Members are encouraged to be "convinced in their own minds" and to exercise charity with one another. This has been a healthy experience for us!