Jay Richard Akkerman, Thomas Jay Oord, Brent D. Peterson, eds. "Postmodern and Wesleyan?:" (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2009). 191 pages. ISBN 978-0-8341-2458-5
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2009. Volume 27.
While this book hammers home the point that we need change, not all change is progress. The postmodern thought which is introduced in this compilation sounds suspiciously similar to the old modernism. The major difference is reflected by the question mark in the title. While modernism had faith in their superior scholarship, postmodernism cannot be sure of anything.
It is claimed on the first page that consensus over which books should be included in our Bible emerged only after councils, arguments, and shouting matches. The truth is that the authority of most books was immediately recognized because they were written by prophets and apostles. Certainly Peter acknowledged that what Paul wrote was Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). The early councils did not define Scripture, they defended Scripture. Of course if Peter did not write those words and if Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles, then all we have are forgeries and only the higher critic knows for sure what part is God's Word.
While this book advocates a "big tent," meaning that we should be open-minded enough to allow disagreement on nonessentials, apparently we disagree over what is essential or how big the tent should be. According to this book "most Wesleyan statements of faith shy away from articulating a strict inerrancy view of the Bible. Viewing the Bible as infallible on matters of salvation rather than inerrant on all matters allows a 'big tent' for discussion and reflection to occur" [p. 25]. But things went down hill rapidly when Eve allowed the serpent under her tent. He not only questioned God's Word, but she followed suit by adding to it, and he followed up by denying it. The result was that once sin got its nose in the tent we have lived in a big tent full of sin ever since.
A second area of diverse theological opinion, we are told, which is allowable under the big tent has to do with science and creation. It is assumed that science is infallible and that because it contradicts the biblical account of creation, the biblical account therefore must be wrong [p.169]. Presumably that is why Richard Collings, who cannot even accept the arguments of intelligent design, can teach evolution at Olivet Nazarene University and Karl Giberson, professor at Eastern Nazarene College can write Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (2008), I cannot help but ask, At what point do we fold up our tent and return to the apostate big tent denominations from which we separated?
Ironically, at this point the third "big tent" issue named concerns eschatology. We are told that no single eschatological view should be required. This "think and let think" approach to nonessentials has always been a hallmark of Arminianism. Although I am postmillennial, I agree that we can allow premillennialists under our "big tent." But I do wish they would quit trying to predict when the Lord will return. Perhaps we ought to at least put some of them on probation!
I know that it has been popular to lump postmillennial hope with a liberal evolutionary worldview which holds that things will get better and better through education, social reform, and government entitlements. But the historic Methodist doctrine of the future holds that the Holy Spirit will bring a worldwide revival in which people turn from sin in repentance, receive the Spirit in generating power, and submit to God's law as a way of life. Since liberalism, by definition denies the supernatural, this brand of postmillennialism cannot legitimately be labeled as liberalism. It is one thing to hold to the full authority of scripture and disagree over interpretation, such as the nature and sequence of end-time events, but we cannot even dialog when we fail to agree on our final source of authority.
Thomas Oord refers to philosophy of René Descartes as the basis for postmodernism. However, Descartes laid the foundation for humanism by stating,"I think, therefore I am." Thus, Descartes made man, and not God, as the starting point of truth. According to this philosophy, the only truth I can know with certainty is my own autonomy and we cannot know with absolute certainty the truth about objects beyond ourselves.
Oord moves from advocating this relativism to question propositional truth. But the Scriptures are absolute objective truth. Yet because of his postmodern philosophy, Oord concludes that we can know with absolute certainty the full truth about reality because that requires an inerrant interpretation of an inerrant source.
I believe in an inerrant source of truth, but I do not claim personal infallibility in understanding it. Yet if we would devote ourselves to careful exegesis of Scripture and seek the illumination of the Holy Spirit, I believe we could come to some kind of consensus. If the purpose of revelation was that we could at least know basic doctrines for certain, then why adopt a position of agnosticism?
But Oord attacks the doctrine of inerrancy again [p. 28], claiming that biblical inerrancy collapses because of textual variants in the oldest biblical manuscripts. I am aware of textual variants, more particularly in the New Testament manuscripts. But this is simply the result of errors in copying. Logically, there had to be an original autograph manuscript. If the purpose for divine inspiration was so that the human authors would get it right, then divine revelation from an infallible God would have to be perfect and without error. To claim otherwise is to impugn the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiration.
Yet Oord ridicules this explanation as worthless. However, all the higher critics can claim that the synoptic gospels were edited from an earlier Q source, which no one has ever seen, and that is passed off as scholarship. But if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were each independently inspired to write their gospels, then the hypothetical Q theory is worthless.
Another author declares that sometimes scriptures contradict one another [p. 59]. By definition a contradiction is to both affirm and deny the same reality. Logically, the Bible would have to be mistaken in at least one of those instances. Presumably, this author would call herself a "Wesleyan," yet Wesley taught, "If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from God." Since Wesleyan theology is in process, apparently one can contradict what Wesley taught and still be Wesleyan. Apparently this is what Thomas Langford had in mind when he wrote, "Although Methodism cannot be understood apart from John Wesley, it also cannot be understood except as it has moved beyond Wesley" [Practical Divinity, p. 260].
Later chapters of Postmodern and Wesleyan? advocate the emergent church movement. While I concede that we need to evaluate and sometimes change the way we do church, I would advocate a return to the Protestant emphasis on the primacy of preaching the Word. This emphasis is based on a high view of the inspiration of Scripture and results in a commitment to the exposition of Scripture. Yet the emergent church holds to a postmodern suspicion of all truth claims in general and the absolute authority of Scripture in particular. It has replaced the Protestant pulpit with pageantry.
I don't care if you want to light candles, but never forget that spiritual light comes from the Word of God itself. Liturgical symbols have their place only if the congregation understands the reality behind the symbol. Communication methods may change over time and we should utilize every available media to convey the message. But our message is the Gospel and we must not compromise it. The use of PowerPoint will not compensate for a weak view of Scripture. The power is in the Gospel, not in our media equipment. Our message, however presented, must have content and that content can only be defined by Scripture.
In all there are thirty-four short chapters in this book by some thirty different authors. At least the editors are consistent enough with their own philosophy of humanistic relativity to allow a differing response at the end of each of four major sections. Gerald Reed got it absolutely right when he cautioned, "To question the infallibility of the Scriptures (as do antifoundational postmoderns by doubting their "inerrancy") leaves one without the major source of authoritative truth for orthodox Christians" [p. 48]. And David Felter cautiously suggests that "postmodern Wesleyanism might even be an oxymoron. John and Charles Wesley were not nearly so relativistic as some would suppose" [p.184].