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Splitting the Baby

2 April 2008

An interesting development at a Presbyterian seminary, chronicled in an article in Christianity Today.

qb’s summary:

  • A professor is offered a job at a seminary, and in order to accept the offer, he signs a statement of support for the creed embodying the doctrinal distinctives of the sponsoring denomination.
  • In the course of his theological research, the professor writes a book setting forth an understanding of divine revelation that conflicts at various points with particulars of the denominational creed.
  • The book goes public, and enough parishes object to the doctrinal content of the book that the university’s regents are forced to reconsider the professor’s appointment.
  • Debate ensues, in this case for a period of about two years.
  • The regents ultimately conclude that, whatever the merits of the professor’s case might be, his published views are do not conform adequately to the denominational creed.
  • The professor is suspended; still to be determined is whether or not the professor is to be permanently relieved of his duties.

qb’s take, off the top of the head?

By the letter of the law, the university is within its prerogative to release the professor.

But as is typically the case, “the letter kills,” especially when the “letter” is one degree removed from divine revelation – that is, a denominational creed.  To be fair, the creed is thought to embody divine revelation, but a creed cannot help but be a distillation of that revelation, not the revelation itself.

When Jesus was asked to set forth his views of essential doctrine – orthodoxy – he wasted no time in replying with the Shema:  Love the lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments, he said, rest the Law and the Prophets, both of which are instruments of divine revelation.

When St. Paul was challenged by circumstances of personality-driven (rabbi-driven) disunity, he responded by boiling his doctrine down as well:  I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

It’s also worth noting that freedom of religion, as embodied in our First Amendment, is not a biblical idea.  Anguish at how the professor’s academic freedom was sacrificed at the altar of denominational orthodoxy has to be tempered by this:  the Bill of Rights, and its historical precedents from ancient times, are not the arbiters of divine truth.

So I guess I wish that religious institutions like churches and universities could quit painting themselves into corners like this.  But not doing so eventually lets the camel’s nose under the tent, and apostasy can creep in:  Jude’s epistle was written to combat that very phenomenon.

Any thoughts? 


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