Monday, February 15, 2016

Cultivated ambiguity

Often my reading will find a single sentence or phrase that pops out at me.  In this case the phrase is cultivated ambiguity.  It is a great combination of terms.  And it fits the whole character of the way so many have come to approach the Scriptures and the faith.

We live at a point where modernity finds itself more and more at odds with the catholic consensus of doctrine and practice that was once not a starting point but an ending one.  Whether it comes in the area of doctrinal certainty, Scriptural authority, or consistent practice, modernity has addressed the witness of the past with a scrutiny designed not merely to pursue truth but intent upon rejecting what had been believed, confessed, and taught.

Instead of ambiguity, years of conflict have lead to clarity.  Consider how the dispute with Arius resulted in the Nicene Creed and a clearer and more specific confession of what the Scriptures taught (and teach) about God and specifically about Christ and His two natures.  Or consider how challenge forced the Church to become clearer in its understanding and application of what was and is.  It never was that the Lord was ambiguous in His revelation of Himself but the eruption of challenge and conflict forced the Church to speak in ever more clearly what the Scriptures confess -- not as development of doctrine but as the mature manner in which this doctrine is taught and the vocabulary that defined in shorthand what this doctrine was and is (think here homoousias).

The other word in this phrase certainly points out the bias of the skeptical attitude of modernity toward Scripture and the catholic doctrine and practice that flows from that Scripture.  This ambiguity has been cultivated by a mindset that presumes the facts of Scripture are not facts, that the history described is not equal to secular history, and that facts and history matter little to the presumed spiritual or allegorical meaning of words and events.  More than this, modernity seems intent upon disregarding what Scripture says and the Church has taught from that Scripture as being impossible to believe, naive or unsophisticated, and shaped more by an educated and even superstitious.  The way that liberal Christianity views the conservative witness of African Christians to the Scriptures and sexual morality is both dismissive and arrogant -- not unlike the way it view the Scriptures themselves.

No, the phrase is both apt and accurate.  The modern mind seeks not an accommodation with the truth of the Scriptures or the catholic doctrine that flows from it but to change the Scriptures and to adjust doctrine to reflect modern values and mores.  While we have been told the same lie for ages -- namely that the Church must modernize to grow and failure to change with the times will kill the faith -- the opposite is true.  Wherever this cultivated ambiguity has been at work, the Church has declined both in evangelistic fervor and in size and relevance.  Look no further than the mainline liberal Protestantism that has toyed with Scripture and picked away at it as if none of its words could be accepted at face value or adopted every fad, trend, and social movement -- even those that directly contradicted the explicit passage of the Bible.  Where the Church has grown and prospered it is because of a vigorous faith that highly esteems the Word of God and the catholic tradition that has accompanied this Word from the beginning.  Where the Church has grown it is because the faithful have been captive to the Word, faithful to creed and confession, and insistent that practice flow from what is believed, confessed, and taught.

The Bible is not nearly as vague and ambiguous as people have been led to believe.  It is remarkably clear and blunt -- the problem is that we don't want to hear its voice.  The Scriptures and the faithful have enjoyed a unanimity of doctrine and understanding about so many things that live in conflict with modern values.  It is not God who has changed but we who have changed and dragged the Lord and His Word with us in our journey from clarity into vagueness and from conviction into uncertainty.  Whether Rome or Wittenberg or St. Louis, the great question we must face is whether or not we will stand with the Word of the Lord that endures forever or set our anchor in the shifting sand of modern uncertainty!

No comments: