According to the description for this episode of UNSHACKLED! titled ‘The Enemy Within,’ “In this homage to CS Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’, a Senior Tempter instructs a Junior Tempter how to secure the damnation of their latest ‘patient.’ The fact that this patient is part of a Bible study only emboldens their efforts.”
In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Theoden remarks to Aragorn, “The old alliances are dead.” That phrase sticks in the back of my mind as I write this post because it is not my intention to end or strain any alliances. These are not the days for conservative Christians to make enemies within their own ranks!
It seems that we could generate much more light, instead of mere heat, if we would take the time to define the terms of our controversies. In the past few years, a social media divide has emerged among Christians who argue, on the one hand, that we must address racism by preaching the gospel, and those who argue, on the other hand, that while the gospel must remain central to the church, wider forms of social activism are also necessary as legitimate implications of the gospel. This common method of framing the debate is actually too crude to be helpful. What we need is a nuanced look at what, exactly, is being argued on each side.
When it comes to biblical authority, slavery is the progressive’s favorite wedge issue. It’s not hard to imagine a conversation with a non-Christian or with a progressive Christian going something like this:
PROGRESSIVE: You hold to the traditional view of marriage?
CONSERVATIVE: Yes. Scripture is clear on that.
PROGRESSIVE: And you also hold to ordination of men only?
CONSERVATIVE: Yes. Scripture is also clear on that issue.
PROGRESSIVE: Well, why don’t you follow the Bible’s teaching on slavery then? It’s special pleading to ignore all of that material and claim that you are “biblical.” In reality, you are only selectively “biblical.”
A conservative who is unprepared for that argument and who holds to a surface level apprehension of the issues at stake might find himself taken in by the logic, ultimately leading to a shaking of his confidence in Scripture’s authority. With the image of African slaves being kidnapped, sold, and abused hovering in the background, the conservative may find himself at a loss to defend the authority of Scripture under the assumption that it clearly endorses such moral atrocities. And from there, the whole fabric of biblical authority might begin to unravel.