Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Pertinence of a Theology of Christian Writing

When as Christians we attempt to lay out the rules and guidelines that ought to be followed regarding any aspect of our faith and conduct, we often ascribe to it a theology of such and such. To put this in terms of ‘ought’ immediately places this under the rubric of ethics. If we ought to do something, it is because God has prescribed it and we ascertain the prescription of that either by overt biblical statement, or, as the Westminster divines phrased it, “by good and necessary consequence” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1, VI) drawn from a biblical study of the matter.

For example, we have a theology of salvation (soteriology), sin (hamartiology), Christ (Christology), last things (eschatology), and so on. These doctrines are fundamentally about faith, or what we ought to believe. Interestingly, there never has been a solid consensus on the doctrine of last things throughout church history as evidenced by the three familiar views of the millennium (amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism). The oughtness of a theology of last things breaks down, and we believe that is acceptable because what we really mean by ‘ought’ when it comes to our faith is that it applies only to matters that are essential to Christianity. For example, there is no Christianity if there is no Christ or resurrection. Hence, to have a theology of salvation without a resurrected Christ is not a matter in which there is wiggle room. Either you hold to Christ’s resurrection or you are a heretic. Not so with one’s millennial view because whatever one holds to, he has not strayed from what is essential to Christianity.

A theology of a certain practice, that is, a biblical view of how we should behave as Christians likewise has areas which are quite clear and others which are not so obvious. I recall in the sixties how Beatlemania introduced the fad of long hair for men and changed the course of male hairstyle ever since. It was debated hotly at times as to whether or not it was a sin for a man to have long hair. Citing such verses as 1 Cor 11:14, Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?, at first seemed to settle the matter until the question was posed, how long is long? And whether the length of man’s hair was relative to the male hairstyles of the culture. Charges of relativism and situational ethics were made. Similar questions rose over the drinking of alcoholic beverages, smoking, dancing, going to the movies, and playing cards. In the church at Corinth, it was eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor 8; 10:25; cf Rom 14:21). How one behaves in such matters has to do with an opinion that is made in good conscience, and because they are not essential to Christianity itself (for example, whether one smoked or not had nothing to do with his authenticity as a Christian), there was room for difference and toleration.

As Christian writers, in some fashion or other, we have a theology of Christian writing. Some of us may have spent considerable time over that, others may have given it little thought; regardless, if the writer is truly Christian, his Christianity affects his writing, not only in the content, but also in the practice. The theology of Christian writing that I hold to is very likely different from yours, and may very well be at odds with it. I have expressed my views in several posts, and it has elicited responses both pro and con.

Whatever our theology of Christian writing is, it ought to be biblically based. We should give serious thought to what writing is in general, and what Christian writing is in particular. When we have done that, we can measure our obedience to the one who has called us to be writers. It really is a matter of obedience in the sense that God calls us to devote ourselves seriously to whatever he has called us to do. Part of that devotion is to be sure that we are doing it to the best of our ability, in a manner that reflects the nobility of our work, and as consciously as possible to the glory of God. How we do that goes into our theology, and if we are not faithful to it, we are failing in our calling – we are disobedient servants.

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