Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Exclusive Review of the Reformed Nazarene Blog

These are my personal reflections on the Reformed Nazarene blog.  They in no way should be considered an official view by the Church of the Nazarene as a denomination or my local congreagation.

Reformed Nazarene: Contend for the Faith That Was Once for all Entrusted to the Saints
Written by: Manny Silva,  Master of Science in Physical Education

Silva expresses the purpose of his writing this way: "The main focus of my blog is for researching and providing information and commentary on false doctrines, false movements and false teachers." (About/Rules Tab).  He continues in this paragraph to explain that the Emergent Church movement and contemplative spirituality are two of the most "insidious ideologies" threatening the church today."

The methodological foundation for his blog is on theological assumption that the Bible is authoritative in every area of thought and that undermining one of these areas (such as science or history) renders the entire message of the Bible false or unreliable.  You can read a general summary of Silva's beliefs on Scripture in "Inerrancy and the Wesleyan Tradition" by Jonathan Staniforth here.

Commenters on my blog have helped refine my own understanding of this conversation.  The debate on the inerrancy of Scripture isn't really about errancy at all.  This conversation is really about authority.  The Wesleyan perspective believes the Bible is primarily a soteriological work inerrant in everything to do with faith and practice.  The fundamentalist approach, and the approach of the RN blog, is that the Bible is inerrant in all areas of knowledge and understanding.  Both believe the Bible is inerrant, but they disagree as to the purpose of the Scriptures.  Square Peg, edited by Al Truesdale (2012), does a great job of comparing and contrasting these two perspectives on Biblical inerrancy.

Up to this point, everything seems quite clear in the RN blog.  Silva is concerned about specific doctrines that he perceives to be threatening the church and he argues against them using a particular understanding of the authority of Scripture.

It is at this point, however, that we run into problems.  As H. Ray Dunning explains in his chapter "Comparing and Contrasting: Some Distinguishing Wesleyan and Fundamentalist Expressions of the Christian Faith" from Square Peg, the perspective of Scripture that Silva maintains and the official perspective of the Church of the Nazarene have very different starting point.  Silva, I believe, would maintain that Scripture should be read and interpreted with its "common sense meaning," which is why it is authoritative in all things.  For example, if the Bible says the world was created in 6 days, then it was - The Bible is authoritative in science.  This perspective of Scripture, according to Dunning, is the belief that the Bible contains within itself propositional truths which can be accessed and understood by humanity through reason. So the Bible is (this is an overstated summary) a collection of propositional beliefs that are in themselves "right beliefs" or "orthodoxy" about everything which God directly inspired as authoratative.  If one of these propositional truths is challenged or not believed, then the whole Bible loses its authority.  If a person does not believe all of these truths, than he/she is not a Christian. (In Silva's latest post on June 18th, 2012, he uses 2 Corinthians 6 to suggest this fact.   Fittingly, he uses a propositional approach to this text to arrive at this interpretation).

Wesleyans (Nazarenes), on the other hand, approach text as a christological and soteriological text.  So when approaching the Bible, a person from this perspective looks to see what the text says about faith and Christian living.  So Genesis 1, which Silva would suggest points to a 6 day creation, is for a Wesleyan a text about the creative work of a Triune God, the goodness of creation, and the fact that humans were created in the image of God. It's about God and his relationship with humanity and not as much about the how of creation.  The purpose of the text is different.

Obviously, Silva strongly believes his perspective of biblical authority is correct.  With the same level of certainty, Wesleyans believe their approach to Scripture is correct.

There are two problems here.  First, Silva denies that Fundamentalism or Wesleyanism matters at all, but clings to just a "biblical" approach. Silva explains "Calvinist, Wesleyan, it does not matter- but you don’t seem to understand that. What matters is what the Bible says."  The failure to recognize the differences makes conversations hard.  In order to have conversation with another, you must acknowledge the starting place of the other.  This leads to the second problem: Fundamentalism and Wesleyanism have two different starting points when approaching Scripture.  Both traditions believe the Bible is authoritative, but neither can really use the Bible to talk with the other because their interpretations are so different.

This difference often leads to harsh words.  Consider these comments that are in response to Silva's blog on June 18, 2012:

Guest said:

This is a POLITICAL issue. It is time for those who are writing these blogs claiming that those who oppose them are biblically unsound and false teachers to stop the divisive writing. Don’t agree with the immigration policies? That is fine. But quit using these as a way to define those who are sound in doctrine and those who are not. Want to start a new denomination? You are free to do so. Not happy with the direction of the church? Then please do something other than divide for the sake of division. We are spending our time fighting over STUPID things! And in the meantime, real issues are not being dealt with.

reformednazarene said:

Hello Guest. You did not identify yourself by name, so I guess you are guest. Would you mind letting us know who you are? Anyway, a Christian does not turn off his Christianity when dealing with politics or anything else- THAT is a red herring.
Secondly, if you could please identify specifically what are the “real issues”. I do not know if you ever posted here before, but please let us all know what the “real issues” are, and what you propose to do about those real issues- such as the false teaching we have identified in the denomination.
You don’t sound too biblically knowledgeable as to what REALLY divides the church, and why. When those who believe in the Bible identify and call out those who are perverting the Bible and dividing the church with their false teaching- that is where we find who really divides the church. And it’s a good thing when the false teachers are identified, so the true believers can separate from them. That is proper biblical division.
Learn your Bible first- then come back and defend this endeavor biblically.
Manny Silva


Throughout several blogs, Silva makes similar comments that either imply or explicitly accuse the other of not knowing the Bible.  I believe this to be an error in Silva's methodology.  He assumes that each person will demonstrate his/her biblical knowledge within the confines of a short comment on a blog. This is presumptuous at best and demeaning and un-Christlike at worst.

In general, I believe that many of Silva's concerns are legitimate.  One should be careful when dabbling in practices that have been borrowed and altered from other traditions.  I do not think Christian communities should use prayer labyrinths, mystical practices, meditation, or other borrowed practices that direct worship to self, nature, some extra metaphysical state, or another god.  However, I also believe that these practices can be redeemed and used to point people to Christ.  The early church "Christianized" the practices of Judaism, the New Testament writers "Christianized" Greek philosophy (logos for example in the Gospel of John), Paul "Christianized" a statue formed to "an unknown god," and the list could continue.  The role of the church is to carry on the redemptive work of God in our world and this includes "taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ."

While Silva has some legitimate concerns, his methodology (and even his theology) is lacking.  While I acknowledge that he believes he is being obedient to Christ in his endeavors on the RN blog, I actually believe he is hindering the Gospel.  This example summarizes by thoughts:  One of the resources that Silva regularly utilizes is Lighthouse Trails Ministries.  This is taken directly from their "About Us" page: "We have written a lengthy docrinal[sic.] statement. You can read that by clicking here. The statement does not list everything we believe. In a nut shell, we believe the Bible is the inerrant, God-inspired, true and holy Word of God."

The problem with this is the summary of their beliefs is that they believe in the Bible.  A summary of Christian beliefs isn't "Christian" if Christ isn't a part of it. Fundamentalism can lead to the elevation of Scripture over Jesus himself.  While the statement I quoted above isn't from Silva himself, it parallels the focus of his "About" tab on the RN page.  His theology isn't Christo-centric, is Scripture-centric.

I believe that he has elevated Scripture above the good news of the gospel of Christ (the reality of grace and salvation) to such an extent that he is actually misusing Scripture.  As some of my previous blogs have noted, Scripture is only significant to the extent to which is draws us to Christ.  Jesus was the full revelation of God and the source of our salvation.  Even if the Bible never existed, the truth of the salvation offered through the death and resurrection of Christ would still be a reality. Jesus Christ lived, died, and was resurrected within human history and the reality of this effects all of creation.  The Reformed Nazarene blog is not about the good news that we can be forgiven and freed from sin, it's about the fact that people aren't living up to the propositions of Scripture.  There is a major difference here.

If the point of Scripture is to point us to God (even if it is propositional in nature), but your theology prioritizes the individual propositions over the gospel itself, your theology has misconstrued scripture. The faith that the RN blog propagates does encourage some to look at issues biblically and discern what the Bible says. There are concerns that should be considered there. But it also causes people to respond in ways similar to the tone Silva sometimes uses on his blogs.  This mindset shifts the purpose of the church from proclaiming the Gospel to "defending the faith," as Silva' subtitle suggests.  When churches have to spend their time putting out fires put forth by a biblio-centric faith rather than taking the good news of the Christ-story to the lost, people die without hearing the Gospel. 

While John Wesley's theology shares Calvinistic heritage, while the Church of the Nazarene has at times tended towards Fundamentalism in its history (though it has made clear statements that it is not a fundamentalist denomination now), while I am a part of the same body of Christ of those with this perspective, I believe the Reformed Nazarene Blog is contrary to the mission of God for the redemption of the world.  To quote Silva: "When those who believe in the Bible identify and call out those who are perverting the Bible and dividing the church with their false teaching- that is where we find who really divides the church."  I think Silva is guilty of perverting the purpose of Scripture to apologetics rather than spreading the Gospel. 

5 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed reading square peg as well. I think the point about the propositional nature of scripture was important. I also was struck how the fundamentalist reading of scripture comes out of the enlightenment with the belief that reason is capable of understanding universal truths. (I only wonder if this is true why no one can agree on the meaning of Scripture.)

    Unfortunately, I leant my book to my dad so I can't reference it for my notes or quotes. But I do recommend the book.

    I also agree with you on some of the concerns of the RN being legitimate, even I think so for different reasons than them. Your point about Christianizing things is well taken. I’m not sure if you took History of Christian Doctrine with McCormack, but it reminds me of his discussion of Doctrine and Dogma. Doctrine must be reinterpreted and expressed anew each generation. Dogma however is the permanent faith of the Church which is core. If you haven’t had it, then this might not make sense in terms of the language.

    Well, this is long enough. Just letting you know I read it.

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  2. Also the formatting is a bit messed up on your quotes.

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  3. I did my best to fix the formatting. Hopefully it's easier to read now. It's still a little weird, but it's not out of order now.

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  4. Excellent work on this final post concerning...the Concerned Nazarenes. Perhaps it is finally time for us to end these back and forth defenses of different faith understandings under blog post comments. I will remain a Wesleyan, but I guess that Wesleyanism does not really need a defender in me. If I continue to argue how Wesleyanism is superior to Fundamentalism, then I will continue to sound like a Fundamentalist, constantly defending my beliefs as though the louder I shout the truer my words will be. An attitude of defense indicates an attitude of defeat - a last stand in a lost cause, if you will. Wesleyanism does not need my defense. If it is true, it will remain true, and the most important thing for me to do will be to live like a Wesleyan, rather than argue for its relevance. Its relevance should be obvious in the way I live my life. So rather than try and prove to everyone (or maybe to myself) through argument and accusation, as many Fundamentalists do, I will try to live out my beliefs not only in word but also in practice...because I think they are worth living out.
    Thanks for your good thoughts!

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  5. Thanks friends for you input. It has been a strange last two weeks since I posted this final blog post. I have continued to check the Reformed Nazarene blog to keep up on Silva and to see if he was going to respond, but he didn't. I have tried to continue to comment some biblical (and non-agressive!) responses on his recent blogs but comments on his blog require approval from a moderator. My most recent comment apparently didn't meet the standards for their blog.

    It has been quite freeing to share my final thoughts here and I thank you for reading! Your comments throughout these past few weeks and months have helped shape me greatly in my understanding of Scripture and the role it plays in Christianity.

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What do you think?