03 January 2013

How to stay ahead of the curve

by Dan Phillips

Hordes about us are desperate to be liked and well thought of by the current age. They seek this approval by trying to fit in, trying to keep up with each moment's swelling wave.

By contrast, I've often written and said that the real way to stay ahead of the curve is stick to what the Bible says. Eventually, in waves, reality has to come 'round and touch home with truth every so often, to avoid becoming completely unhinged.

Part of my morning reading afforded me an example of this from the 1800s. I'm reading Bible Interpreters of the 20th Century as part of my morning fare, and currently am on the chapter introducing Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938). Though little-known today, Schlatter was a voluminous writer and a meticulous student of the text of Scripture.

One of the reasons he was disregarded in his day was his refusal to bow the knee to the Biggest Things in Academics of his day. Rather, Schlatter plodded along with a single-minded focus on the precise wording of the text of Scripture. Schlatter was far from perfect, but where he fell short is where he failed to be true to Scripture.

All that to introduce this one paragraph, which gives one example of the sort of thing I have in mind. Breaking company with contemporary schools of thought, which created a philosophically motivated fiction of sheer antithesis between Judaism and Christianity, Schlatter wrote
“If we surround [the New Testament] with pieces of background which contradict its clear statements, we are making historical research into a work of fiction. In my view, New Testament theology only fulfills its obligations by observation, not by free creation.”* Schlatter argued for a Palestinian origin of John’s Gospel. In both technical monographs and his critical commentary on John, Schlatter advanced extensive linguistic and historical arguments to support his view. He went largely unheeded in his lifetime—but was vindicated after Dead Sea Scroll discoveries in the late 1940s bore out his contentions about the Palestinian flavor of the fourth Gospel. 
[Elwell, W. A., & Weaver, J. D. (1999). Bible interpreters of the twentieth century: A selection of evangelical voices (68–69). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]
In this, he struck a note that's often occurred to me. In some authors, any extra-Biblical writer is treated as (pardon me) Gospel, but the Gospels are treated as necessarily unreliable and secondary. By treating the original texts, by contrast, with respect, Schlatter actually was ahead of the scholarly curve.

My, such a simple principle; so many applications. I can't help but recall Spurgeon's anecdote:
I am bound to say, also, that our object certainly is not to please our clients, nor to preach to the times, nor to be in touch with modern progress, nor to gratify the cultured few. Our life-work cannot be answered by the utmost acceptance on earth; our record is on high, or it will be written in the sand. There is no need whatever that you and I should be chaplains of the modern spirit, for it is well supplied with busy advocates. Surely Ahab does not need Micaiah to prophesy smooth things to him, for there are already four hundred prophets of the groves who are flattering him with one consent. 
We are reminded of the protesting Scotch divine, in evil days, who was exhorted by the Synod to preach to the times. He asked, “Do you, brethren, preach to the times?” They boasted that they did. “Well, then,” said he, “if there are so many of you who preach for the times, you may well allow one poor brother to preach for eternity.” 
We leave, without regret, the gospel of the hour to the men of the hour. With such eminently cultured persons for ever hurrying on with their new doctrines, the world may be content to let our little company keep to the old-fashioned faith, which we still believe to have been once for all delivered to the saints. Those superior persons, who are so wonderfully advanced, may be annoyed that we cannot consort with them; but, nevertheless, so it is that it is not now, and never will be, any design of ours to be in harmony with the spirit of the age, or in the least to conciliate the demon of doubt which rules the present moment.
[Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (317–318). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.]
And yet, once again, the irony: it is those desperate to fit in with the times who doom themselves to pass into irrelevancy with them, while the few who stick with revealed truth remain always ahead of the curve.

Because, as we should never forget, everything — this material universe, human society, as well as all politics and all the sciences — is inexorably and certainly hurtling towards the day when all will be brought up under the headship of Christ (Eph. 1:10) in a universe where righteousness, no longer a stranger, is permanently at home (2 Pet. 3:13).

The great thing is to be on the right side of that curve.


*Adolf Schlatter, “The Theology of the New Testament and Dogmatics,” in The Nature of New Testament Theology, ed. and trans. Robert Morgan (London: SCM, 1973), 135. This seminal essay also appears as an appendix in Werner Neuer, Adolf Schlatter, trans. Robert Yarbrough (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 169–210 (the quote is found on p. 185).

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19 comments:

DJP said...

Hm; only after posting did it occur to me that this isn't a bad theme to strike at the birth of the year, eh?

Nash Equilibrium said...

Fantastic analysis, Dan. Excellent points. Congratulations!

Nash Equilibrium said...

PS: the eternal truths don't change, do they? If they did, they wouldn't be eternal - or, truths.

DJP said...

Five-star comment.

Joey Phillips said...

Well crafted sir. I am posting your little two paragraph intro on my Facebook and pointing folks here. Wonderful, faith-building truth.

DJP said...

Thanks, cuz.

Larry said...

Great - may God use this to straighten out some thinking.

DJP said...

One-star hater slept in today.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Perhaps Mr. 1-star ought to have Schlatter-phile added to his ever-expanding list of descriptors?

DJP said...

Well no, I think this would make him a "misoschlat."

trogdor said...

Even within the present age, there are endless groups we are told we must tailor our message to. You have to know your demographics, and know which group your church is targeting (invariably the young, hip, artsy, urban crowd - I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about tailoring his message to reach farmers). It's as if each church should go after one specific sub-group, and have a gospel just for them.

Of course, this is so utterly contrary to scripture that I can't imagine writing a full correction, because anyone who's going that way is more interested in following business/marketing trends than scripture anyway. Suffice it to say, the gospel is the one message that applies equally to all people in all circumstances everywhere at all times. Every person everywhere and everywhen has exactly the same infinitely-urgent problem, and exactly one solution, and exactly one book in which this solution is revealed with divine authority. If any other thought (about man, to stave off Piper-philes) ranks higher in the formation of a ministry's 'mission', it's destined to spectacularly tragic failure.

Esther said...

Uh, Trog...not to disprove you, but Cowboy Churches are all the rage out here...

Nash Equilibrium said...

Trog, it does matter how far one goes in tailoring that message, right? If one changes the message of the Gospel to suit one group or another, that's totally misguided. But if one tailors the setting, ambiance, style etc that the message is presented in, I can't see what's wrong with that. I think I know where you are coming from but I could probably make the case that in the 1950s, many churches were tailored only to middle-class successful people.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dan - just saw your last comment. I mean, he didn't do his usual one-star routine so maybe he is an actual fan of Schlatter? We could call him the Mad Schlatter maybe?

DJP said...

LOL; first laugh of the day. Thanks!

Brian said...

LOVE Adolf Schlatter -- thanks for posting about him. I re-read his biography by Neuer every year. Your post reminds me of the Os Guinness book that came out about ten years ago -- "Prophetic Untimeliness."

Brian said...

LOVE Adolf Schlatter -- thanks for posting about him. I re-read his biography by Neuer every year. Your post reminds me of the Os Guinness book that came out about ten years ago -- "Prophetic Untimeliness."

SamWise said...

"With such eminently cultured persons for ever hurrying on with their new doctrines, the world may be content to let our little company keep to the old-fashioned faith, which we still believe to have been once for all delivered to the saints."

A common reframe of mine is suspect all moderns! They have so imbided their cultural crack pipe that the redefine everything from their context instead of the context of eternity.

Job's faith was independent of his temporal context for he had an "Eternal context"("Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

"For I know that my Redeemer lives,and at the last he will stand upon the earth.And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." (Job 19:25-27 ESV).

Sheldon Clowdus said...

Well said.

Never ceases to amaze me how many things that shouldn't need to be said.....need to be said.