Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Truth and Power

An astute friend pointed out a concern about my reference to John Wesley's "heart strangely warmed" experience at the point of his conversion. Here is a quote he passed along from How Wide the Divide? a Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation by Craig Blomberg and Stephen Edward Robinson:
"Joseph [Smith] confessed a greater affinity for Methodism than Presbyterian or Baptist thought prior to his supposed encounter with God (Joseph Smith History 2:5-Il). Is it a coincidence that Mormonism subsequently turned out to be closer to Methodism than to its Protestant competitors on a whole host of doctrines, from denying the major tenets of Calvinism (predestination, original sin, eternal security) to affirming the strong call for holiness and moral perfection? Even the testimony of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, that he found his heart “strangely warmed” at his conversion is reminiscent of Mormonism’s “burning in the bosom.” None of these were issues that concerned the ancient Jews or Central Americans who populate the pages of the Book of Mormon, but they all fit the religious climate of nineteenth-century North America very readily."

There are problems with both Methodist and Mormon theology. Some of them are mentioned in the quote. However, there is a difference between a genuine conviction of the Holy Spirit and a "burning in the bosom."
An example of the former would be what happened during Jesus' exposition of Scripture on the road to Emmaus in which he explained to Cleopas and another disciple that all of the Old Testament reveals God's redeeming work through himself. Afterward, they said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Luke 24:32)
Another example would be on the day of Pentecost. The apostle Peter preached to the crowd that had gathered about Jesus' death and resurrection. When he pointed out (twice) that those present were culpable in Jesus' death "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37).
The disciples hearts "burned within them." The Jews were "cut to the heart." In both examples, people are moved viscerally by the truth of Scripture. But notice that it is based on the objective truth of Scripture, not just a subjective feeling. Now back to John Wesley and Joseph Smith. My contention would be that one of these was a genuine conviction of the Holy Spirit (in Wesley's case) and one false (in Smith's case). One was brought about by the truth of the gospel being expounded from Romans. In this case a subjective feeling was based on objective truth. Mormons reverse this, basing truth on subjective feelings. Potential converts are coached to suspend judgment concerning theological or historical problems with Mormonism until they receive the appropriate "testimony" or emotional confirmation of the "truth" of Mormon doctrine.
This leads to subjective interpretations of Scripture that very often depart from the historic Christian faith. R. C. Sproul gives some helpful instruction on how to avoid this in Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (pp. 27-28):
Subjectivism has been the great danger of private interpretation...Believers are free to discover the truths of Scripture, but they are not free to fabricate their own truth. Believers are called to understand sound principles of interpretation and to avoid the danger of subjectivism.
In seeking an objective understanding of Scripture we do not thereby reduce Scripture to something cold, abstract, and lifeless. What we are doing is seeking to understand what the Word says in its context before we go about the equally necessary task of applying it to our lives. A particular statement may have numerous possible personal applications, but it can only have one correct meaning.

Notice that we do not "reduce Scripture to something cold, abstract, and lifeless." It is a living document. It cuts as well as heals. It is truth and it is power. As I said on Sunday, Christianity is the intersection of truth and power. The Bible never pits objective truth against subjective reality, truth against the spirit. In fact, there is no Spirit power without truth, for the job of the Spirit is to take truths about Jesus and make them vivid, glorious and affecting to our hearts (John 16:13-14). The Spirit gives us power by making the truth of God shine and empower us. As Tim Keller states:
We can think of the Spirit as "fire," but the truth of God's Word as "firewood." Without both wood and fire, you don't have a fire!

We need both.

No comments:

Post a Comment