Saturday, February 4, 2023

Fighting for What You Believe

My morning devotional was in this passage (1 Thess. 5:19-22). I'd like to say a brief word about it. 

Paul writes:

  • Don't put out the Spirit's fire.
  • Don't treat prophecies with contempt.

Then he adds:

  • But put all things to the test; hold fast to what is good, and keep away from every kind of evil.

Two alternatives are ruled out (students, pay careful attention to what Paul is saying here):

  • an uncritical acceptance of anything that claims to be from God.
  • an outright rejection of them.

I tend to fall into the first trap. As a new teacher at Biola, I taught courses in New Testament Introduction to literally hundreds of students. In two semesters I was expected to cover all 27 books of the New Testament, not to mention all of the perfunctory introductory matters such as text and canon, the synoptic problem, chronology, authorship and pseudonymity, etc. Was I an expert in all of these areas, let alone in any one of them? Not on your life. So I felt I had to rely on the work of others merely for the sake of survival. That was a big mistake. For in at least three major areas of New Testament studies I changed my mind after looking at the primary data myself. In fact, I came to support conclusions that today would be considered obscurantist and even unscientific by some. My response? With Paul, I say: test everything. At least be willing to have a discussion. That's why I organized 5 major conferences on our Wake Forest campus dealing with such topics as textual criticism, the synoptic problem, the authorship of Hebrews, the ending of Mark, the adulterous woman passage in John, and the value of linguistics for New Testament exegesis. Students were invited to attend, listen to experts in the field debate the issues, and then derive their own conclusions. Group identity kills debate. Don't let the sins/mistakes of your fathers become you own. You can make this world a better place by taking responsibility on your shoulders. As Paul puts it elsewhere, "Let every man be convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). Paul is neither encouraging unexamined tradition nor is he condoning mindless conformity. He assumes that each person has reflected on the issue at hand and has reached his own firm conviction. Indeed, those who believe nothing will believe anything. 

Remember, students: It's just as spiritual to test everything as it is not to treat prophecies with contempt. The only thing more difficult than contending forthrightly with the facts is failing to do so. There are few things in life more important than fighting for what you believe.