On not knowing it all, and resisting labels
I’m an evangelical charismatic Christian in a theological tradition that has been termed ‘Relational’ and that broadly sympathises with views both in the Arminian-Wesleyan tradition and in the Open Theist camp. I have a high view of the church. I believe in God-breathed Scripture and read it with a Christocentric hermeneutic. I greatly appreciate the Anabaptist tradition. I don’t believe in eternal conscious torment but rather in a view I think is best termed ‘conditional immortality’, and think that the whole debate about hell is better framed in the context of ‘eternal judgment’. I am (I think) a partial preterist premillennialist. I think C.S. Lewis was alright.
All that might look a bit surprising given the title of this post. I suppose that with what I’m about to say, I thought I ought to spell out where I think I am theologically at the moment. To some degree, I wish I hadn’t, as may become clear if I manage to elucidate all that I want to in this post. But I also don’t want to look like your average latte-sipping Rob Bell glasses-wearing endless-question-posing liberal 20 year old, among whom it might be all too popular to resist labels. But there you go – I’ve just labelled them, haven’t I? Keep digging.
Anyway, I have (not frequent enough) dialogues with people who hold different views. I hope I always do. And that keeps me thinking and developing. And so of course, historically, I have held different views. At one time I believed that souls were eternally, consciously tormented in hell, and (yes, don’t hate me) I really believed for a little while that the world was created in 6 24-hour days. Really. I’ve been there. I still laugh. I’ve also perhaps toyed with Augustinian-Calvinistic concepts – not for too long, mind you, or not once I realised what they were, really. I’ve flopped back and forth on the atonement, as I have on hell.
On other things, I’m still working it out, and I think this is the crux of what I wanted to put down in a post. I’ve often felt the need to define myself according to what I believe about a certain doctrine, to have all the answers. Well, I don’t. I’ve read the Bible a good number of times, but that doesn’t mean I can instantly pull up every verse relevant to a topic, argument or viewpoint that might strengthen or inform it. Why should I have a position on everything? Why, in fact, should I be able to say right now whether I believe in libertarian or compatiblist free will? My general theological tradition might prod me in the direction of libertarian free will; but I happen to think that compatiblist arguments have some sensible points to offer, even if I think that taken to its full conclusion it is senseless. I’m not ready to apply one label or the other to myself.
I indicated that I was unsure whether I’m definitely a partial preterist premillennialist. Some readers won’t even know what that means. It mainly has to do with interpretation of the book of Revelation. And while I’ve received some wonderful teaching on the millennium to suggest that there is a future millennial reign of Christ on the earth with his saints to be expected, what am I to make of Richard Bauckham’s conclusion that it’s not literally to be expected? He is, as far as I can make out, an a-millennialist. Why should I be bothered? Because he is a formidable scholar and his books on Revelation are landmarks in the field. He is worth listening to on the subject.
It’s perhaps not usual for evangelicals to resist labels. Evangelical traditions have always been strong on doctrine and Biblical teaching, and well and good. Resisting labels may simply be a symptom of the age. But I’ve decided it’s ok to have some time to work it out. When I gave my life to Jesus he didn’t ask me whether I was going to be a partial or full preterist, if I was going to be one at all. He was calling me to follow him, and I expect to learn on the way – that’s what being a disciple is all about.
I find it interesting in our age (perhaps an age that is slipping away now) of post-Enlightenment Christianity, in a world that thinks it can know it all, that we have had preachers who have claimed to know what even Jesus said he didn’t know, namely, the day and the hour when he would return. Truly a symptom of the age of scientific revolution. I think that age is waning, and it might be no bad thing; hopefully we can return to a Biblical understanding of truth that’s found in Jesus and through a life that’s following him, and not simply in subscribing to a set of doctrinal statements from day one.
As a postscript, there are some views which I know I hold strongly, and I’m planning/lining up the next post already on belief in the demonic and Satan/’the satan’. I’m not against clearly holding theological positions with conviction, only against blindly assuming a position until I’ve thought it through.