Friday, July 20, 2007

Do we have a High Point?

Far be it from me to disagree with the JollyBlogger or Bryan Chapell, who is the one quoted, but I have not published anything theological in a while, and so I am going to disagree.

The JollyBlogger reports that Bryan Chapell had a sermon at GA about the PCA at 35 years. Chapell claims the PCA is faithful to the Scriptures, believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, has haggled for 35 years about what means to be faithful to the Westminster Standards, and now should focus on being mission-minded. While I think that the PCA’s position paper on Creation reflects badly on the PCA’s view of inerrancy, I will let that point pass without further discussion. What I really want to discuss is the quote touted by the JollyBlogger from Rev. Chapell. He said,

The best part of that sermon for me was when he said something to the effect of "the high point of the church cannot have been 500 years ago."

My first response, and should be everyone’s response, is ‘Why not?’ Admittedly without context it is hard to deal with this quote, but one is starting to see it more and more. It is usually a plea to move past the Reformation tradition no matter how it is hidden or dressed up. If someone is going to make a statement that something cannot be true, then it needs to be well defended.

First, is Rev. Chapell talking about the high point of theology? If so then why can 500 years ago not be the high point? Why cannot approximately 2000 years ago not be the high point? What even makes us think that there are high point and low point in the history of theology? What about our theology today should be different than the theology of the apostles, the Westminster Divines, the Old Side Presbyterians? What exactly should be changed to make us move ‘higher’ in Rev. Chapell’s mind? If Rev. Chapell meant this to be about theology then he has fallen into the trap of the Schaff/Hegelian model of theology. I reject the idea that theology grows and becomes more known and more complex over time like a Math book does as one goes from addition and subtraction to Calculus (Doug Wilson’s favorite example). It is certainly not a statement that should just be thrown out without defense, nor should it be accepted without discussion. Is not the faith once given the saints, and we charged with holding fast to it. Where exactly do we get the idea that as history progress and changes, so too must our theology?

Second, if he is talking about moving past the Reformation as far as planting churches and spreading the influence of the church, then whom on earth disagrees with him? The Reformation is not looked to by people as an example of the greatest degree of influence the church ever had. In fact, the Reformation is probably one of the low points with regards to influence the church had. I have never heard anyone think that the high point of church missions or planting or influence has past or that the time of the Reformation was that high point.

Again, I do not have all of the context, but I bet Rev. Chapell was speaking along the lines of the first point, that somehow the church needs to move beyond the Westminster or stop thinking about past theology, and start thinking about new ways/theology to reach the lost in the modern culture. I really would like someone who was there to explain it to me.

My main point here is this: we need to consciously examine what we think about history itself, whether it has high points and low points, whether or not it is proper to look back or whether or not the lessons of history are useful in the present. These things are under attack, and I fear that we too often want some new innovation to lead our churches simply because we all accept the maxim that new is better. I hope that this is not what Rev. Chapell meant, but it is something that is making its rounds in the church today.


Lane Keister said...

Great minds think alike. These thoughts of yours were very akin to my thoughts as I read about this unfortunate statement. Is it tantamount to saying that the Westminster Standards are no longer sufficient for us, as Jeff Meyers has said?

By the way, Chapell has two "l's."

James Frank SolĂ­s said...

Identification of high points seems to be a matter of some subjectivity. Extreme "low church" people think the "high point" of the church was that period in time when the churches met in peoples' homes. Others seem to think the "high point" was sometime before the first ecumenical council. Still others think the hight point was before the Great Schism.

Very often people speaking of high points sound like old people talking about the good ol' days. Of course, young people present think to themselves, "Those weren't my good ol' days."

Some people like to think that the high point of American history cannot have been 60 years ago. But the fact is, it just may have been.

The high point of the church really just may have been 500 years ago. I don't think there is a context which could justify Dr. Chapell's truth-claim.

Lee said...

Two "l's"? Spellcheck disagrees with you, but I have fixed it.

I agree with both of you. Thank you for your thoughts.