Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Nashville Statement

Many have been talking about the Nashville Statement today. For those unfamiliar with it, it was put together by the so-called "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood"--i.e. a group of self-appointed evangelical Christian persons whose expertise in either human sexuality or Christian theology is less than evident--in order to define for all and sundry the nature of gender and sexuality. I will again deviate slightly from my normal focus upon Lonergan and scripture in order to provide some reflection upon the matter, for whatever such reflection might be worth.

Others have commented upon the view of sexuality evident in this statement. Myself, I'm going to focus upon the elephant dancing in the middle of the room. Evangelical Christianity historically has been predicated upon a radical understanding of the principle of sola scriptura, i.e. that (66 out of the 73 books that the majority of Christians consider to be in) the bible contains all that is sufficient for Christian doctrine. The fascinating thing is how little of these articles can be warranted from scripture alone. Indeed, as far as I know, there is nothing in scripture that speaks to trans-identity. Now, theologically one might be able to use material other than scripture to arrive at the conclusion that trans-identity is sinful (such an argument would have to articulated carefully, and with conscientious attention to its pastoral implications), but I do not reckon that you can get there from scripture alone. And this raises a question about the very existence of the Nashville Statement: if the bible contains all that is sufficient for Christian doctrine, then why is there any need for this document? Why do the signatories not think that the statement "Read the bible" would suffice?

An answer can be found, I suggest, in Lonergan, who argues that whereas Christian scripture aims to speak to undifferentiated consciousness, i.e. consciousness that is generalized rather than specialized, Christian dogma aims to speak to differentiated consciousness, specifically to consciousness primarily operating within the realm of the intellect. That is, scripture for the most part aims to move the whole person, whereas dogma aims to inform and persuade the intellect. As such, with this greater focus, the latter can achieve a clarity that the former often cannot. (The fruits of this distinction cannot be overstated. It might help explain why Paul, for instance, continues to boggle exegetes: because that which does not take the literary form of dogma is being treated as if it does). This is why, despite their stated abhorrence of creeds, virtually every fundamentalist group feels a need to put out a strongly-worded statement of faith. Quite simply, Christianity has developed to the point that such forms are necessary to clearly express its truths. In fact, it developed to that point by at least the fourth century. In the end, what the Nashville Statement perhaps reveals most profoundly is the intellectual crisis in certain forms of Christianity, which necessarily depend upon that which in principle they consider to be unnecessary.

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