Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blomberg on "doctrinal conformity"

I wish you all could meet and get to know Rick [Hess]. He spent years teaching in universities that did not have doctrinal statements of faith. He came to his convictions not because anyone coerced him into them for the sake of a job. He came to us because he believed what he did; he did not believe what he does because he came to us. He is internationally respected by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. He has been invited by the Chinese government on more than one occasion to teach about religion at major Chinese universities. His books are used as textbooks in schools with no confessional leanings. He is as likely to correct fellow evangelicals whose views are too narrow or just factually mistaken than he is to correct others. Of everyone on our faculty, there is no one I can think of who more often does agree with people of very different backgrounds than his.
Doctrinal statements work in different ways in different institutions. In some contexts, notably Southern Baptist ones, they can be used as clubs to keep people in line. In other places, they are used more in the sense of truth in advertising–like saying, “if you come here, here is what our faculty stand for. We just wanted you to know what you’d be getting.” We’re definitely in the latter category. Does “without mental reservation” mean that we can have no doubts? Not at all. One can believe in the trustworthiness of Scripture and still be very puzzled by many interpretive questions but not be flummoxed by them, because in our finite and fallen humanity we shouldn’t expect to be able to figure everything out. We’ve watched answers emerge after patient study time and time again so that we can proceed with confidence that they will do so in the future as well. We could probably even remove that phrase “without mental reservation” from the document and almost no one would even notice or care. But there would be a dozen (I pick the number almost randomly) loyal elderly constituents who would be befuddled by the omission when they noticed it, so why ruffle their feathers?
I can understand why, as outsiders to our milieu, others could read our literature and imagine a very different environment than what it actually is. I can understand why some who have had quite different experiences with different confessional schools might be very sure they knew what our environment was like. But I’ve just finished serving twenty-five years at Denver Seminary and never once felt stifled by our doctrinal statement, asked tons of questions, have my own set of doubts, am free to air them all, and find it an amazingly healthy work environment. I invite anyone who doubts me to come for a campus visit and I’ll personally introduce you to as many of my friends as time permits, so you can judge for yourself. I can’t make anybody believe me, I realize, but I offer my own firsthand experience nevertheless. All the worst-case scenario suspicions so confidently affirmed in this blog and its responses are just flat-out wrong.

1 comment:

  1. "In some contexts, notably Southern Baptist ones, they can be used as clubs to keep people in line."

    More like to protect against flaming liberalism.