Last week I opened my discussion of Resolution 9 by suggesting that our cultural diversity has created much of the controversy that has surrounded it. I also encouraged you to review several web-links that give us a history of how we got to our current point of contention. Another area that has fueled the fire has been our definition of terms--and remember your culture informs your definitions.
In the early first century, the accepted definition for the Hebrew word Messiah was that of a conquering king. However, after the execution of Jesus of Nazareth as a blasphemer and a heretical teacher, there arose a sect of Judaism called The Way. They believed that this man Jesus was also God and that He rose from the dead. They pointed to a multitude of OT passages that described the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a conquering king, and claimed that Jesus would soon be coming back as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
This teaching was also viewed as heretical and it drove a Pharisee by the name of Saul to zealously pursue men and women who had become involved in the group called the Way. Luke describes his attitude and actions in Acts 9:1-2:
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem
As Luke continues his narrative, we read of a miraculous encounter that transformed the persecuting Pharisee Saul into the great missionary to the Gentiles we call the Apostle Paul.As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:3-5a)
Saul’s definition of the Messiah was forever altered. This self-identified Pharisee of the Pharisees began to tell everyone he encountered about The REAL Messiah. How we define things is important. Defining terms reminds me of my seminary days. Having enrolled in a Masters of Divinity program with my undergraduate Bachelors of Science in Agricultural Economics, I quickly discovered that my vocabulary was limiting me. I came to realize that the only college experience I had that really prepared me for seminary was the fact that I had learned the Greek alphabet when I pledged a Greek Fraternity. I found myself studying in the library and strategically positioning myself close to the thickest dictionary I have ever seen. The first year, I got a lot of exercise jumping up and walking to that dictionary. Unfortunately, there were times when the word I sought wasn’t there. A scholar had used a Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or German word “assuming” anyone who would be reading his thoughts would automatically know what the word meant. Sidebar comment: that dictionary had a ton of words, but I don’t recall a single one of them having only one definition.
That experience helped me to see that every area of study will have its own vocabulary. Each field of study is filled with acronyms and insider insights with accompanying stories that are specifically related to their work world. Each discipline develops a unique culture and language. This complicates conversations especially when different areas of study use the same word but assign a very different meaning. Because all of us tend to “assume” that everyone defines words as we do, no one stops to define terms in the middle of a conversation. A couple of simple examples: For someone in the Audubon Society a crane is a bird in the waterfowl family. If you’re a construction worker a crane is a piece of equipment used to reach high places. For a doctor, the word arm is a noun referring to a part of the human anatomy. While someone in the military will use the word arm as a verb to describe the process of providing someone with military equipment.
Let me suggest that part of our difficulty in discussing Resolution 9 is related to a difference in the definition of terms. Theologians are talking about terms developed and defined by Sociologists who are studying discriminatory laws: Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. I am NOT saying that we cannot understand theories developed by another field of study. What I am saying is that we can easily develop an incomplete definition if we have not taken time to dive deeply into theories developed by another academic discipline.
Pastor Stephen Feinstein submitted a resolution at the 2019 SBC Meeting which contained strong language stating his belief that “critical race theory and intersectionality (CRT/I) are founded upon unbiblical presuppositions descended from Marxist theories and categories, and therefore are inherently opposed to the Scriptures as the true center of Christian union.” Pastor Feinstein seems to view CRT/I as having been developed in the field of Political Science rather than Sociology. Remember, I suggested in an earlier article that politics DOES play a negative part in how Southern Baptists view current events.
The resolution committee, which was a culturally diverse committee, modified his original resolution to include phrases like “Critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture.” The final resolution, as approved, included four separate Whereas and four separate Be it resolved clauses that affirmed in one way or another the sole sufficiency of scripture. The strongest stated “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the Church seeks to redress social ills, and we reject any conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture.”
My guess is that if you began reading this article with a strong opinion on Resolution 9, then you still hold that opinion. I would just encourage you to hold it with humility, and I would remind you of the provisos I mentioned in my first two articles. My prayer is that as we encounter difficult topics and conversations in the future that we are more careful and kind as we begin to clarify the definition of keywords we are using. All words have multiple meanings!Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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