The Urbana email for registering as a seminar speaker came on Wednesday, with a deadline of Friday. Needless to say that Thursday evening was a mad rush of creating logins on various Urbana websites and filling out information. The’ Seminar Speaker’s Agreement’ had to be printed out, signed, and then emailed back in – that is when things got interesting. Not only did the agreement have the usual legal verbage about material rights (publishing the presentation), but it included a statement of faith; actually two of them, one for InterVarsity, and another for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
One of my issues was with the following statement:
“The divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of Holy Scripture as originally given, and its supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”
What I could not ‘wholeheartedly’ affirm was one word: “supreme”, the rest of the statement I have no trouble affirming, even though “…as originally given…” implies a line of thought that I find irrelevant.
It was hard not to chuckle at the dilemma being created. On the one hand InterVarsity clearly wants to make sure Urbana presentations support their theology, on the other hand they want to invite the Orthodox Church to make a presentation – and we are not Evangelical.
The problem of this word, and being Orthodox, is that we have been around for a while. St. Ignatious of Antioch (3rd bishop of the Antiochian Church) didn’t learn his theology from reading the Bible, he learned it through personal discipleship from the Apostle John. While some letters were being circulated around the Churches in the first century, there was no Bible. It is not till the late 4th century that the Council of Carthage defines what we now know as the canon of scripture. Other church organizations (like InterVarsity) have it easier, they didn’t have to deal with theological issues until after the canon was written.
There are two primary reasons why I cannot accept “supreme” in this statement. First, my organization (the Antiochian Orthodox Church) was making authoritative theological statements before much of the New Testament was written – what was the basis of their authority at this time? Secondly, if the canon of scripture was settled (and I won’t get into what ‘settled’ means) by a council of bishops, are they not the supreme authority over the scripture? To deny the authority of tradition causes me to deny the means by which the Bible became authoritative.
Some of this is hair splitting, as the same council that stated the canon of scripture also said that nothing the Church does can disagree with scripture. I am not arguing whether the Bible is authoritative, but how it relates to other authorities. The easiest way out of this maze is to say that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate authority, both of tradition and the inspiration of scripture – but that is a bit trickier to demonstrate.
I am tempted to gently ask InterVarsity whether they themselves really believe this statement. There seems to be an assumption hidden in these words that scripture is self-evident. If scripture is self-evident, then why is a statement of faith needed? I suspect a self-referential paradox is hidden here. The underlying concern seems to be not so much scripture (per se), but the interpretation of scripture. There is an implied assumption that not everyone comes to the same conclusions in their reading of scripture; and even if there is not agreement in the method of interpretation (hermeneutics), there still needs to be agreement on the result of the interpretation (ie. the statement of faith). Does not this statement of faith then become the ‘supreme’ authority to which one has to appeal?