The other day I was joking around on Facebook, noting that the problem with hermeneutical gymnastics is the unstable landings. Jugulum, a frequent poster here, commented about judges holding up score cards during sermons. Very tongue-in-cheek! But it did get me thinking: What if delivering Christian truth were like an Olympics competition, where the presentation of the Christian message would be judged by a diverse body of reviewers from various traditions to merit qualification?
I used to faithfully watch figure skating in the Olympics (since in my younger years I actually tried to do it). Now granted there is some subjectivity to judging, even under the new rules implemented in 2004. But judges are astute enough to recognize IF the skater is performing the required elements and IF they are performing them well. Why? Because the judges are asked to rate the performance of the skater based on a set of established criteria that is historically defined. Each element is examined and judged according to how well each technical aspect of the sport was performed based on the established standard. There are no substitutions: if a double axle is required, the skater cannot substitute a toe loop for it. The judges will know what an axle is supposed to look like. If a program is supposed to have a minimum number of elements, the skater must perform those minimum number of elements. Otherwise, skaters can be disqualified from competition for performing insufficient elements.
Now, I certainly am not suggesting that Christianity become a competition. But I am thinking, What if anyone wishing to hang their shingle out, purporting to be Christian, had to meet a recognized criteria of the essential Christian message: a stamp of approval, if you will, that authenticates legitimacy? What if a panel of reviewers existed consisting of members who have tested the historic confession of the faith that was once for all handed down, as Jude declares in his epistle (Jude 3)? I don’t think it would be feasible to hold up score cards during sermons and other discipleship activities. But individual reports could be provided with specific critiques, and there would be a minimal score necessary based on the cumulative scores of the judges.
I think this would crack down on some of the messages out there that claim to represent Christianity but, measured against the test, fail. There are a lot of relatively “new” ideas about what Christianity is and means for someone who follows Christ. I would think the promoters of unique ideas would want to authenticate their message with more than just big crowds. I would think they would want to go for the gold, if you will. But if persons espousing heretical teaching care more about promoting their ideas than for the message of Christ and refuse such evaluation, then, as the saying goes, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).
This actually was the work of the ecumenical councils. Speaking specifically of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, a group of church leaders were asked to evaluate the merits of various charges for the defense of historic orthodoxy. These men were knowledgeable about the core historic message based on God’s self-disclosure in Christ and therefore had grounds for effective examination. I think this was a tremendously good thing. Regardless of whatever political maneuverings existed, the evaluative process authenticated the faith that Jude speaks of, that which declares THIS is what Christianity is and THIS is what Christianity is not. The collective good of this process was to weed out heresy and defend the Christian faith. Even though the councils were formed in reaction to charges, how much better would a proactive process be? But, to be clear, I am not promoting watch-dogging.
Now I do realize that 2000 years of church history has produced such a splintering in traditions that it would seem inconceivable for alignment across traditions. Nevertheless, there is a core message that I believe all can agree on concerning the faith. Just as Olympics judges have style preference and will rate their individual scores accordingly, so the scores of the Eastern Orthodox judges would not be the same as the Protestant evangelical judges. But the collective score would produce the proof of the pudding.
So would this idea work? I am not sure. It may be that the fracturing has become so severe that confinement within each tradition may be necessary. The hermeneutical deviations alone raise doubt. I realize it would be tricky even to defend evangelicalism. I suppose this was the attempt of the Manifesto, which Michael recently wrote about, and why it failed. I applaud efforts to provide definition to an evangelical confession – based on a sound hermeneutical approach to Biblical theology – that establishes a base minimum of what defines evangelicalism, as well as historical preservation. Again, the point is the merit of rigorous evaluation and for established standards that guard against infiltration of distorted or even destructive ideas.
I do think, however, that without a standard rooted in historic orthodoxy, the floor is open and subject to overly creative ideas. I also believe an evaluative process does much to preserve that which has been believed everywhere by all.
I have the sense that many today would consider methods of evaluation or criteria establishment somehow intrusive and deem them contradictory to the love and unity so foundational to Christian belief. The historic ecumenical councils are vilified as man-induced criteria established for political preservation. But what would have happened had the ecumenical councils not have been formed in defense of the true Christology, without which, our love, hope, and unity would be in vain?