Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Southgate Fellowship: The Antithesis

The TSF make much of the doctrine of the antithesis, the "radical distinction between the Christian and non-Christian religions."
I have already interacted with the following section:
84a) We affirm that theological teaching can legitimately adjust its teaching style, phraseology, selection of content, use of illustrations, and many other ways that prove significant in facilitating the communication and grasp of truth in the audience’s target language and culture.
But there is more:
84b) We deny that such adaptation may rightly interpret any culture, religion, faith, and practice apart from the comprehensive authority of Scripture concerning the radical distinction between the Christian and non-Christian religions, between believers and unbelievers, and between the moral and religious antithesis that exists between those in Adam and those in Christ Jesus.
As religion is undefined, it is really difficult to understand what exactly this is denying. It seems to be saying that the doctrine of the antithesis is so complete ‘non-Christian religions’ have nothing to admire, nothing to appreciate, nothing to celebrate. And yet, the importance of extending hospitality to strangers, the demand to respect the aged, the value of modesty, to name but three, are all features of many communities hardly touched by the Bible.
One might respond that these are merely cultural and not religious. But since the TSF have not adequately defined the difference between those two terms that recourse is not open to them.
And can it really be that only those in Christ are able to help in interpreting a ‘culture, religion, faith, and practice’? If this is so then there can be no point ever in asking those in Adam why they are doing anything. Why do you give flowers to your wife? Why do you applaud a great performance? Why do you play rugby? Why do you attend the funerals of your relatives? Why do you sing in the bath? All are pointless. 
An attempt is made to expand on the TSF definition of culture here:
87a) We affirm that the word ‘culture’ is used generally to describe the shared set of artefacts, characteristics, meanings and values that give shape to the total corporate life of a group of people.
87b) We affirm that culture is complex and multi-faceted and operates at many different levels—the external and observable artefacts of culture always expressing more deeply held beliefs and value systems.
But this creates even more problems: do external and observable artefacts of culture always express more deeply held beliefs and value systems? If this is so, then what would they make of the custom of having bridesmaids at a wedding, widely understood to have originated as decoys for the evil eye?
On this, J. H. Bavinck had a wise word to say:
Numerous customs and practices originally based on pagan ideas and conceptions are gradually secularized and have lost their original meaning. Certain forms of politeness originally expressed respect to the divine majesty of the ruler and were forms of religious adoration, but now they have become civil formalities, the meaning of which is scarcely understood by anyone. Other customs of dress were connected with magic and superstition, but now they have completely lost their original meaning. There are burial customs, even in Western countries, which originally arose from fear of the dead, but which now only bear the character of tradition. Thus, even though a national culture is basically an indivisible whole, so that the meaning of each component is determined by religion, nevertheless, in practice, many customs are detached from this coherence and lost their original character. In such cases it is foolish to go back to the original meaning of a custom, because it is now no longer experienced and felt as it had been originally. (An Introduction to the Science of Missions, 1960: 174)
The paradigm expressed in the TSF statement is cut loose from reality.

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