I have said in another connection that God reveals enough of the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not need to exercise faith. I think this truth should be applied liberally when we are dealing with controversial and controverted questions in Scripture, the answers to which we do not yet have certainity about.

There is a lust for certainty about all kinds of things in and out of the Scriptures in the Evangelical or Conservative Protestant world and sometimes that ‘itch’ is scratched in ways that does no service to Biblical truth, and no justice to the Christian community. Sometimes it leads to fear-based practices– take-overs of schools and churches because of the fear that something has been or might be said that does not square with one’s particular narrow reading of Scripture, or even just because we do not like what has been said, even if it is perfectly Biblical!

It is a mistake for the conservative church to buy into and become a part of the problem of “the closing of the American mind”. We need more dialogue, not less, more study, not less, more understanding, not less. More openness to learning and fresh insight, though of course as my grandmother used to say– “don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out”. The call of the Protestant Reformation was ‘semper reformanda’ always reforming, and we certainly need to hear and heed that call here at the cusp of the 21rst century when it comes to our use and abuse of the Bible.

Posturing and posing are not what we need from our Evangelical leaders, whether in the pulpit or in the schools. I am reminded of the old story of the preacher who was preaching on a controversial subject, in this case the timing of the return of Christ. He was uncertain about what to say at one juncture, so he wrote in the margin of the sermon– “preach louder here and pound the pulpit”. “Methinks he doth protesteth too much”.

What we need is more light, and sometimes less heat, so our zeal will be according to knowledge rather than a substitute for it. I was reminded of all this by a wonderful quote I read today from a great scholar who practiced his trade at Durham (England). Alfred Plummer puts it this way:

“There are men to whom uncertainty on such questions as these seems intolerable. They cannot ‘learn to labour and wait’; they cannot wait patiently, and work patiently, until a complete solution is found. And hence they hurry to a definite conclusion, support it by evidence that is not relevant, and affirm that it is demonstrated by what is perhaps relevant, but is far short of proof.”

“Intellectual probation is part of our moral probation in this life, and it is a discipline much needed in an age of great mental activity. Impatience of the intellect is a common blemish, and it is disasterous both to him who allows himself to be conquered by it and to the cause of truth. He does a good service both to himself and to others, who cultivates a dread of jumping to unproved conclusions, and who in speaking and writing watchfully distinguishes what is certain from what is only probable, and what is probable from what is only not known to be untrue.” (Plummer, Commentary on St. James and St.Jude pp. 299-300).

What is remarkable about this quote is that it was written in the last decades of the 19th century, well before our ‘information’ and ‘technology’ and ‘internet’ age. Nevertheless, it is as apt and applicable today as then. Here’s hoping we will reflect on this insight.

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