If evangelicalism is to have long term theological stability, it needs to learn from churches with properly elaborate confessions and catechisms. That will involve a major culture shift which might well cost its current leadership significant power and indeed money. A movement built on broad-based networks of churches and parachurch organizations will inevitably fragment when it tries to move to more thorough doctrinal statements. Yet failure to do so is surely not an option at this point in time. Evangelicalism may have the numbers but it needs confessional coherence to maintain its identity in face of the coming challenges.
Over at his Patheos blog, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has offered an interesting commentary on the move by Union University to leave the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Union has done this because of the decision by two member institutions, Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, to permit faculty and staff to be in same-sex marriages. McKnight does not agree with same-sex marriage nor the policy of the two colleges, but he objects to the language of ‘gospel’ being used by Union to justify its withdrawal.
I am more sympathetic to Union’s move than McKnight is. I can see that extraordinary times could lead to action which, while not strictly necessary or perhaps even entirely consistent, might yet make an important public statement. But I do, however, have a lot of sympathy with his central point. Groups like CCCU exist for the mutual convenience of the members. Their unity is really pragmatic and only very superficially theological. Thus, the problem with leaving on the basis that gay marriage is a gospel issue is that CCCU’s membership is so diverse that it embodies at best only a very minimal understanding of what the gospel is. Indeed, it is unlikely that Union would ever have regarded the available doctrinal consensus of CCCU institutions as an adequate account of the Christian faith, so to protest on this one issue makes accusations of simple anti-gay prejudice look plausible to the outside world. The gospel was never the basis of the confederation in the first place so can hardly provide a rationale for departure.
The obvious question is: If the definition of marriage is so important to member colleges as a basis for such institutional connections, why was it not part of the articles of association to begin with? One might object, of course, that gay marriage is a relatively recent issue, but that is beside the point. Many classic Protestant confessions contain definitions of marriage which implicitly rule out of bounds same sex marriage (and any other permutation of partners which the human mind might invent). And is marriage really more important than, say, the doctrinal differences between Baptists and Quakers?
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