Thursday, July 06, 2006

Scot McKnight on "Zealotry"

I have often commented on some of the perceived differences between Christian "liberals" and "conservatives," but I think North Park University professor Scot McKnight has hit the nail on the head with his latest series on "Zealtory" (if you read the full article, you'll see how he defines the word and why he uses it). Some tidbits:
Some evangelicals have been tossing sharp barbs for a long time at “liberals” or “mainliners” for disregarding the Bible. (It would not be hard to give good examples.) Most evangelicals criticize liberals on the basis of a robust commitment to the Bible — and in so criticizing they believe it is they who are being faithful to the Bible.

Evangelicals tacitly assume or overly claim that they believe the whole Bible; they practice the Bible much better; and their theology is based on the Bible and the Bible alone. The contention is simple: liberals deny the Bible; we (evangelicals) don’t; we (evangelicals) are faithful and liberals are unfaithful.

Let me suggest that evangelicals, too, do plenty of Bible-denying but they deny in a different way. They question the sufficiency of Scripture.

McKnight suggests that conservatives follow an age-old pattern (also used by the Jewish rabbis of Jesus's time) of adding to the Biblical commands in order to make God's will easier to understand and to follow, a process known at the time as "making a fence around the Torah."
I contend that evangelicals do lots of “fence making”. One example, and I’ll give others in this series: the Bible says don’t get drunk. The evangelical fence is “don’t ever drink alcohol, and you’ll never get drunk.” (True enough: if you never drink, you’ll never get drunk. That’s not the problem.) The problem is this: quickly, the “fence” becomes the “Torah” and drinking alcohol in moderation is no longer good enough. Anyone who crosses the fence has broken the Torah (which she or he hasn’t, folks).
McKnight argues that this willingness to "supplement" the Scripture (my word, not McKnight's) make such believers guilty of a similar kind of disregard for the Bible that they so zealously (McKnight's word, although I'm using it differently) accuse the liberals of doing. I should be clear, though. It is not the act of "supplementing" itself that is the error, but rather it is giving the "supplement" the weight of Scripture. For example, the edict never to drink alcohol described above. If a person him/herself not only chooses not to drink alcohol, but insists that no one should drink alcohol, suggesting that to drink displeases God, they are guilty of the "zealotry" described in this article.

McKnight elaborates further on this topic in a new entry he made today, suggesting that the root of "zealotry" is a fear of freedom and a need to control. Anyone interested should check out this series as it continues to expand in the coming days.

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