What Theological Challenges Are Coming Our Way? My Top Ten
1. Scripture: Pick-and-Choose Hermeneutics. Do we have a coherent framework for making sense of which biblical imperatives we follow, and which ones we don’t? Do the people in our churches understand it, or do they think we are merely picking and choosing? How can we articulate a helpful alternative?
2. Scripture: Inerrancy. Is the idea of an inerrant Bible an accurate one? A helpful one? Is it nuanced beyond all usefulness, or does it remain an important way of preserving our view of Scripture? How do we deal with specific historical, scientific, moral and intracanonical difficulties?
3. God: Eastern and Western Concepts of the Trinity. There is a trend to lean more into Eastern Orthodox understandings of the Trinity (more emphasis on equality and less on hierarchy; perichoresis; all things God does being motivated by other-centred love, both within the Trinity and in creation; etc). What implications will this have for other areas of theology, particularly soteriological models that depict God as judge?
4. God: Love, High Calvinism and Hell. Is it meaningful to affirm (a) that God the Father does all things out of overflowing love for others, (b) that he ordains and renders certain all things that come to pass, including the Fall and all sinful human choices, and (c) that those who reject Jesus will suffer eternal conscious torment in hell? If so, how? If not, which one(s) have to go?
5. Spirit and Church: Reappraising Ephesians 4 Ministries. What does the New Testament actually mean when it talks about prophecy and prophets? Is it in any way different from the practice of “prophecy” in charismatic churches? Is there any such thing in the NT as an apostle who is not a travelling gospel preacher, and if not, does that matter? Is there any evidence that the pastors and teachers were itinerant? Are evangelists those who equip others and visit churches, or who preach the gospel in pioneering contexts? In other words, is charismatic practice on this point biblically robust?
6. Spirit and Church: Receiving the Spirit. Have all Christians received the Spirit? If so, what do we do with Acts 8? If not, what do we do with Romans 8? Is receiving the Spirit the same as baptism in the Spirit, and either way, so what?
7. Salvation: The Forensic/Relational Wedge. Evangelicals gravitate instinctively towards either forensic metaphors for salvation (judgment, justification, penal substitution, etc) or relational ones (reconciliation, adoption, etc). Increasingly, the two camps are becoming separated, with the thinker, left-brain, good ol’ Reformed guys going one way and the feeler, right-brain, Father’s heart guys going the other. How should we respond?
8. Salvation: The New Perspective on Paul. It is all-but-certain, historically, that first century Jews were not trying to earn their way into God’s good books and get into his people by legalistic effort. Yet many pastors and preachers still talk as if that was the case, and as if Romans, Galatians and Matthew were written to counter it. Some Reformed writers have responded with clarity (Moo, Schreiner, Gathercole), but others more confusingly (Piper, Carson?) What about us?
9. Mission and Apologetics: Theodicy and High Calvinism. Many Calvinist leaders would believe that God ordains all things from before the beginning of time, including the Crusades, the Holocaust, and so on, for his greater glory. Yet they would probably not be happy to say so on an Alpha table. Does this reflect a theological inconsistency, a lack of integrity, or something else? (I know this was our topic at last year’s THINK, but I’m still not sure what most of us think the answer is!)
10. Mission and Apologetics: Evolution, Adam and Origins. A generation ago it was possible to talk about science and faith as if the main issue was the age of the earth. Today, however, it is much more about Adam, common descent and human origins. Where are we on that? And do our people know how to engage with it constructively?
Those were my top ten issues, and regular readers will not be surprised, since those are the things I often write about. The three issues the Relational Mission leaders most wanted to discuss, in case you’re interested, were 1, 4 and 6. But what about you? And are there any vital ones I’ve missed out?