Sunday, September 16, 2007

[THO] First Impressions of 'What Did Jesus Do?'

Ray Comfort has been a hot topic here and on my Facebook page. I couldn’t help but take a quick look at one of the books Chris Curry sent me, “What did Jesus do?” I began sharing some of what I had gleaned from the first couple chapters and Sharon stopped me asking if I was talking about a cult. While the aspect that Comfort proposes a private truth is troubling, I am not convinced he goes beyond the pale of popular evangelical notions. But what is clear to me is that Comfort is operating almost exclusively out of a propositional theory of revelation – that is the notion that revelation is communicated to a specific people through a series of truths often collected into a text (Lane, The Experience of God, 34). Adherents to this view of revelation insist on a literal reading of their text(s) in order to preserve the truths contained within them. This is a very common paradigm for the evangelical world, at least in North America.

Before we look at why this view of revelation is flawed, I would be remiss to gloss over Comfort’s confusion of the Law with the Decalogue (p.25). This is very evident in his writing and thinking and it is an understandable confusion knowing that within the Protestant church there is a long tradition of using the Decalogue as a touchstone for Christian moral teaching. But when we look at the New Testament there is more of a tendency to reduce the Law to two propositions instead of the Decalogue. This is significant if you buy into Comfort’s insistence that the Law must come before grace then your understanding of what constitutes the Law matters gravely. But I’m sure I will have more commentary on this after I finish this book.
The second important omission is any sense of ongoing justice. On page 16 there is a list of what the fruit of salvation should look like (in Comfort’s mind of course). While half of this list is questionable, what is more startling is what is not listed. The list is completely devoid of any sense of justice. Where is the fruit of justice or has Comfort completely discarded the prophetic tradition that he claims to lean on so heavily? Where is the fruit of mercy? Love towards neighbours is reduced to getting along with Christians (which is easier for Comfortians who have narrowed greatly the definition of who is actually a Christian) and evangelizing the lost (obviously only with the ‘right’ method of evangelism). This list is what caused Sharon to conclude that Comfort has cult potential.

Those particularities fall out of Comfort’s flawed view of revelation. This theory of revelation often buys into the myth of unmediated access to divine truth, meaning that adherents actively resist the self-examination and self-criticism that is part of any healthy theology. (Interesting enough Comfort wants to undermine confidence in salvation but not in his propositional view of revelation?) Comfort definitely resists such activity, while he mentions that others oppose his views, there is no chance for examining their complaints as his work does not permit us the courtesy of proper footnotes and references. Obviously Comfort has no intention of defending his particular position, rather he wants to bolster the troops and convert the uncritical to his way of thinking. Academically these texts are useless, except as an example of how not to do a theology of mission.

I would encourage you to read with your eyes open.

3 comments:

Mike Samson said...

I'm with Sharon on this one. I am looking forward with eager anticipation to further commentary...

One of Freedom said...

I don't know when I'll get to them Mike. I am overwhelmed with lots of other reading at the moment. Just finished a re-read of Dermot Lane's The Experience of God, what a great book. He tackles how in the later part of this century faith has become misconstrued with affirming a set of beliefs, very foreign to the Biblical worldview but very much where someone like Ray Comfort finds his authority.

But I'm personally not inclined to brand anything a cult, but I do acknowledge that this stuff has a lot of potential to do harm to well meaning believers and non-Christians alike.

Mike Samson said...

"Cult" is not necessarily a derogative term. It depends on how it is being used. Like "heresy," it doesn't nesessarily mean "evil." This is I think definately fertile ground for something potentially very harmful. I have seen the effects first hand even though I have been labelled incompotent to make any judgements in that regard...