Keeping Vineyard Distinctives in the Plausibility Structure: A Reflection on Kingdom Epistemology
by J.P. Moreland
- Title: Keeping Vineyard Distinctives in the Plausibility Structure
- Date: 04/18/2013
- Source: Presented at the annual Society of Vineyard Scholars conference, Anaheim California. (The full-paper available to download below is a preprint, post-conference copy).
- Article Type: Presentation
- Audience: Advanced, Intermediate
- Kingdom Categories: Life of the Mind, Power of the Kingdom, Spiritual Formation
A few years ago, Christian philosopher Paul Moser wrote an important article in which he distinguished two different approaches to Christian scholarship—the discussion and the obedience modes.The typical academic approach is the discussion mode according to which the scholar loves the intellectual stimulation of asking questions, having intellectual dialogs and engaging in the quest for clarity, all from the perspective of a disengaged academic posture wherein the conversation and the prestige that comes from engaging in it are ends in themselves. By contrast, the obedience mode is done under the Lordship of Jesus, and has as its goal obedience to His love commands with a special view towards providing help, faith and encouragement for brothers and sisters in the church (along with aid for those outside the faith in coming to Jesus). Moser rightly points out that the obedience mode—not the discussion mode—is the correct posture for the Christian and I want to argue in this paper that such a posture is of crucial importance today when it comes to adopting and assessing our views on various topics in light of their impact on whether or not the central teachings of Christianity and key Vineyard distinctives are viewed as items of knowledge.
It is on the basis of knowledge (or perceived knowledge)—not faith, commitment or sincerity—that people are given the right to lead, act in public and accomplish important tasks. We give certain people the right to fix our cars, pull our teeth, write our contracts and so on, because we take those people to be in possession of the relevant body of knowledge. Moreover, it is the possession of knowledge (and, more specifically, the knowledge that one has knowledge), and not mere truth alone, that gives people confidence and courage to lead, act and risk. Accordingly, it is of crucial importance that we promote the central teachings of Christianity in general, and the Kingdom distinctives of the Vineyard in particular, as a body of knowledge and not as a set of faith-practices to be accepted on the basis of mere belief or a shared narrative alone. To fail at this point is to risk being marginalized and disregarded as those promoting a privatized set of feelings or desires that fall short of knowledge.
Unfortunately, the contemporary cultural milieu—inside and outside the church—in which we live and move and have our being is precisely one with a plausibility structure that takes healing prayer, hearing from God, deliverance from the demonic and related matters to be on the order of astrology or the Flat Earth Society. This is one reason why we have had difficulty getting our distinctives to be taken seriously in the academy, the broader community and the church. And it is why they are often practiced in an unstable, and sometimes fleshly, way among our churches.
In 1983, Os Guinness wrote a book in which he claimed that the church had become its own gravedigger.The upshot of Guinness’s claim was that the very things that were bringing short-term growth in the Christian community also were, unintentionally and imperceptibly, sowing the very sorts of ideas that would eventually undercut the church’s distinctive power and authority. The so-called gravedigger does not hurt the church on purpose. Usually well intentioned, he or she simply adopts views or practices that are counterproductive to and undermining of a vibrant, attractive Christian community. In my view, there are certain contemporary currents of thought that risk undercutting distinctive Vineyard Kingdom practices. I want to get these on the table to expose how harmful these currents are for us in the Vineyard in particular. To accomplish my goal, I shall, first, clarify the nature of knowledge; second, identify the nature of a plausibility structure along with the central plausibility structure constituting our contemporary milieu; third, identify three intellectual areas that, if embraced, run the risk of turning us into our own gravediggers.
Related Content: If this conference presentation interests you, you might also want to consider the following:
- Kingdom Triangle (book)
- "On the Gift of Prophecy" (audio)
- "Developing an Apologetic Character" (article)
- Love Your God with All Your Mind (book)
- The Lost Virtue of Happiness (book)
- In Search of a Confident Faith (book)
- The God Question (book)
- Smart Faith (book)
- The God Conversation (book)
- It shows the relevancy of epistemic and cultural plausibility to theological traditions, beliefs and practices.
- It extends the Kingdom Triangle thesis in some unique ways.
- It is a word of exhortation to all Christian spiritual formation leaders.
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