Saturday, July 19, 2008

Christadelphian SWOT analysis (1) - Christology

We're currently at the Australian Restoration Fellowship Conference in Brisbane and I'm writing this message during one of the few breaks in a intensive programme. Each day we've had 7 sessions and all the speakers have come with different perspectives. At times it has been quite challenging as we've been presented with information and ideas which we may not have seriously considered before, as the speakers and participants come from a variety of denominational backgrounds. Yet the atmosphere here is very 'united' as we celebrate the things we have in common, discuss various ideas with respect for each others point of view, and embrace the opportunity to share where God has taken us in our individual study of the Bible.

One of the things that has really impressed me is that participants who come from the various denominations represented here have all spoken of Christadelphianism respectfully, sometimes admiringly, always lovingly and with great sensitivity, even when discussing where they disagree. This has prompted me to think about the things which Christadelphians have to offer to other Christians, as well as some of the things that Christadelphians could learn from others. I though I would do a 'SWOT' analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) as a short series of messages.

In this message I'd like to comment on Christadelphian Christology - that is, the Christadelphian view(s) of the nature of Christ and His relationship to the Father.

STRENGTHS - It's interesting that there have been some very definite trends in theological scholarship over recent years towards a Christology which is remarkably similar to core Christadelphian teaching on the subject. Scholars such as James Dunn have challenged the 'orthodox' view of the pre-existence of Christ and an increasing number of theologians are coming out and saying that the Trinity is not Biblical, cannot be explained in Biblical terms, and was not the belief of the first Christians. Christadelphians have generally done a good job in explaining the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in dealing with the various Scriptures which have been quoted in support of the Trinity or pre-existence. Of course, Christadelphians are not alone in this, although they have probably produced more literature on the subject than other non-trinitarian groups.

I've have taken note that at this Conference a number of people have commented favourably on the contribution that Christadelphians have made to study of this subject, and some have remarked that their own ideas have been directly or indirectly influenced by Christadelphianism.

WEAKNESSES - despite having the same core beliefs it is indeed tragic that Christadelphians have splintered over the doctrine of the nature of Christ, almost always over matters which are extremely technical and often beyond the comprehension of the rank and file of members. There has been a great deal of bitterness and anger between brethren of different 'fellowships' and some divisions which were created generations ago still haven't been been healed. This is to the shame of Christadelphians. At this Conference I've heard people remark that it's staggering almost beyond belief that Christadelphians who understand Christology so well have divided over minor technical issues rather than standing united and presenting a strong case to other Christians.

The Christadelphian disputes over the 'sinfulness' or otherwise of Jesus' human nature, whether He needed to 'offer for Himself' and whether His human nature was the object of God's wrath have, in my opinion, often degraded into personal attacks where the beauty of the core doctrines has been lost in the muck that has been thrown around.

OPPORTUNITIES - as Christians in mainstream churches examine the challenge that has been created by the trend amongst theological scholars towards a more Biblical Christology, and as they wrestle with these theological issues, there is an opportunity for those who have held to a Socinian-unitarian position (such as Christadelphians) to weigh into the dialogue with a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation. We should adopt the attitude that we are helping our Christian friends to come to a clearer understanding of truth, rather than attacking them for their 'apostacy'.

There is also an opportunity for Christadelphians to learn from other believers, whether they are trinitarian or non-trinitarian, to clarify their own thinking, to 'fine tune' their theology and to adopt a healthy respect for the enormous scholarship that has been done in other areas.

THREATS - If Christadelphians don't dump their baggage which has been accumulated over generations of infighting and schism and adopt a gentler method of explaining their views, they may become useless to God as His witnesses to these truths and become an irrelevancy. Some serious work has to be done to not only repair the breaches of the past but to put an end to the divisive spirit which created them in the first place.


Cliff York said...

Amen and Amen.

The conference has been nothing short of brilliant.


Unknown said...

What a wonderful weekend!!!! A melting pot of ideas and concepts, discussed and presented in a very gracious and respectful way.

What an honour to have had 3 senior Christdelphian brethren, well grounded in the scriptures, to have been asked to deliver their addresses, which they did so graciously and were able to handle any concepts we felt we differed on.

Five different people I spoke to asked where do we meet, because they liked what was presented, and as they don't go along with main stream Christianity regarding the Trinity and heaven going etc, they don't know where to go, so of course we invited them along to our meeting. They were delighted to find folk who think and believe the same as themselves.

Many people are doing their own study and coming up with the true message of the Bible. They too can read their Bibles!!

We are very thankful to the 20 or so Christadelphian brothers and sisters, plus the young people who supported the weekend and helped to make it the success it was.

One or two 'lost' sheep came along to leave renewed and encouraged to come again and take up contact. God has surely blessed us with another opportunity to spread His Word.

We are now looking to plan another Conference next year - any takers??
Good work!!
LIJ Abigail

Unknown said...

I've been reading and appreciating your SWOTs re: Christadelphians.

I've been particularly interested in the "Opportunities" section, since I've noticed as well that a number of scholars and clergy are coming to positions that we have held. The problem is that we really don't have anyone like an Anthony Buzzard who has connections with, or has the creds to make connections with the scholarly community.

Christadelphian scholarship is on its own little planet, and very little from the outside world of scholarship gets in, and almost nothing gets out. This isolation means that I think we are going to have very little effect on what is going on in the outside scholarly world.

In addition, there is a mindset in the scholarly world, which is foreign to the Christadelpian mindset which is very uncomfortable with ambiguity, and usually not particularly humble about the positions that are held.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure what James Dunn believes about Christology, but I do know that 1 Clement written by Clement of Rome ca. 95 A.D speaks of the living Father, the living Christ and the living Spirit. In the Old Testament usage, God's uncreated divinity was given expression by exalting him as the living God. Hence Clement understands the Father, Son and Spirit to be the living God. The Ignatian epistles written by an auditor of John ca. 98-117 A.D. refer to Christ as our God. Whose opinion as to the doctrine of the apostles holds more weight, that of their immediate descendents and aquaintances, or of revisionist scholars writing 2000 years later? I take my stand with the ancient Church.