Different Version, Same Story

Michael S. Horton
Friday, September 1st 2017
Sep/Oct 2017

During a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I noticed the small number of travelers in the airport. When I asked about this, I received quite different accounts about why: from moving major airline hubs to other airports to post-9/11 woes. Doing a little research, I discovered that all of these versions were crucial parts of the whole story—none was incorrect or contradictory; they just illustrated different aspects of what had happened. A thorough report would take all of the versions together, check the facts, and integrate the different reasons into a composite picture.

This is precisely what we have to do when we read the four Gospels and the various reports from the apostles in their letters. There are no contradictions in the eyewitness testimony as reported. Apparent discrepancies reflect the different perspectives owing to the standpoint of time and place. A collection of eyewitness reports that lacked apparent discrepancies would suggest collusion and fabrication.

The same is true of different interpretations of the Bible, expressed in the tens of thousands of denominations today. I’ve often heard people say, “How can Christianity be true if there are so many religions—and so many different interpretations of Christianity itself?” True, this is a scandal. But there are other scandals. What about people who have had different diagnoses from doctors? We don’t give up on good journalistic accounts of the various factors or in the myriad diagnoses of even the most recognized illnesses.

We still read the newspaper and go to doctors. So why, when it comes to religion, do we think that everyone is unreliable and we have to go it alone? It’s a lot easier to abandon critical thinking, homework, and testing the analyses and either throw ourselves in the arms of a “specialist” or reject expertise altogether. The Reformation was an amazing movement because they did neither. The Reformers were experts in the Bible in its original languages. They weren’t always right, but they had a level of expertise average Christians lacked. They also encouraged average Christians to investigate Scripture for themselves. Neither expertise nor democratic “pooling of ignorance” was the the goal, but a way of taking the authoritative interpretation of “many counselors” over idiosyncratic, individualistic interpretation.

It’s much harder to be a Reformation Christian. It’s a lot easier to surrender either to an absolute monarchy (the pope) or to the narcissistic principle of individualism. It’s a lot harder to work really hard with the whole church, in all times and places. That’s accountability, social engagement, and compromise: three things Americans don’t like very much. I hope that as we celebrate the Reformation, we can recover not only its insight into the gospel but also its recovery of biblical practices in order to come to a common understanding of “what we believe and why we believe it.”

Michael S. Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine.

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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Friday, September 1st 2017

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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