Progress or Synthesis?


Do people have a better understanding of what God is like today than they did two thousand years ago? Did people who lived two thousand years ago have a better understanding of what God is like than people who lived two thousand years before them? I think most of us would answer yes to both of these questions. The revelation of God in Christ gave humanity a much deeper insight into the true nature of God. When we read the Old and New Testament how should we understand their differing portraits of God, or are they different? These are questions that every christian has to wrestle with at some point in their lives. Should we attempt to read them both and combine them (synthesis) or should we read them both and view the New Testament as a clearer picture building on but ultimately surpassing the Old Testament (progressive)?

Needless to say we can’t approach these questions objectively. We can never escape our past experiences when reading the bible, but understanding our bias can help us to be more objective. And guess what, the two most controversial topics in history (politics and religion) have an extreme influence on each other. If you think of yourself as a conservative, someone who often values the way things have been done in the past,  you will most likely interpret the bible synthetically. If you think of yourself as a liberal, someone who often values new ways of doing things, you will most likely interpret the bible progressively. At this point you might be asking yourself, which way is the right way? And that is a great question!

Absolutely, there is value in both perspectives, but conservative and liberal christians throughout history have believed that God has revealed himself progressively. That doesn’t mean that God has intentionally withheld the understanding of his nature, but he has understood that people could not understand his nature and therefore he waited to reveal himself fully in Christ at the “culmination of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26). At this point you might be asking yourself, what difference does this make? And that is a great question as well.

Our cultures desperately need people who can value the good things that have happened in the past, speak boldly about the bad things, and see a vision of what is possible for the future. Our world needs men and women who are able to have civil discussions about things that we might passionately disagree with. I would love to hear your thoughts on several controversial topics that are causing division in the church and in our society right now. Topics such as racism, same sex relationships, and civil religion. I am a minister in a Restoration Movement christian church. We believe that the division in the church is destroying our ability to preach the gospel. I hope that you will join with me in praying for the reconciliation of the church and in thinking deeply about how we interpret the bible.

The painting is an untitled work by Vinita Pappas described as "painting in progress."