I Trust You Have Moral Standards. Why?
So for those of you who take an interest in theology, let's head that direction today.
Every now and again I talk with a longtime churchgoer about centered-set. They often assume we're speaking the same language until I press my point (I can be that way) that I'm truly not bounded. It's centered-set or nothing. Because they're kindhearted people and want to believe that I'm not a demon from hell, they press me that surely I have SOME standards, SOME sense of who's good and who's bad, some sense of how we know good behavior from bad. So I clearly must have my boundaries.
There's a theological term for this. Is being centered-set the same as being "antinomian," or "lawless?"
I think the answer is "no." But getting to that "no" takes a little chatting.
On the one hand it's "no" because of the nature of centered-set: you're either moving towards the center, towards Jesus, or not. So the implicit "law" boils down to whether a given behavior is effective or ineffective towards drawing one closer to Jesus. It's the rare embezzler who says, "I've never known sweet closeness to Jesus the way I have since I stole my first hundred grand." Now some of my churchgoing friends would worry on this front. What's to keep a conscience-less embezzler from feeling no guilt whatsoever, from happily singing robust songs of praise to Jesus each Sunday and sleeping like a baby each night? Without a clear code of conduct, are all bets off?
I wonder what you think about this objection. I suppose my answer would be, well, true, sociopaths do exist. But nonetheless, there's no way for that person to get closer to the actual Jesus with that behavior, as they will discover someday in this life or the next. But how would you respond?
I made a late-to-the-party discovery two weeks ago, at least late-to-the-party for someone like me. I discovered this amazing thing on iTunes called iTunesU--which seems to have a slew of free downloadable university courses. Who are these angels in human shape who've offered such a gift? So I downloaded a New Testament theology course from my own seminary, Fuller Seminary. Granted, it's not exactly current--it's a 1995 survey course taught by David Scholer. It has its dull patches, but in the main, it's fantastic. And Scholer makes a bold claim along these lines.
Historically, evangelicals have looked at Moses' Law in two categories: the moral law (which we're still obligated to keep; most famously the 10 Commandments) and the ceremonial law (which passed away once Jesus came along). Scholer argues from Galatians among other places that there is no such distinction. Instead, he argues that Paul does away with the law entirely. No rules! Except one: "the law of love." So we worship Jesus and ask God whether our actions are loving. (A quick note: My theological mentor, Dan Fuller, was heavily into the "moral law/ceremonial law" distinction. So I'm just trying Scholer's point on for size.) His point is that this turns out to be quite a rigorous law indeed. So 1 Corinthians focuses, he argues, on immature new believers who have callowly taken in the idea that they're "free in Christ" and so can do anything they like--they're free! But Paul pushes back that, say, eating meat offered to idols in the presence of others who are scandalized by this isn't a loving thing to do, even if technically you'd be free to do such a thing. Getting drunk at the communion table, sleeping with one's mother-in-law--whatever the advisability of these things in absolute "moral" terms, they violate the law of love.
All to say, I'm intrigued.
But how about you? If you regard yourself as centered-set, what's the basis of your moral standards?