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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

The Challenge of studying theology today It has to be admitted that many students who embark on theology today become “totally disillusioned”. Evangelicals often find that “their evangelic faith is not so much questioned as dismissed”. The lecturers are learned, detached and sceptical. The authority and trustworthiness of the Bible is undermined and the clarity of its message becomes obscured by “a bewildering variety of interpretations”. The young Christian faces a challenge where “the ‘Sunday-school faith’ will no longer do”. It will have to be replaced.

Admitting that “while in one sense this challenge is a problem”, Cupples believes it can also be seen as “an opportunity”. “There is no growth in faith without questioning, heart-searching exposure to objections to our position”. It can lead us to discover the foundations of our faith—the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). An “integrated view of faith and study” is required, but before this can be outlined, several inadequate responses to the challenge must be expounded and dismissed.

Differing responses to the challenge 1. Submission The first response Cupples considers is that of submission. People “either abandon their former faith completely or change it into something quite different”. The believer, quite simply, “had no sure and sufficient reasons for what he or she believed”.

2. Repression Another response people make is to try to ignore radical views and suppress any problems by “dismissing all unwelcome questions from their minds”. An understandable attitude, but not one that should be condoned, being both “emotionally dangerous”, “intellectually indefensible”, and “spiritually inadequate”. Cupples argues that “a faith never exposed to trials, whether practical or learned, will be weak and artificial”.

3. Segregation Segregation differs from repression in that, whilst repressors simply fail to attempt to integrate faith and studies, segregationalists do not even perceive the need to do so. They live in a dichotomy where their faith is detached and maintained in isolation from their studies. This “polarization of academic and spiritual life” can occur in varying degrees and it raises a very important question: “what is the nature of true spirituality, authentic Christian experience?” It is evident that the segregationalist’s faith is rooted in experience and emotion—a form of religious existentialism where “the mystical element predominates”. Quoting Francis Schaeffer, Cupples explains that authentic Christian spirituality includes experiential relationship with God, but that “the basis for our faith is that certain things are true”. In other words, it is “content not experience” that should form the base, and the intellect is very much involved.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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