Killing the Messenger: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
This last week the National Cathedral issued a statement. It was entitled, “Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump”. If you have not read it, I would encourage you to do so. It is, I believe, a thoughtful and reasoned response to the racist and xenophobic comments and tweets that have come out of the White House over the course of these last two years. I commend this article, however, knowing full well that some readers will reject it out of hand. They will reject it, however, not necessarily owing to its content, but owing to the knowledge that the statement was written by those who might be identified as theological liberals in The Episcopal Church.
A convenient way to dismiss any message is to kill, or at least damn, the messenger.
This has become common in theological discussions. Recently, when before his death it was mistakenly thought that Eugene Peterson had somehow endorsed same sex marriage (which he had not) there was an immediate rush to judgement and, among some, a wholesale dismissal of over fifty years of faithful service and writing.
Personally, I find this a strange state of affairs. Every morning, I read at least one of the New Testament readings for the Daily Office out of the Nestle-Aland “Novum Testamentum Graece”. Now, I do this knowing full well that both Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle broadly agreed with the textual/higher criticism that emerged from the Prussian Academy. Kurt Aland, on the other hand, tended to be more conservative and in the 1930s he aligned himself with Bonhoeffer, Barth and the others in the Confessing Church in Germany. Subsequent additional editors included Bruce Metzger, who while not wholly an evangelical, was considered by evangelical scholars to be “a fine, godly conservative scholar” along with yet another editor, Matthew Black. Conservatives, liberals, higher critics, textual critics who all directed their enormous talents to a common task, and that task was to provide us with a truthful and reliable text of the Greek New Testament. We need not agree with every portion of their theological positions to profit from their work and expertise. It is not whether they are liberal or conservative that matters. It is the truth in their content to which we should pay attention.
It is for this reason that I read widely and with little regard for the labels that others attach to one writer or another. I will readily admit that I feel most comfortable among my own tribe. Give me a book by +Michael Ramsey, Eric Mascall, Percy Dearmer, or an address by +Eric Kemp or Bob Webber, and I feel at home. Yet, I have also found enormous profit in reading outside of my tradition and my own theological perspective. My life would have been impoverished had I not read great Orthodox authors such as John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann. While I am not a Lutheran, I have to readily admit that Martin Chemnitz’s works on “The Two Natures of Christ” and “The Lord’s Supper” were transformative for me, even as I disagreed with one point or another of his arguments, as I did with Robert Preus and his two volumes on “The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism”. My shelves are filled with Roman Catholic authors, ranging from moderates like Raymond Brown to liberals like Hans Kung. I can read the evangelical social activist, Ron Sider, and turn to a book by the evangelical conservative, Os Guinness and find both profitable. Once again, it is not the label that others hang on them that is of importance. It is not that we have to be in agreement with all that they say. It is, however, the truth in their content to which we should pay attention.
Don’t dismiss the message by killing or damning the messenger.
I used to tell my students that learning is a challenge… it is meant to challenge your assumptions. I don’t know about others, but I still want to learn…