Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why Do I Like the Doctrine of "Accommodation"?

Accommodation, a common theological doctrine, “refers to the need for God’s revelation to be adapted (accommodated) to human capabilities of understanding and reception.” Essential Theological Terms by Justo Gonzalez.

Most Christians operate under some form of an understanding of accommodation. Even the most literal modern Christian reader will agree that when the Bible refers to the sun "coming up," it is using human terms, not divine terms, of relating to the earth's movement around the sun. Accommodation is an idea believed by early Church fathers such as Augustine, and Reformed theologians such as Calvin-- thus, it is not a new idea. But the gist of it is that God did not, for the Hebrews' (and later the Greek Christians') own sake, make them throw out their entire culture and everything they understood about government, slavery, male-female relations, etc. Instead, throughout the Scriptures God sowed seeds of a more loving, more freeing way of thinking that began to bear fruit in those cultures and continues to do so today.To understand the Scriptures as an interaction between God and humanity is to understand that God's voice must of necessity speak through the limitations of the views of the culture in which the interaction happened. That the limitations of human understanding are preserved in the Scriptures, is hardly surprising. The doctrine of accommodation is what makes it possible to understand the Bible as the result of an interaction between the inspiration of God and the writings of human beings.

Without this understanding of accommodation, modern non-Christians find it impossible to take the Bible seriously as any kind of model for modern faith and practice. The non-Christian generally sees the Bible as solely a product of its culture. They understand that the Bible comes from a variety of ancient cultures over a long period of time. They also understand that the cultures were violent, racist, patriarchal and often uncivilized by today’s standards-- and they don't see any reason to look more deeply than that. They're not looking for the voice of God speaking through and to patriarchal peoples; they aren't looking for the voice of God in the Scriptures at all. All they see is the voice of primitive humanity in ancient religious writings, steeped in ancient, barbaric cultures-- and that's that.

This understanding isn’t helped by the fact that many literalist Christian readers, in the name of “inerrancy,“ tend to forget about accommodation as well: They view the Bible as if it were a “memo from the Boss” (Metacrock’s phrase) dictated this morning and left on our desks. They tend to discount the role of humans in the writing of the Scriptures, seeing them as mere conduits for a word-for-word transmission of the message directly from God. Such a message must be viewed to be as timeless as God is; therefore, the perspective of human culture doesn’t matter. Whatever God appears to our eyes to have said to the church at Ephesus or Corinth is the same thing God is saying to us today. It is very difficult to be consistent with this idea, however; most Christians do not actually follow Paul’s command to “greet one another with a holy kiss,” but instead view it as merely a principle of showing love to another; but in many other areas, such as women not being church leaders, they believe anyone who thinks there might be a cultural element that has passed away, is rebelling in his or her heart against the “clear command of God.” This kind of thinking has led many sects of Christianity to retreat from the modern world into a sort of first-century holding-tank where practices and ideas from Bible times must become our own way of life.

Non-Christians, seeing this, are confirmed in their belief that the Scriptures are only a set of barbaric, primitive writings-- and they view with horror the idea that anyone would want to give the Bible any place of authority in their lives. Both the non-Christian and the Bible literalist, then, view with suspicion any Christian who gives the doctrine of accommodation more of a place by taking the historical-cultural context into greater account. But I find that understanding the Bible as God’s story, told through human writers within human mindsets, makes the Bible a thing of beauty and wisdom for my life. I am not stuck trying to follow first-century cultural mindsets as if they were the will of God. And I am not required to reject the Bible as having anything worthwhile to say today.

It seems to me that seeing the Bible as entirely the work of humans, or almost entirely the work of God (with humans as little more than pencils in His hand), yields pretty much the same result. Each sees only one side of the coin. They see opposite sides-- but what they each end up with is a half-coin, with only one face-- and thus with no real spending power.

I believe that the way to treat the Bible with the most respect is to try our best to understand what the original, human authors understood themselves to be saying, taking into account their human limitations. That way, we do not fall into an inadvertent re-formulation of a passage's meaning based on our own modern mindset (or our lack of understanding of shared Ancient Near East assumptions). And we can focus on the inspiration of God that still speaks to us today.

That's what "accommodation" is all about.


The Politics Of Heaven said...

In light of "accommodation," what is the final authority you base your life on? When you give account for your life to God, what will have been your standard for conducting your life?

How do you know your actions today are either right or wrong?

Kristen said...

Why should accommodation make any difference? Have Jesus' words changed? "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed on Him should not perish but have eternal life."

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

"A new command I give to you, that you love one another."

Read the post I wrote on "the Bible and plain sense reading." The things regarding eternal salvation are clear in the text. I put my trust in Jesus and walk in love through the Spirit of God. Isn't that what you do?

The Politics Of Heaven said...


ok, with or without accommodation, how do you know that this Jesus you trust is the right Jesus. How do you know that this Jesus you trust is not, as Paul stated in Galatians, "another Jesus?"

How do you know that you are "walking in love?"

Kristen said...

Politics, you're kidding, aren't you? Do you really think walking in love isn't self-evident? When Paul spoke of "another Jesus," he was talking about a message of legalism over grace. He was talking about a message of salvation by works rather than salvation by faith. I think it's fairly easy to tell the difference. So what are you getting at? It feels like you're trying to lay some sort of trap for me. But love is love. Grace is grace. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" isn't rocket science. Why make it into something hard?

The Politics Of Heaven said...


I'm not kidding. My point is this?

Who gets to determine what "love" is? One person's love may be another person's hate.

What is loving isn't always easy or sweet, though it may be necessary.

So, what is the standard of "love"?

And what does the Spirit lead us to do, anything? Or are there limits> And, if so, what are they?

Do we get to determine what the Spirit has led us to do? Or is God bound to act according to Who He is? And, if so, how do we know who He is and what His characteristics are?

Love and Grace? According to Whom?

The Politics Of Heaven said...


Legalism? Are "you" kidding? You are a legalist, but won't admit it. In fact, we all are legalists. But we don't want to admit the fact.

The question becomes, "Who or what determines whether someone is a legalist or not? And what is the legalism Paul is talking about?

And what is grace? Who determines that?

And Love? That's definitely OT! Everything Jesus quoted about Love was the fulfillment of OT Law. How can that be Salvation? I thought OT Law was done away with at the cross!

And if Salvation is self-evident and plainly revealed in Scripture, why aren't the individual attendant parts of salvation just as plainly evident?

Why are they somehow obscured by ancient culture?

Why is the original message of salvation clear and plain, but not the original attendant parts that were supposedly just as inspired to the original writers and audience?

Also, if Jesus has the original message preserved to Him and His Apostles and audience, are you implying that we don't have it preserved to us today?........apart from cultural understanding?

And please don't think I'm laying some kind of trap. If your positions are solid, they will be consistent in all areas. I'm simply trying your position. Thanks!

Kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristen said...

Politics, I find that what you call "trying" my position simply throwing up smokescreens, and half the time I don't know what you're talking about. What, for instance, are the "attendant parts of salvation"? Why are you claiming love is law?

You ask these odd questions about love and salvation. Why? They're two different things, though one is attendant on the other. To walk in love is to walk in the Spirit. To walk in the Spirit is to not be under law. You know these things. Why are you questioning me about them? And what are you getting at? Just be clear, please!

I get the feeling you want me to say, "Oh, yes, the Bible is my final authority, and that's how I tell what love is and what grace is, and what I should and shouldn't do." And so you can draw me back into turning the Bible into a rule book. I'm not going there, and I dislike your trying to drag me there. Yes, I consider the Bible authoritative, but not by giving me a bunch of rules to live by. It's authoritative in that it tells the story of Jesus, and it's to Jesus I go to know what grace and love are. And you have no business telling me I'm legalistic. That's your view of life, not mine.

Frankly, I'm not finding these conversations useful. Come out and state your position and have done with it. I've got better things to do than try to follow your beating around the bush.