Should we be biblical or should we be confessional? But “why not both? Both is good!” We are confessional, which means we stand in the great tradition and ask “what’s next.” And we are Biblical, which means that when we ask that question we turn to the Word of Christ, working through the Spirit, and find it both fit and suitable for the building up of the church, for the race that we are called to run.
I teach at an academic institution (Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington DC, but that’s not the point of this post, and all opinions are my own) that prides itself on being both confessional and biblical, and while those two predicates may be popular in certain circles, they are more and more seen as an academic liability. I’m guessing that if I were to go out on the streets and take a poll of what people are looking for in seminary graduate education that neither “biblical” nor “confessional” would make the top 10. I’ll go even further: narrowing the field to Christians with a high view of Scripture, I might still be hard pressed to find biblical and confessional at the top of the list. Maybe biblical, almost definitely not confessional
Why? Because in various ways both ideas are seen as a kind of academic liability. The values of the academy are progress, relevance, development, creativity, freedom of inquiry, cultural engagement, and practical skills. Now I have those values too, but I also believe that being biblical and confessional is the most robust and efficient way of meeting those goals.
Let’s start with biblical. The problem with being principally and thoroughly biblical is obvious: the Bible is outdated and outmoded. It doesn’t address the kinds of challenges and problems that most modern Christians are struggling with. Even in evangelical circles the way we talk about the Bible betrays this attitude: we need to “make the Bible relevant.” The assumption is that it’s not relevant, at least not with some serious redecorating; it has to be made relevant.
That attitude towards the Bible usually arises out of a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. It’s not a theology textbook or a “guidebook for life.” I know that most educated evangelicals wouldn’t speak that simplistically about what the Bible is, but nevertheless that seems to be the operating assumption about how the Bible is useful, even among those with some hermeneutical sophistication. It’s useful in so far as I can mine it for theological truth or apply it in my daily life.