I’m regularly asked what Trinity’s faculty will say in response to the Assembly’s recent decision on marriage. It seems that most of the people who ask me this hope that the faculty will signal its opposition to the decision. Of course, each faculty member is free to express his or her own opinion. But we would find it more helpful to define ourselves as a faculty committed to the faithful reading of Scripture within the context of historic Christian faith. This reading aims to glorify God by making him known as he is revealed in Scripture. We don’t seek to impart this knowledge as a purely cerebral commodity but to see it applied and embodied within the life of his people.
Essentially, a commitment to the faithful reading of Scripture emerges from and is informed by the new identity we have “in Christ”. Our salvation, righteousness, and holiness are found in him. God no longer acknowledges our old identity and its shortcomings but regards us as righteous on the basis of Christ’s own faithfulness. Christ is our new identity. Since we accept that the canon of Christian Scripture contains the words by which Christ is known, the life of faith and biblical interpretation must go hand in hand.
In practice, and in my view, the following three features characterise a faithful reading of Scripture:
- A high regard for the Bible as revelatory in nature, a canon of literature inspired by the Spirit in which we hear the Word of God through human words. A conviction that we hear the Word of God in Scripture requires the practice of humility in its reading. This idea is best illustrated by Israel’s response to hearing God speak at Sinai (Deut. 5:23-33). They’re so afraid that they ask Moses to go and hear him on their behalf. This narrative aims to remind Israel that the written words they receive from Moses carry no less authority than the divine speech that terrified them on the mountain;
- It’s conducted with respect to the historical Christian tradition. It accepts that the theological commitments of the early Church will always remain normative for what can be considered Christian. The adjective “Christian” should be dropped when one starts cutting across the bedrock commitments of historic Christian faith;
- An awareness of the ongoing need to sanctify our interpretive skills. Though Christians accept that we have been made holy “in Christ” (i.e. God considers us as having the holiness of his Son), conforming our lives with this new identity is a never-ending, life-long, Spirit-led process. Our ability to interpret is just one more aspect of our humanity that needs to be made holy. You may have met Christians, on both sides of the current debate, who seem to think that their skills of interpretation are the one part of their humanity untouched by sin.
Our College’s faculty is aware that it receives people for whom their faith is precious. Sometimes this faith has been carefully nurtured within a Christian context from the time of childhood. At other times people have come to faith much later. The work we do with students, especially in relation to biblical interpretation, strives to build their faith up in a way that leads to a life of hope. It should also equip them for a meaningful and honest engagement with the world from a Christian perspective.
Some people may feel disappointed that our faculty members have not made publicly available comments on same-sex marriage. The following two considerations account for this silence:
- The Assembly Working Group on same-sex marriage has had years to work on its document and it would be unreasonable to think that a well-researched, informed and credible response, offering either agreement or difference, could be made in a matter of weeks, or even months;
- To speak prematurely about same-sex marriage would threaten to detract from our primary responsibility to equip people for contemporary mission by drawing deeply from Bible, the creeds, and historic Christian faith.
Our identity as the Queensland Synod’s theological college obliges our faculty to help students to engage with and understand the best arguments from either side of the same-sex marriage debate. We don’t regard this obligation as a burden but as vital in the preparation of people who can engage meaningfully with this issue in the local church and wider community.