Monday, January 07, 2008

The marginality of the Virgin Birth (8): Orthodoxy, belief, obedience

I have a very high view of the importance of orthodox belief; I don't see orthodoxy as something which is solely about a correct description of the world - on the contrary orthodoxy is weight bearing belief which gives life. That is, to be orthodox, to have orthodox belief, is to both see the world correctly AND (more importantly) to be enabled to live well within the world. In just the same way that a belief in the powers of human flight is likely to bring injury, so too is an unorthodox belief system liable to bring spiritual injury. Orthodox belief is not an academic matter for me; it is a matter of eternal salvation.

Moreover, I see the literal sense of the VB as orthodoxy - that is, I do see it as the historic inheritance of the faith once delivered to the saints. Generally speaking, I don't see orthodoxy as something open to a 'pick'n'mix' approach, I do see it as something which is a seamlessly woven garment, which, once we start unpicking it, the whole thing starts to unravel. Yet that is precisely my difficulty with the VB. It is because I accept orthodox teachings about the incarnation and salvation that I can't understand the VB. In other words, my dissatisfaction does not rest upon a more general embeddedness in a secular world-view, it is instead rooted in a commitment to the orthodox faith, as something both true and life-giving.

This is why this doctrine is a 'thorn in my flesh'. All my instincts and experience tell me that it is essential to be orthodox, yet I can't understand how to fit the VB into orthodoxy. Which highlights another aspect of the problem - belief is not voluntary. I can't will myself to believe something that my overall reason cannot accept. As I said in an earlier post, if the VB is stripped of consequences, if it becomes non-weight bearing and simply a matter of curious fact, then the tensions that I experience become much less. Yet I see no way in which to maintain that as true.

Which brings us to the question of obedience. I'm happy to accept that my position on this topic is unorthodox AND that the teaching of the church is true. I see no contradiction between saying that and saying that I personally don't believe it to be true. In a sense, that latter element then becomes more a description of my spiritual state than a statement of the truth of a doctrine. As I said in my sermon, having previously rejected orthodox views on matters like resurrection and incarnation, and slowly being persuaded of their validity, it would not surprise me if the same thing happened with respect to the VB. Part of the reason for writing this series is to try and elicit new perspectives (Barth??) which might ease the long-jam of my thought on the subject. In the meantime I'm stuck in the position I've had for some fifteen years now - I see the VB as marginal in Scripture and of dubious historicity; I see it as doctrinally suspect and liable to lead into significant error.

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