Photo Credit: Jeff Lewis
By Aaron Gaglia (GagliaAC)
On March 3rd and March 4th, Dr. William B. Lawrence delivered the 67th annual Perkins Lectures at First United Methodist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas. Dr. Lawrence is the Dean of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and is the first Perkin’s dean to deliver these lectures. The Perkins Lectures are the oldest lecture series of its kind in the country. He gave four different lectures over the course of two days entitled “Truth”, “Strength”, “Joy”, and “Victory.” Though the lectures were more pastoral and practical than theological, Lawrence has some interesting thoughts on truth and doubt in the first lecture.
He explained that Joe and Lois Perkins set up the lectures to be a testimony of God’s truth in a world riddled by war and other evils. ““Joe and Lois Perkins invited lecturers who would bear witness to the living faith in a living God through a living church for a dying world.” These lectures were not just incidental but were set up with a noble purpose to help a hurting world.
Dean Lawrence then went on to quote the first lecturer, Roy L. Smith on truth: “More people are troubled by what is plain in Scripture than by what is obscure.” He expounds on this by explaining doubt certain Christians have about “obscure” matters: “Many of us have our doubts about the plausibility of Moses opening the Red sea with a staff in his outstretched arm. Many of us wonder about the credibility of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding of Cana of Galilee. Many of us have intellectual doubts about these things because they are matters are minds cannot comprehend. They are mysteries that surpass our understanding.”
He then claimed that some of the church’s greatest leaders were those who acknowledged their doubts. He gives Mother Theresa and the famous 20th century liberal preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick as examples. He cites Fosdick as having doubts about certain teachings of Christianity including doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He was at the center of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy and rejected the belief that one must hold to the virgin birth, inerrancy of Scripture, and certain other doctrines in order to be a real Christian.
Dean Lawrence then turned his attention to what is “plain” in Scripture. “We all have doubts about things that we do not understand in the Bible. But relatively speaking, those things are easy to manage. The hardest stuff in the Bible is not what we find obscure. That hardest stuff in the Bible is what we know to be true.”
He gave Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as an example. “We know what Jesus tells us to do. We just don’t want to do it. Or at least, we don’t want to love all our neighbors.” He gives examples of neighbors we would rather not love including illegal immigrants and sex offenders.
He then used the story of King Ahab not heeding Micaiah’s prophecy about Israel going to war as an illustration (2 Chronicles 18). He did not obey the plain truth and it cost him his life. “It’s a strange thing how often people of faith have resisted the word of the Lord. When his word does not fit our preferences or our prejudices, we do what Methodist’s did in 1940 and create a racially divided church. If we’re not ready or willing to heed God’s word of truth, we set it aside or work around it. After all, there are some neighbors we’re not ready to love; there are some outcomes we’d rather not occur; there are some results we wish we did not have to accept.”
He then talked about how the truth puts us in contact with the power of God, concluding by sharing that we bring this power to the world by offering the truth through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confessing the truth.
This sermon is a good reminder to not neglect what is plain in Scripture because we do not like it or simply do not want to obey it. It is very easy to gloss over certain teachings in Scripture without understanding the full breadth of them and truly obeying them. There are many commands in Scripture, including loving one’s neighbor which are really hard to actually believe.
Yet I think it is important to remember that just because something is hard to understand, that does not mean it is not important to believe. He cites Fosdick as having doubts about Christ’s bodily resurrection. Yes, many Christians have doubts about this, yet it is incredibly important to keep believing despite your doubts. This is not a negotiable doctrine, but a core teaching of the Bible that all Christians must believe. With the resurrection and many other supernatural events in Scripture, the problem is not on whether the Bible says these things occurred but whether we are going to believe it. We must trust and believe Scripture, even when it seems to run counter with logic and reason, which can be very hard to do in our post-enlightenment culture.
Yes, we must heed Dean Lawrence’s exhortation to obey the parts of Scripture that are easy for us to wrap our minds around, yet we must also believe the parts that are hard for us to wrap our minds around. May we believe and live out the full council of Scripture.
Video of all four lectures is available here.