A guest post by Rev. Dr. Brian Lee from Christ Reformed Church, Washington, DC
There are a lot of interesting ways to slice the recent dust-up over Dinesh D’Souza’s selection as President of the King’s College in New York City, covered thoroughly in a recent article at Christianity Today. We could consider what it tells us about politics and cultural transformation as the core identity of evangelicals, or how it illustrates the transformation of Christian institutions away from their founding principles. But perhaps most interesting is what it says about the status of the doctrine of the church in evangelical circles, and the degree to which individual believers conceive of themselves as atomistic units, defined only by their own faith and experience.
D’Souza is a Roman Catholic married to an evangelical, and has been attending a Calvary Chapel for the last ten years. But none of these ecclesiastical relationships or practices defines him:
“I’m quite happy to acknowledge my Catholic background; at the same time, I’m very comfortable with Reformation theology,” D’Souza told Christianity Today. “I’m comfortable with the evangelical world. In a sense, I’m part of it. …I do not describe myself as Catholic today. But I don’t want to renounce it either because it’s an important part of my background.I’m an American citizen, but I wouldn’t reject the Indian label because it’s part of my heritage. I say I have a Catholic origin or background. I say I’m a nondenominational Christian, and I’m comfortable with born-again.”
Apparently, church membership is like citizenship or cultural self-identification, and we are as free to associate freely with various churches as we are to hold dual citizenship or celebrate our hyphenated ethnic heritage as Indian-Americans, or whatever the case may be. Understood thus, America is as much a theological as well as cultural “melting pot.”
Of course, this flexibility is not unrelated to the fact that the Reformation theology D’Souza is comfortable with is characterized by him as reflecting “an intramural type debate and squabble” among Christians. King’s College Statement of Faith clearly upholds Reformation principles of “Scripture alone,” justification by imputation via “faith alone,” and denies the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. What does it mean to “completely adhere to” such a statement of faith as required by King’s, and not renounce a Roman Catholic faith which explicitly endorses the opposite?
One solution is provided by the Statement of Faith itself, which appears to provide the ultimate escape clause. The introduction notes that:
“We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching on which, historically, there has been general agreement among all true Christians. Because of the specialized calling of our movement, we desire to allow for freedom of conviction on other doctrinal matters, provided that any interpretation is based upon the Bible alone…” (italics added).
This caveat is utterly ambiguous, and doesn’t identify whether it is referring to the list of 17 doctrines that follow, or allowing for some subset of them to be negotiable. The key, however, is in those words italicized above: “Because of the specialized calling of our movement…” Huh? More ambiguity here, but one isn’t sure whether to praise King’s for recognizing that it is at best a “movement” and not a church, or to challenge them for so flagrantly confusing the gospel with cultural transformation.
The Rev. Brian Lee (PhD) is the pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Washington, D.C.. For any information on the church, contact him at pastor *AT* ChristReformedDC.org