By Luke Smith
The word “open” is increasingly used as a metaphor for a more measured, relaxed and polite, engagement with our world. In contrast, the term “closed” is a metaphor for all that is bigoted, unfairly exclusionary or simply repugnant. But if one plays with the metaphors for a moment we can quite readily recognize that there are times when we want something closed.
We experienced a major storm in my community recently. I noticed a home (in the midst of major repairs) across the street that had an open window. In a blizzard you want to be able to close the windows tight.
I am writing this essay on Valentine’s Day. Romantic love is in the air. Important to romance is commitment. Certainly, if romance is to lead to engagement, then one expects both parties to close their romantic options in favor of a commitment to married life. From time to time, of course, open marriage has been proposed, but most Christians see the dangers of such openness. Trust requires a commitment to a closed marriage.
In the life of moderate Baptists we often hear the call for more openness. One that concerns me very much is a recent call for open Christology. Some suggest that interfaith dialogue only works if one is truly open to a change of views, including a change in one’s view of Christ’s divinity — that is, a move away from the Trinitarian to the Unitarian.
Baptists have been deeply committed to Scripture. This commitment has enabled us to close windows so that we are not blown about with the winds of every cultural trend or intellectual theory. We have experienced through the witness of Scripture the gospel which has brought us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ; we are committed to Christ as Lord. As faithful as two good spouses are to one another, so the church as bride of Christ is faithful to him.
In the life of moderate Baptists we hear a call to openness, yet it strikes me that moderate Baptists are largely progressive and tolerant and eager to learn from others. To use metaphors of open and closed seems to add little true light to the discussion and result instead in positioning people. In this call for openness the premise seems to be that some are open and that is reasonable; some are closed and that is not reasonable. In fact, these metaphors do not help to bring people into a genuine encounter or discussion of views. They can result in the misuse of our traditions, and they can result in the devaluation of Scripture.
I want to appeal to those who serve in the church to engage in discussion of these important issues because these metaphors of open and closed can become destructive if they dominate the discussion. They can push people apart even if the use of the metaphors is made in the most urbane and seemingly gentle manner. Thoughtful reflection upon Scripture and a careful reading of church history combined with a life of service in the church provide a good foundation for discussion and debate and consensus building that avoids simplistic metaphors and brings progressive Baptists together on a strong intellectual, biblical and spiritual foundation.