I present the following thoughts from the perspective of someone who grew up in and is familiar with the academic and spiritual situation on the European continent. My impression is that many of the trends that have eroded a robust Christian influence on European culture are very much active in the Evangelical world of the US in the current situation as well.
Some of the questions raised below are rhetorical in character – but others are not rhetorical at all, but meant to stimulate further thinking in the fields touched upon by them. As far as the observations or assertions are concerned: they are not meant to comprehensively represent the biblical views or the current situation or any specific period in the history between biblical times and the present. Rather, they are meant to function as pointers to parts of reality that often tend to be overlooked or underestimated.
1) Love and compassion, respect and dialogue are highly valued among Evangelicals these days, also at Biola. “Building bridges,” empathy for “the other,” “inclusion” are further aspects of this.
2) Interestingly, this sounds quite similar to mainstream rhetoric.
And of course, in many ways there is nothing “unbiblical” about these attitudes. This is certainly true for love and compassion. But what do they mean “biblically”? Do they exclude exclusion? And if not: whose exclusion and what kind of exclusion are acceptable?
3) How can we make sure that love and compassion, respect and dialogue, do not become appeasement of opposing world-views? Is there a historic example for appeasement having led to positive results?
4) How do we properly define and apply love and compassion, together with respect and dialogue, in the context of academic teaching and research? It would certainly be wrong to simply transfer the specific contents of these notions from the realm of the personal spiritual life to the realm of academics – as wrong as it would be to make such a transfer to the realm of the state.
Is it not true that in academics the pursuit of truth must never be compromised?
5) Are we able to understand that in the Bible all these notions (of love and compassion, respect and dialogue) are graded, not only not the same in the various areas of life briefly mentioned above, but also not the same with respect to different groups of people? For example, the ancient Israelite is called to love his co-Israelite neighbor and the sojourner, but not just everyone else in the same way. Similarly, in the New Testament love for brothers and sisters in the Lord takes precedence over love for others.
6) In the Bible, love is not understood as replacing specific commands, nor is it understood in a way that blurs the boundaries between right and wrong, true and false.
7) Next, let´s take a closer look at dialogue: We can basically talk about everything and find common ground this way with everyone, can´t we?
8) Well, the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh, when attacked on the streets of Amsterdam in the fall of 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim who was offended by van Gogh´s film on the suppression of women in orthodox Islam, famously asked the assailant: “Can´t we talk about this?”
Theo van Gogh did not leave the scene alive.
Which lessons need to be drawn from this?
9) And: It was not dialogue that brought about the end of national socialism or the Soviet Empire. Nor was it dialogue that exposed, e.g., the untruthfulness of the claim that there was never a historical king David, but it was rather the excavation of a new piece of evidence (the Tel Dan stela from the 9th century BC, containing David´s name) that decided the matter.
10) In disputed questions where both sides of the divide are convinced that the matter is important, would it not be more biblical to come together to rigorously analyze the arguments, trusting that the truth is accessible and that open debate and study may bring us closer to it, instead of focusing on respect and learning how to live with the differences?
11) In ancient Israel, neither the prophets nor the priests (as long as they were faithfully doing their Job for the LORD) engaged in dialogue with, e.g., the Ba´al-adherents. The latter are not called “brothers.”
12) Instead of showing love and compassion to everyone and engaging in dialogue with everyone, Israel affirms her own particular identity and has no multicultural aspirations - together with “cultural sensitivity” programs – but rather forms a counter-cultural entity.
13) Neither Elijah or Jeremiah, nor Jesus or Paul, are reported traveling to interfaith dialogue conferences and meeting the powerful politicians to seek the “common good.”
14) In the New Testament, there is no dialogue or collaboration for the “common good” with those who deny Jesus´ divine status, no preoccupation with encouraging “difficult conversations” about matters where the biblical evidence is thought to be clear, but a great dose of scathing criticism and even exclusion from the congregation.
15) Love and compassion, respect and dialogue not withstanding: The people of the New Covenant, no less than Israel, in its original setting is a counter-cultural community, not afraid to stand in opposition to the “mainstream,” and at the same time seeking to actively transform the world, not to be transformed by it.
16) How do we integrate the notions of love and compassion, respect and dialogue with those biblical texts that teach hate of self and especially of sin?
17) How does the observation that in both Testaments love of neighbor or self is never detached from love of God, with the latter being the channel through which the former is mediated, inform our understanding of love?
Is it compatible with, e.g., a “search-for-the-good-life”-approach?
These are just some random thoughts and questions – in no way systematic, complete, or balanced, but perhaps making complexity more visible than it often is, and preventing too easy answers from deciding matters too quickly.
These thoughts and questions are of course also meant as an invitation: If you think that my reading of the Bible is not correct, feel free to knock at my door and we will look together at the details.