Instructional Assumptions at a Baptist University

y y y y A Baptist University is a type of Christian University. Goal of a Christian University education: The progressive restoration of the image of God that was marred by our first parents¶ fall into sin. Means of achieving this goal: A Christian liberal arts education. The liberal arts: Academic disciplines inseparably bound to fundamental questions about reality. Consequently, students of the liberal arts learn specific content, and they learn how to learn. In other words, they develop the ability to think critically, or ask appropriate questions. A liberal arts education stands in contrast with indoctrination. First point of contrast: A liberal arts education requires the fair presentation of all sides of an issue. A fair presentation is one that is made from the point of view of one who holds the position and in a way that is deemed satisfactory by one who holds that position. Second point of contrast: A liberal arts education, particularly a Christian liberal arts education, recognizes that, while objective reality exists, it is impossible to know it objectively or exhaustively. Objective and exhaustive knowledge is impossible, since human knowing is limited. o Humans are finite: They cannot know all that can be known about a thing. o Humans are sinful: They always distort reality. o Humans live within stories: They cannot completely escape the influence of these stories. Story: The reality in which one lives and through which one interprets reality. See ³A Tale of Two Stories.´ o One¶s story includes presuppositions and preunderstandings that affect the meaning one assigns to all aspects of reality. o One¶s story is part of, intertwined with, and subsumed under other stories (e.g., one¶s parents, one¶s denomination, and one¶s religious and social cultures). One may obtain an adequate interpretation of reality through a process in which one both identifies one¶s presuppositions and preunderstandings and identifies how they influence one¶s interpretation of reality. One may view the process of arriving at an adequate interpretation of reality as a journey around a circle that spirals toward its center where objective and exhaustive knowledge of reality exists. One¶s growing perceptions or interpretations of reality follow the path of the spiraling circle, coming closer to the point in the circle¶s center where one¶s interpretation of reality matches an objective and exhaustive knowledge of reality. The path of this spiraling interpretational circle, or hermeneutical spiral, repeatedly passes through the following points: o One¶s presuppositions and preunderstandings o One¶s conclusions about reality o Additional knowledge about reality o Conclusions about reality made by other people across time and cultures o Adjustments to one¶s presuppositions and preunderstandings o Adjustments to one¶s conclusions about reality o Additional knowledge, and so on along the spiral One may be sure or effectively certain of an interpretation¶s adequate correspondence to reality, i.e., its truthfulness. Only God knows reality objectively and exhaustively, and, therefore, with absolute certainty. Human beings are incapable of objective and exhaustive knowledge, but they may arrive at an adequate interpretation of reality, the truthfulness of which they may be sure or effectively certain.
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Instructional Assumptions at a Baptist University

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Effective certainty of an interpretation¶s adequate correspondence to reality results from validating the interpretation. o The standard for validating an interpretation is the one used by courts: reasonable doubt. For example, ³The interpretation that X means Y is valid, if it is true beyond a reasonable doubt.´ o An important step to take in validating an interpretation is to compare it to the collective result of validated interpretations, i.e., the consensus of interpreters across time and cultures. Ineffective navigation on this spiral may lead to a false certainty that one has obtained a true knowledge of reality, resulting in close-mindedness, intolerance, and spiritual abuse. Effective navigation on this spiral requires specific attitudes and actions: o Possessing a teachable spirit: A humble willingness to be corrected and to be wrong. o Acknowledging that everyone is at a different place on the spiral: Sympathy with the conclusions of other interpreters and patience with the pace of their journey on the spiral. o Recognizing that one¶s best friend on the spiral often is one¶s opponent, the one whose position opposes one¶s own. An opponent may lead one closer to the truth by presenting arguments and evidence which one¶s own position does not answer adequately or against which one¶s position cannot stand. In the course of grappling with these arguments and evidence, one will find oneself getting closer to the truth. Therefore, one should read widely and sympathetically from works written by those with whom one disagrees. o One must read texts sympathetically.  Sympathetic reading has the goal of understanding the positions that texts present. It refuses to read texts solely for the purpose of dismissing their positions by identifying the incompatibility of their positions with one¶s own position.  Sympathetic reading requires a knowledge of and identification with the author¶s story and, generally, therefore, identification with the author¶s position short of adoption.  Sympathetic reading rejects labels to describe an author or an author¶s position. Labels promote stereotypes that discourage understanding. Instead, they lead readers ignorantly to embrace or dismiss authors and their positions.  Evidence of sympathetic reading: y Being able to explain an author¶s position to the author¶s satisfaction. y Being able to cite positive aspects of an author¶s position. y Being able to refer someone to the precise place in an author¶s work where one may find the position of the author that one is representing. Experience, especially the experiences gained by living within other stories, is the most powerful force in transforming one¶s own story and, therefore, one¶s own interpretation of reality. The effect on one¶s story from reading, hearing, and viewing texts in the form of narrative or verse most closely resembles the transforming power resulting from the experience of living out one¶s story within other stories. o Narrative and verse cause readers to identify with their characters and these characters¶ stories. o Consequently, with an effect similar to living in a story that circumscribes or overlaps one¶s own, one¶s story is imperceptibly altered in the act of reading, hearing, and viewing texts in the form of narrative and verse. The members of the early church preserved the Scriptures, since they believed all of it² including narrative and verse, Old Testament and Gospels²was relevant for them and, therefore, succeeding generations.

Instructional Assumptions at a Baptist University

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One must treat all parts of Scripture, i.e., the canon, with equal respect. One must not function with ³a canon within a canon´ or treat part of the Bible as a standard by which to interpret the rest of the Bible. The Pauline epistles typically form a Protestant ³canon with a canon´ and the Gospels typically form a Roman Catholic one. Examples of effectively certain theological conclusions, sometimes called cardinal, fundamental, or functionally non-negotiable doctrines: o The contents of the historic creeds²Apostle¶s, Nicene, Chalcedonian, Athanasian² including the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, and the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit. o The authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice. o The perspicuity of Scripture: One may clearly understand its teaching on salvation. o The Gospel: Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification. o Salvation from God¶s wrath is received by grace through faith apart from any human merit. o Christ was born of a virgin, performed miracles, was physically resurrected, and will physically return and rule. Examples of second-level, effectively certain theological conclusions, sometimes called denominational distinctives²the historic Baptist distinctives derived from the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation: o Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, established the New Covenant, and inaugurated the Messianic Kingdom or Reign. o Salvation is inherently ethical. Believers have experienced new birth, are disciples of Jesus, and are citizens of Christ¶s Kingdom. They follow Christ, their King, with undivided allegiance by obeying Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit. o Baptism initiates one into discipleship and is administered only to believers. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but all believers, properly instructed, will be baptized. o Baptism and the Lord¶s Supper are memorials of the Gospel and the believer¶s participation in the Gospel. The Lord is not in any way present in the elements of these ordinances. o Believers regularly assemble to strengthen their faith, to hold one another accountable to their professions of faith, and to assist those with physical needs. o Each assembly or church operates under the lordship of Christ, independent of any other authority. o The collective church and the state occupy different spheres of governance and must not interfere formally with one another. o Disciples swear allegiance only to Christ and His Kingdom. They cannot share their allegiance to Christ with any other person or government. o Disciples follow the example and teaching of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who secured reconciliation between God and people, who made possible reconciliation between individual people and between people groups, and who prayed for peace and unity among His followers. Therefore, disciples do not resist evil and do not retaliate, but make peace. o Disciples of the Truth live with integrity characterized by truth-telling. Consequently, and in obedience to Christ¶s command, they do not take oaths. o Christ will one day return to earth to consummate His reign through physical rule. The believer will integrate with his or her story the story consisting of effectively certain theological conclusions, both the cardinal and the second-level ones. In doing so, the believer allows this latter story to govern all facets of his or her life, including all of the other interconnected stories within which he or she functions. In other words, while the believer is the

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product of many stories, he or she lives in only one new, integrated story in which Jesus rules every aspect. To put it yet another way, for the believer, everything is spiritual²there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular; the Lordship of Christ impinges on every area of the believer¶s life. o Those who trust in Jesus pledge to Him, their Lord, undivided allegiance and loyalty that necessarily entails undiluted obedience to the principles and values of His Kingdom. In other words, faith requires obedience, and disobedience is evidence of unbelief. o The principles and values of Christ¶s Kingdom directly oppose the principles and values of earthly kingdoms and governments. o In many cases, then, a complete integration of stories is impossible due to the inherent incompatibility that exists between stories. In these cases, believers separate from those features of the world and those worldly systems that are incompatible with a life of faith. These features and systems are most clearly seen in politics, particularly the politics found in government and business. They are also seen in those systems that are patterned after them, even if they purport to be ³Christian.´ o Following separation, believers do not forsake worldly systems, but assume the prophet¶s role: From a position outside of these worldly systems, they call upon the members of these worldly systems to repent and be reconciled with God.

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