Should we edit our creeds when we discover that people who don’t think just like us can agree with them?
A while ago (mid 2006) I became a contributor to Theopedia. It’s an online encyclopedia of theology, run as a wiki project where articles are contributed and edited by the public.
In order to be a contributor/editor at this site, one must endorse the statement of faith, which lays out a set of basic theological convictions. I accepted this statement, meaning that there was, in principle, no barrier to contributing. One of the things I did shortly after signing up was to edit the entry for “annihilationism.” It really needed to be done, as a number of other members said, because the existing piece was, to put it gently, something of an anti-annihilationist hack job. It is significantly better now (although by no means fully fair). I also offered to re-write the terrible entry on “hell,” which one of the admins encouraged me to do. I haven’t yet, although I’ve done some research and writing for that entry, which I planned to add to the site when it was ready. In addition I wrote an article on Divine Command Ethics and one on John Locke.
In the meantime, some people were unhappy about the insistence on fairness in the article on annihilationism. I should not be concerned about fairness towards people who hold that view, apparently. Noises were being made about the site not “supporting” annihilationism, although as I pointed out to people, I was not writing endorsements of annihilationism at all, simply a fair presentation of the reasons that people give for supporting it and for opposing it. Besides, the statement of faith in fact permits people who hold my point of view to contribute.
Until now, that is. Now that it has dawned on people that the evangelical statement of faith that was at the site was actually compatible with annihilationism (and why wouldn’t it be?), they have decided that the boundary lines must be re-drawn and the circle shrunk. The statement of faith at Theopedia has now been changed, the old statement about the eternal state has been deleted, and a new one has been added, which says “We believe that Jesus will return, bodily and visibly, to judge all mankind — receiving true believers to Himself and condemning the rest to eternal torment in Hell.”
Here’s the kicker. The statement of faith now comes with a disclaimer: “We, the board, reserve the right to make changes to the statement to guard the truth.”
If you are going to edit your creed every time you discover a person who doesn’t share all the details of your own beliefs, then the concept of a basic creed is lost on you. What you need is a badge that says “want to know the truth? Just ask me!”
Make changes to guard the truth? Is truth some sort of moving target? This was simply a move that excluded those who do not share the personal point of view of the board from contributing. One of the admins told me in reply to my concern – “we reserve the right to draw a line in the sand.” Of course, A line was drawn when the statement was written. I had no problem with this. The problem is when existing lines are shifted. The terms were changed when people began to realise in horror that when a reasonable description of evangelical faith is offered (as they once had at their site), people who do not think the same way as them can actually share in it. Oh the humanity. This is the way our basic creeds are meant to be: Establishing only the essentials, and permitting discussion and disagreement beyond the essentials. If you are going to edit your creed every time you discover a person who doesn’t share all the details of your own beliefs, then the concept of a basic creed is lost on you. What you need is a badge that says “want to know the truth? Just ask me!”
Theopedia has discredited itself in my eyes, and if you’re a user of that site, just bear this in mind: The fact that it’s in writing doesn’t make it informative. Ironically, you’ll probably find plenty of people at this site who would complain about “mainstream media.”