Editorial: Learning from John Today -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 10:3 (Fall 2006)
Article: Editorial: Learning from John Today
Author: Stephen J. Wellum

Editorial: Learning from John Today

Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Wellum received his Ph.D. degree in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has also taught theology at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Canada. He has contributed to several publications and a collection of essays on theology and worldview issues.

“There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9b). This well-known statement from Ecclesiastes is an important reminder that every “new” viewpoint to come down the pike has probably already been propounded somewhere in the past, and, more than likely, it is probably a view that is tinged with error. Doubtless the reason we often neglect this fact is also tied to another famous observation of the author of Ecclesiastes: “there is no remembrance of men of old” (Eccl 1:11a). It is for this reason that someone has wisely stated, “If we do not learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”

Now what is true in general is especially the case in the area of biblical studies, theology, and even the church’s understanding of the gospel. One does not have to read far in the New Testament to discover that “new” views that arise are more indebted to old philosophical, social, religious, and cultural ideas than to the Word of God. This was certainly the situation that the apostle John addressed when he wrote his letters. Most scholars agree that the setting of these letters is towards the end of the first century, as the church is beginning to face the rising pressure of an incipient Gnosticism—a Gnosticism which is heavily indebted to various pagan Greek philosophic and religious traditions, but not to the sureties of the gospel itself. That is why John is so concerned that, if this early-Gnosticism begins to take hold in the church, ultimately what is at stake is the gospel itself—hence the command to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Just because a teaching is “new” does not mean that it is better. In fact, given its “newness,” it is more than likely something very old and in error. The critical test of any “new” viewpoint, any new fresh articulation of the gospel, is whether it corresponds to the faith once delivered to the saints.

If ever the church needed to learn this lesson, it is today. Around us on every side are calls to “revision” Christian theology, to “re-imagine” evangelism, to “re-think” how we do church, and even to “re-arti...

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