If you’ve ever given any detailed attention to the text of the book of Romans before you’ll be well aware of the difficulties that surround chapter 7:14ff. The big debate in scholarship that surrounds this passage comes down to the spiritual status of Paul as he discusses his struggle with sin. There are two main options: Either he is talking about his experiences as a Jew living under the law prior to his conversion to Christianity OR he is talking about his struggles with the ‘flesh’ as a regenerate Christian. The traditional view, from the time of Augustine, has held to the latter option – Paul’s struggles as a Christian. This view has been upheld by the likes of Calvin, Luther, Packer & Stott. The former view though has some notable contemporary proponents such as Moo, Witherington & Schreiner.
After consulting much of the technical exegetical arguments surround this particular text it seems that the evidence tends towards the former view espoused by Moo and co. The problem is that many evangelicals have rather strong emotional ties to this passage as it seems to relate so well to their own inner struggles with sin. So if you challenge the traditional exegesis you are also, in one sense, challenging the spiritual experience of many if not all Christians.
Now what is most fascinating to me is not so much which view is correct (I’m still not 100% sold on either view just yet and need to study it further before I’ll commit to one view, although as I’ve already stated, after having grown up with the traditional view, my initial response to the exegetical evidence is that it presents Paul in his pre-conversion state contrary to the traditional view), what is most fascinating is how we as evangelicals, who proclaim the authority of Scripture – OVER OUR SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE – debate and deal with this particular passage. My contention is that if this was a passage that didn’t appear to infringe upon such a ‘sacred’ and emotionally charged part of our spiritual experience then we would simply have dismissed the traditional view already. We would have looked at the two views, realised that both views had their difficulties, but that the one view seemed to have more evidence for it than the other, and then objectively we’d have chosen the non-traditional view and upheld the authority of scripture to the best of our ability. It seems to me however that instead of this we’re prepared to flirt with denying the absolute authority and rule of scripture in our lives and practice for the sake of upholding our spiritual experience. Simply put: Evangelicals tend to behave highly ‘un-evangelical’ in situations like this.
Surely the convictions that underpin historic evangelicalism should cause us to rise above even emotion and experience when we attempt to discern the Lord’s voice with clarity in the scriptures? I don’t want to play down emotion and experience and their role in understanding the scriptures but all things, even emotion and experience, in the end must be subservient to scripture for us to be true to our convictions as evangelicals – this has to be the case if we truly believe that scripture is our final rule for life and spiritual experience.