For three days last week, I attended the Affinity theological conference which considered the function of the law. It was good to meet with individuals whom I had not seen since the previous conference, and also to have the opportunity of listening to theologians from Britain and America.
As far as I could work out, there were two different groups attending the first day (those who accepted the traditional threefold division of biblical laws into moral, ceremonial and civil, and those who prefer to regard all of them as law); on day three, there were several more groups in attendance (such as (a) some confused as to what the role of the law is, (b) some curious to find out which theologians are on particular sides of the debate, (c) some concerned about how their congregations are going to react).
I don't want to say very much about the conference papers, each of which was good in its own way, because they will probably be published at some stage. Also some of those attending the conference have already blogged about the various sessions, and can be found by a Google search. Here are two other personal reactions.
First, there is an increasing distaste for the Sabbath among evangelicals, especially younger ones. It was evident that many attendees had no interest in obeying the fourth commandment in a Christian way, and had no intention of accepting the arguments of any who wished to defend the permanence of the Sabbath. Of course, some may just agree to differ. Yet the problem is that both views cannot be right. Either the Sabbath is an important Christian requirement, given at creation for the worship of God and the benefit of the human race, or it is not. If Sunday is not the Sabbath, then there is no necessity for Christians to keep the day as belonging to God or for them to meet together on that day. In fact, if it is not the Sabbath, then churches which arrange such services are imposing a human tradition on God's people and should be shunned by all concerned to uphold New Testament practices.
Second, there is a reluctance to accept the value of historical evangelical interpretations if they happen to go against a person's own idea of the meaning of a Bible verse. The oft-mentioned question 'What does the Bible say?' actually was used in a manner which stated, 'Do you want to know what I think the Bible says?', with the emphasis that such an individual's view was correct and everyone else wrong. No doubt, some will respond by saying that sometimes an individual has been right and all others wrong, which of course means that they regard that individual to be on a par with heroes of the faith who did stand alone.
I suspect that those who support the new emphases (called 'new covenant theology', which is just another example of a biblical description, which belongs to all Christians, being hijacked by a group) will merely repeat the many examples of spiritual movements in the past who imagined they were going by the Bible alone and somehow always deduced that the Sabbath was not for them. Most of these groups disturbed the church for a while before disappearing.
Another factor is the similarity between the new emphases and dispensationalism. This was mentioned at the Conference, and disputed. But the similarity is there in that both deny the relevance of God's law to God's people in the New Testament period. I don't want to say anything about this point except to say that I personally heard the same arguments of the 'new covenant' followers being used in Brethren groups in the 1970s. I was not convinced of them then, and I am not convinced of them now.