Archive for March, 2005
What makes one life worth more than ten thousand others?
Why does the life of a human vegetable get more attention than the hundreds of thousands in Darfur or the millions in Africa dying of aids?
Looking through the lens of fear
One of the things that I’ve observed is that some evangelicals can be very fearful people. Some hold on to biblical inerrancy very tightly because they are afraid. They are afraid that once you admit there is one minor contradiction in the bible your entire faith will fall apart.
I’ve found that good theology frames my relationship with God, but the real issue is my relationship. I have a spiritual sense of connectedness to God. I believe He speaks to me and I see the fruit of that connectedness in my life. God has guided me through some difficult times and even miraculously healed me. I think that is what theology is supposed to do. It gives us a framework for knowing, experiencing and following God.
It really doesn’t bother me when I see minor contradictions because I know God. I have the “seal of His Spirit” and the full assurance of faith. Therefore I don’t need to convince myself something perfectly fits when it doesn’t.
If I take away that connectedness with God then the only thing that defines my faith is my theology and practice. If that is all I have and I see people tinkering with both then I might get a little worried. If I combine that with an expectation that the world and the church is on the slippery slide to oblivion then I get even more afraid. For many this fear leads to paranoia.
Fear is a very thick lens that skews our interpretation of society and scripture. In the last little while I’ve encountered people who find something suspicious and project it to be far larger than it really is. Then they attack. They aren’t looking for the truth or seek to understand. They are so convinced of their error they will actually start arguing with you about what you or your tradition really believes.
Posted by LT in on March 30, 2005
Subverting Grace in Dialog with EmergentNo
Here is an amazing response found intially at EmergentNo and was moved to another blog.
Posted by LT in on March 29, 2005
Moving beyond conservative and liberal
It seems we are still living out the battle for the bible. In the minds of some you either believe in the inerrancy of scripture or you are a godless liberal. This has become the unfair litmus test people use to judge the authenticity of one another’s faith.
I believe that the bible is the highest authority for faith and life. I also believe that the reformation got it wrong. One person, by themselves, cannot accurately interpret and apply scripture with absolute clarity. There are several reasons for this.
Scripture was written in an ancient language that is translated in to our language. The translations often vary as the translators are forced to make best guesses.
We are biased by our culture, insecurities, spiritual experiences, upbringing, mood, education, race, gender etc… We each have a lens with which we interpret everything around us, that lens skews what we see.
There is an element to truth that is spiritually discerned in the body of believers.
There are some things that are abundantly clear and held in common throughout the history of the church. There are others that are less clear due to the complexities of interpretation and illumination. This is why we have thousands of distinct theologically divided groups each claiming they know the truth better than the rest.
There are some who chose to ignore this and maintain that everything they hold to is abundantly clear in scripture. I believe that these people are not being honest with themselves. Instead of admitting this they act out of fear. In their mind as soon as they admit that other perspectives might be valid they have become a relativist, a liberal, or even a heretic.
By the old definitions I’m far more conservative than liberal. I admit I have friends on the other side of spectrum and I disagree with them. Before I engage anyone on these issues I make sure I understand exactly what their position is. You have no credibility when you start making unfair accusations. Through friendly dialog both sides can learn and change.
In a great many debates I’ve encountered online I found myself arguing against the people I’m closer to theologically. Usually because these specific people were dishonest, poorly researched, and very unkind.
What I’ve found is “liberals” are often terribly misunderstood by the other side. They can be very hurt when people question the authenticity of their walk with God. Many are following Christ as best as they know how.
Jesus said that “by their fruit you will know them.” I’d say that the general fruit of liberalism hasn’t been that good. Churches that modernized through liberalism are in steep decline and have failed to inspire a lot people to a life of discipleship. The fruit of conservative evangelicalism is different but I’m not sure it is much better. They have more people in their churches but those people often don’t exhibit any change in behavior. They have sold out the gospel and discipleship in favour of perceived ministry success. A lot of these people start freaking out when they perceive that someone has stepped out of their doctrinal box but don’t seem to care that very few people in their ministries show any evidence of Christ’s character.
I think people all across the spectrum have realized that we are missing something. Many have decided we need to move beyond modern era categorizations of Christianity.
Posted by LT in on March 28, 2005
Responding to criticism of the Emerging Church
Darryl Dash asks whether it is worthwhile to respond to criticism of the EC. In most instances I’d say yes. Not everyone is going to understand and they are going say things that untrue or at least exaggerated. I think it is important to remember a few things.
The EC is the flavour of the month
In the minds of many conservative evangelicals the world is rapidly descending in to darkness, chaos and disorder. When a church movement comes up that looks relativistic it is seen as another sign of the coming tribulation. There are some who criticize the EC that would criticize a lot of respectable denominations. As a Mennonite/Anabaptist I know that our tradition would definitely be labeled a threat to the gospel by the some of the same critics. Mennonites aren’t the flavour of the month so they are generally ignored.
The EC is hard to nail down
This is probably one of the greatest frustrations for the critics and I don’t think they truly understand what holds this thing together. It seems hard to grasp that there is a worldwide church movement/conversation with no affirmed central leadership or common ideology. It is my hope that God is leading this thing and that we are all moving towards him from where we started. Because we all start from different places all along the theological spectrum it looks like the movement is a strange mixture of conservatives and liberals. I think God may be making a redemptive movement all across the Christian church and we find more unity in our general direction than our current positions.
After spending two weeks in Australia it became very clear to me that the EC has different flavours in different countries. The Aussies are hardcore in to mission, and less about alt. Worship.
I think a major factor in the EC is the Internet. It has facilitated a grass roots conversation and interchange between people from all sorts of backgrounds.
There is a lot of diversity and this is going to confuse people.
Not all critics are well educated
By walking through issues with other people we have an opportunity to show people that different Christians have different perspectives. We also can open some people up to some good interpretive practices.
We aren’t done yet
It is easy to disregard criticism that seems unfair. However going through the act of carefully responding to questions forces us to think through what we believe. Accountability can be a very good thing. As Christians we ought to make an attempt to explain how what we do, and what we believe is consistent with following Jesus Christ.
The space between absolutism and relativism
There is a false dichotomy out there about absolutism and relativism. Position (a) People who are very sure of most matters of doctrine and they believe that scripture clearly supports their view. Position (b) people who believe that truth is completely personal and by claiming you hold to absolute truth you engage in oppression. Most people are actually somewhere in the middle. The truth is much of the EC has moved to varying degrees from position a) towards position b). Many are still much closer to a than b. This is not relativism but humility. It is a recognition that if there are 100 different opinions on a particular theological opinion 99 of them have to be wrong, and chances are I’m not as right as I think I am.
Some humility is necessary. We worship an incomprehensible God, and when we experience God, we have different words, metaphors and analogies to describe it. It isn’t that we believe different things, it is just that it is difficult to convey that meaning consistently in human language. Our fallen nature, the bias of our culture, the circumstances of our present context and lots of other things all influence how we interpret truth. Once people start getting deeper in to the original languages and context of the scriptures it becomes clear that even our bible translators have to make a best guess on a lot of stuff.
This might sound “post-modern” but it really is just to correct the false assertions of modernity that infiltrated the church. Truth cannot be well understood by the individual interpreter. The Holy Spirit is not a rubber stamp that authorizes all of our individual interpretations. The Holy Spirit works through the community of believers to help establish contextualized interpretation and application of divine truth. I firmly believe that divine truth cannot not be truly understood unless you are Christ’s disciple.
The word of God and the Emerging Church
This article states “Further, in the emerging church the Word of God takes a secondary position to the worship of God.”
I thought that the word was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Scripture is the highest authority for framing our theology so that we can follow Christ. The point isn’t the scriptures themselves. Let’s face some truths about the protestant reformation. Merely flooding people with scripture through preaching results in very little life change. By moving away from this approach we aren’t necessarily disregarding scripture. We bring other elements in to their proper place.
Oh no, not chocolate
My friend Alberto has been writing about the source of our bountiful cheap chocolate. 43% come from the Ivory Coast, long known for oppressive labour practices and even slavery.
Flush with new cash we run another deficit
I can’t believe our last provincial budget. We have all this new money and instead of bringing a balanced budget we increase spending and run in deficit. I think I’d vote for a gopher to get rid of this NDP government.
Roy and Janice why did you leave?
Posted by LT in on March 23, 2005
Be Honest and Unmerciful
“If you want to be a true friend to them, be honest and unmerciful.” The words of Lester Bangs to up and coming teenage rock writer William Miller in one of my all time favorite movies, Almost Famous. William was assigned to write a story on Stillwater for Rolling Stone magazine. William goes on tour with the band. The band lowers their guard to this innocent looking likable kid who seemed incredibly star struck. The climax of the tour happened in a near death experience as their tour plane nearly crashed and almost everyone made very revealing death bed confessions. William didn’t have the heart to be honest and wrote a “puff piece.” After being challenged by Rolling Stone he asked for more time to work on it. We come to a scene where William is struggling with mixed up feelings for “Band Aid” Penny Lane, the band, Rolling Stone, and his reputation. He calls up legendary rock writer Lester Bangs, who is always home because he is uncool, for advice. It is at this point Lester tells William “If you want to be a true friend to them, be honest and unmerciful.” I believe Lester meant “unmerciful” in the sense of not sparing feelings for the truth. Sometimes being honest can be a great act of mercy.
I believe there are times when we need to be that brutally honest with each other. There was a time in my life where I was making some huge mistakes. I spiritually manipulated someone in to becoming my girlfriend. It was my first year of bible school and I was fresh from a church retreat that I played a very effective significant leadership role in. I really thought I was something. When I met my new girlfriends parents during a semester break they saw how I was trying to control their daughter. I found out a little bit about this through my girlfriend and asked that they be straightforward and honest with me. They did and I was devastated by what they wrote in a letter. It was harsh at points and I didn’t take it well.
My reply was a long line of justifications and explanations. Before I came to fully accept the truth of what was in that letter I had blamed my culture, family, upbringing, my girlfriend’s family, my girlfriend etc… It was everything I could do to make sure that my self-righteous identity was intact. It wasn’t like their wasn’t any truth to my justifications, but they really weren’t that relevant when compared to the reality of my own mistakes. Eventually the truth did sink in. A few months later I ended the relationship. I was still angry. I had some interactions with my ex-girlfriend over the next year that proved I hadn’t changed enough when I thought I had changed.
Eventually I did accept what these people said. To varying degrees it was all true. Some of what was said might have been an overstatement but what do you expect from people trying to defend their family? When you tragically hurt people you can’t expect them to be perfect in response. All the issues I had with their family fell apart when I finally accepted the truth.
In the end it wasn’t even the words that hurt. The family in question did write another letter affirming some of my positive qualities and offered an apology if what they wrote was harsh. It made me feel better for about 3 days. What really hurt was the tension of realizing that I wasn’t who I thought I was. I was not the great spiritual leader. I was not the righteous man towering above others. I was just a ordinary sinner.
Judgment, in the sense of being honestly evaluated is very good thing. I believe the church suffers from a culture of nice. Too often we try to avoid conflict but in the end we just doom people to make the same mistakes and sometimes continue to hurt others. I believe there are times to let things go but when people are being abused or significantly hurt there has to be action.