We Never Come to the Bible Alone

This excellent post from Jamie Arpin-Ricci speaks volumes about the way we view the Holy Bible. We need to be reminded of this fact every time we approach its pages: we never come to the Bible alone but with a congregation of many, many individuals.

BibleGrowing up in a rural, evangelical community, it was not uncommon for me to hear the idea that all we need in order to know God and His will is the Bible. If anyone of us wants to know the truth about God and understand His will, all we had to do was open up Scripture and study. The Holy Spirit was all the guide we needed. We were cautioned about commentaries — they might be helpful, but we should never substitute the “explicit truth of Scripture” for the opinions of others. In its worst expressions, this led to anti-academic sentiment (and even anti-intellectualism). While the heart of this bias was genuine and well intentioned, they were also misguided and misleading. The truth is that we never come to the Bible alone.

Let’s say you open to the New Testament and read Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. The fact is, your are reading it in a translation. Immediately you are not alone. The work and minds behind that translation required endless hours of study, scholarship, debate and more. It is, after all, only one of hundreds of translations available. Even if you decided to learn the language of the original text(s), you’d still have to rely on that same scholarship. Already the room is filled with countless others who are helping you read the text.

This says nothing about the fact that you are reading the text through the lens of your place in history, culture, race, language, gender, age, education, experience, etc. Layer upon layer of bias, influence and context shapes how you read, what you understand as you read and how you respond to the implications of that understanding. As if that weren’t enough, even the people who were listening to Jesus’ words in the moments He spoke them often understood and responded to them differently. Even His closest friends and disciples got it wrong time and again. So, you see, no one comes to the Bible alone.

Read the rest of this post here.

Orthodoxy and Golf

My orthodoxy is another man’s heresy. My heresy is another man’s orthodoxy. If we all held the same beliefs about everything, our minds would never be stimulated and our lives would dull.

One may think I tread a winding road to hell but, according to my understanding, the road he’s on leads straight to the dark abyss.

A person may stand up and state succinctly (and intelligently) how she sees a particular truth; I rise and speak just as pointedly and mindfully about my understanding of that truth. Is one of us wrong and the other right? Are we both incorrect in our assumptions? . . . Or are we both correct but in subtly different ways?

I love the way Scot McKnight put an idea across when dealing with the doctrine of atonement in his excellent book, A Community Called Atonement. He speaks about the various views on atonement theory as being like clubs in a  golf bag. (While McKnight spoke about atonement, what he wrote could apply to any doctrine or interpretation of truth.) Some situations call for one type of club–say, a 9-iron–whilst others may demand a wedge. Both are great clubs (or, as my wife likes to call them, ‘golf sticks’) and would be invaluable if they’re used how they were designed to be used. But if I want to place a ball at a point 200 metres distant, I won’t be using a wedge; just as I wouldn’t grab an iron to rescue my ball from the bunker.

Some people like to shout one thing at top volume all the time. Their whole world is geared around that one thing and they see their position in life as to defend that one truth, that one high doctrine, that one fundamental of the faith. This may be useful in a prophetic context when the situation demands a strong advocacy for a cause. However, within another context–let’s just say the context of community where unity and care for others are the prime objectives–this type of offensive strategy is akin to whacking the ball with a Big Bertha driver on a putting green. Not only will your ball not get anywhere near the hole, you will find yourself looking for it in the scrub, about 300 metres distant. And while you are seeking to recover your game (and your scorecard), your companions are begrudgingly trudging alongside. Perhaps they are still encouraging and cheering you on . . . but, knowing human nature, I would suspect that there is a fair amount of muttering under the breath, out of ear shot: ‘When will he ever learn?’

More often than not, in times when I have resorted to demanding my orthodoxy be heard above all others’ orthodoxy, I have found that I may recover, but the pain I have inflicted on those around me has a way of becoming my pain of regret and shame with the result of my ‘stand for truth’ being grief, division and long-lasting hurt.

In the end, both of us may be right according to how we interpret the point of the debate. We should celebrate that there is a debate and that, despite our interpretations of that point, we are still brothers and sisters.

One last reference to the great game: Most of my game I will use an iron, once in a while I will pull out the driver, but my game will be won by consistent, gentle, measured putting. I’d like to think I’d have St Paul’s blessing in this rather liberal interpretation of what he wrote to another community long ago:

 ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:2-3)

What Attracts Me to Emergent

Those who are familiar with Fields of Grace and who know me would know how I yearn for a more intentional, missional and incarnational Christianity, one that focuses on the dominion of God as revealed through Jesus, and one that is not held hostage to a black-and-white/us-and-them mindset.

In a nutshell, this is what draws me to Emergent. (I have capitalised the ‘e’ to distinguish the Emergent Movement in particular rather than the idea of ’emergence.’)

While I possibly don’t see or understand everything about God, the Bible, and theology the same way you do, I have no reason to believe that the perspective I enjoy is in any substantial way different than any pre-enlightenment Christian. I give this type of Christian a historical place since it was the advent of the so-called enlightenment that brought to the world the gift that is modernism.

Modernism introduced that systematic approach that has been so beneficial to Science and Mathematics, yet so damaging to spirituality and faith. In trying to define God and the teachings of his inspired Book, the modernist has pigeonholed the Divine into human-sized pieces, bound in systematic theologies, apologetics, and volumes of Biblical reference.

The Emergent Movement, largely positioned within and beyond post-modern thought, frees theology from the confines of predetermined structures, church-dictated dogma and hardened conclusions, allowing for a more dynamic, free and interpretatively-diverse experience of God and his kingdom. Acceptance of all who want to join the conversation regardless of their faith or lack of faith is what I find most appealing–and Christ-like–in the Movement.

Scot McKnight has been a long time friend and critic of the Emergent Movement in the USA. He has written several articles about it and counts as his friends many within its loosely-defined cohorts. Paraphrasing his work, vanguardchurch.com has defined Emergent Christianity this way:

What is the Emerging Church? Praxis.

The Emerging Movement is a summons or an invitation for the Church to live like followers of Jesus in everything they say, do, and think. The Emerging Movement seeks to model that in its emphasis on relationships as the core of the work of God in the world today. One of the reasons so many are frustrated with the Emerging Movement’s definition is found here: it is a movement concerned with praxis and not simply theology. If the older fashion was to define others by their theology, the Emerging Movement wants to be defined by its behavior. This is a dramatic challenge to the Church.

What is the Emerging Church? Protest.

First, it protests too much tom-fakery in traditional churches.
Second, it denounces the divisions in the Church.
Third, it sees cock-sure certainty as a cancer.
Fourth, it refuses to separate action from articulation. If the older evangelical generation found doctrinal statements the chief way of setting up boundaries, the Emerging Movement wants to see one’s articulation expressed by one’s action.
Fifth, it wants individualism absorbed into incorporation: that is, the Emerging Movement encourages personal redemption but solo-Christianity is not what Jesus wants. He wants to form communities of faith not individual Christians.
Sixth, the Emerging Movement’s mindset is against marketing the gospel.
Seventh, the Emerging Movement despises the idea that Church is what takes place on Sunday Morning…the work of the Church is what occurs during the week as the local community of faith performs the gospel.
Eighth, the Emerging Movement rejects the hierarchy and pyramid structure of many churches. Authority is in God — Father, Son, Spirit — and not in the pastor or the elders or the board of deacons.
Ninth, the social gospel cannot be separated from the spiritual gospel. The Emerging Movement combines the Liberal social gospel with the Evangelical spiritual gospel and comes up with something that is neither Liberal nor Evangelical.
Tenth, the Emerging Movement wants to be Worldly. Not in the Johannine sense or in the Pauline sense, but in the Kingdom sense: it knows that God is working to restore the entire creation into an expression of his glory and so it summons everyone to participate in the grant work of God to restore and redeem.

(If you want to read more about this from McKnight’s own blog (Jesus Creed), click here.)

There are many other characteristics of Emergent Christians, but I find there is not a one-size-fits-all definition. Because of the diversity it embraces, emerging/emergent Christians come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and religious conviction. One person may embrace 4 or 5 of these somehow-determined traits, and still consider themselves an emerging Christian.

The overiding attitude is in fact one of setting aside what was and looking for ways to engage and be engaged with one another in meaningful, kingdom- and God-centered conversations, together with all the questions, doubts, rethinking and change that this entails. It’s definitely a challenge. Anything that requires personal change is. But I find a great sense of togetherness on the journey with like minded friends–both in my local area and online. It has been such a rewarding journey so far, full of surprises, conflict, interesting conversations, and deeply spiritual moments that take my breath away.

And that’s what I find most irresistible about Emergent.