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)

Inquisitions, Witch Hunts & Burning Heretics

I watched a doco the other night on SBS about the witch hunts of Spanish Inquisition days, and how the Church pursued, tried, and burned not only those thought to be witches, but those who were considered heretics (those whose beliefs differed from official church dogma).

We don’t see a lot of public burnings in our churches today (with the exception of ‘heretical’ books and ‘satanic’ rock albums and the odd roast preacher), but the accusations still flow. Usually they are the result of an incomplete understanding of someone’s interpretation of a doctrine or Bible passage, or they are because of a need to be –or be seen to be– ‘pure’ or superior in some way. When we condemn others, we truly do feel better about ourselves.

The problem is that we ourselves have an incomplete understanding and do not know as we ought to know–and that incomplete knowledge applies to Scripture, God, our world, ourselves and others.

Jonathan Brink has written a short post on his blog about Rob Bell, who has endured his share of criticism and name-calling by those who would believe they know better. Here’s part of what Jonathan wrote:

This post isn’t about Rob Bell.  Seriously.

Rob Bell has a new book coming out about heaven and hell. It’s called Love Wins. I can imagine it will sell like hotcakes because people have been wondering aloud for a long time what Rob really thinks about the nature of reconciliation, and if he a universalist.  It’s an easy trick to just come up with a simple test that makes him out to be a heretic, without listening to the underlying theology that goes behind it.  It’s easier to judge him based upon our assumptions, rather than listening to the nuances of what the nature of grace really entails.

The truth is (and I mean that in a nice way) we want to know.  We fight about it and argue because we’re talking about our very souls.  I get why people argue so vehemently and want to draw lines.  It really is that important.

I make the argument in my book that we’re all inside the kingdom of God.  The Tree Of Knowledge is not a test of obedience but a test of reality regarding the nature of reality.  It asks only one question, “Are we good or evil?”  This question is the only question that can trip us up because it is the basis of our interaction with all of reality.  Everything is good from God’s perspective in the story.

But the very nature of sin is to construct a false reality that sees the self as outside of the kingdom.  We all have our fruit that we used to judge.  So the problem is local in the self.  All the cross does is reiterate what has always been true, that we’re in, that there is nothing we can do that can change reality (or God’s judgment of good). (Read more here.)

I for one am looking forward to Rob’s new book. Yes, I’d love to read yours too, Jonathan, and will get to it one day soon. But back to Rob. If it’s anything like his previous books and DVDs, it will be filled with insights into the language and culture of the Bible, and the evolved understanding of God through the ages of humankind. It will certainly get people talking, questioning, arguing, and studying for themselves. . . . and denouncing Rob Bell from the blogosphere.

And some will be convinced. Some will keep studying this topic. And some will think Rob to be a fool. But this is the same result St Paul experienced at the first Mars Hill meeting, and it certainly won’t be the last time that the accusations will be forthcoming.

Now back to Jonathan’s post and the final point he was really trying to make:

I had a very interesting conversation regarding the final judgment with a friend.  I’ve written in depth on the topic in my book, and argue that when Jesus says, “All judgment has been given to the son…” he’s revealing that is is we who judge, not God. It has always been about us coming to terms with grace, not God.  But my friend spoke about what happens in the final judgment in a way that was so fresh, I had to stand back and say, “Oh my God. That is so brilliant.”

He was sharing that the final judgment isn’t God judging us, but our live played back in its fullness and it is we who are judging it.  But then he said, “Because we are in the presence of God, we will be able to see life from the perspective of love.  We’re going to be able to see how we missed out on love in each moment, how God was there, and how we just couldn’t see it.  And this awareness will still require a judgment.  But our judgment will include reality.”

Which brings me back to the top of this post: I’m sure glad we don’t have burnings of heretics today because I, like most of you, would have at some stage lost my life in the midst of the craziness and lunacy of the witch hunt . . . I for one am very glad that one day we will see all from the perspective of love and be in the presence of a God who sees all as it really is, yet loves us (in spite of our mis-understandings) and accepts and  us because of his great love and grace.


Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
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“If we are to be God’s people together, we must make room for conversations that we may not always agree with, but which allow all who are on the same journey a voice and a right to say, think and believe.”

Salvation is one of those often-used words in Christianity that can have so many different meanings and nuances of meaning. The most-often used is that of being “saved” from sin. I seems to go without saying in Evangelical circles that salvation is THE entire purpose of Jesus’ advent and death, and that this salvation is a personal and individual act of praying a certain prayer to “invite Jesus come into your life.”

I must confess that I am questioning a lot of the underlying modern-day assumptions about this teaching. Further, I need to admit that I don’t see a solid Biblical basis for a good amount of teaching on this subject. Rather, I’m afraid I see things such as “the sinner’s prayer,” “a personal Saviour” and “inviting Jesus in” as quite recent additions to the church’s historic understanding of salvation.

And whilst I am thinking about these things, I must also consider how much of what I believe is based on the paradigm I have been brought up to embrace.

Here is a conversation with a few questions which I read recently on another blog:

[Question:] I guess what I’m wrestling with is the question “Does Jesus play a crucial role in our salvation?” Consider this: What if Jesus had never been born and life for the Jews had progressed, or regressed, on into the 1st century and beyond? Could we still be reconciled to God and others? Couldn’t we realise our error, recognise God’s wisdom and repent? Or did we need a personal Savior? Or consider that Jesus had never been crucified, lived to be an old man, fell and broke his hip and died of pneumonia in the hospital. Couldn’t we still be reconciled with God and others without him dying on the cross?

[Response:] This is a serious and important question, and I don’t think I could do it justice without writing a whole Christology … To some degree, I think you’re asking about “penal substitutionary atonement theory” . . .  Let me try to rephrase your questions like this:

Was the only reason Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God, to avert God’s wrath so we wouldn’t be tormented in hell forever?

Which is related to this question:

Does Jesus offer anything of value besides his blood to assuage the wrath of God?

Which is related to this question:

Is God unable to forgive sin without inflicting pain on someone?

When facing questions like these, you make a choice before you even start answering: do you try to answer these questions within conventional paradigms . . . or outside them? In my experience, when you step out of conventional paradigms, the questions begin to evaporate and different questions present themselves, questions like these:

What would it mean for God to be revealed in a vulnerable human being who is tortured and killed by religious and political elites?

If Jesus had never revealed God “in the flesh” as he did, what would we not know today?

In what ways does Jesus’ death intensify and strengthen our call to repentance and transformation?

I know I will be labelled as a heretic by some simply for the reason that I am giving a voice to someone’s questioning an important Biblical truth. I don’t think that’s fair, but you are fully within whatever right you think you may have to do so.

If, however, your criteria for orthodoxy is broad enough (and I hope it is) to include all who confess to a historic faith as stated in The Apostles’ Creed, then let me say that I affirm with full conviction every statement made in the Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.


Maybe it’s time we put our labels aside and look at the content of the heart (in the words of Dr King) rather than the colour of our theology-skin (possibly this is not so good a picture, but the thought is there).

If we are to be God’s people together, we must make room for conversations that we may not always agree with, but which allow all who are on the same journey a voice and a right to say, think and believe. We may see a doctrine in a different way, or express our opinion using different words or shades of meaning. And, in allowing one another freedom to discover the faith for themselves, we may just find that they have something to share that would be of value to us on our own journey.

That is, if we determine we are on a journey and not willing to settle into a lonely existence where only one voice–our voice–is heard.