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)

Paradoxy

I am still reading the excellent book, Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them by Ken Howard. Being more disenfranchised with the whole disunity thing in the Church, I value Ken’s insights and commentary on this subject.

I have been guilty far too often of creating division rather than bringing unity, of drawing the line between two views rather than seeking common ground on which to unite.

Ken speaks about the paradigm of both conservatives and progressives and shows how, for both ‘sides’ of the Faith, problems arise.

. . . If the paradigm has become your reality, what do you do when the cracks become too noticeable to ignore? If you can’t abandon the dominant paradigm (or maybe even recognize that you are in one) in favor of a more complete and encompassing one, what are your choices? There seem to be three:

1. To the Ramparts! Rally around the purist position with increasing defensiveness and increasingly elaborate rationalizations.

2. Compromise and Adapt! Adopt compromises that soften the position or attempt to prop up confidence in it by means other than facts.

3. Create a “Them”! Focus all of your attention on what seem to you to be the greater inconsistencies (and the “unlikeablilities”) of the other side.

Being a natural ‘right-seeker,’ I immediately say ‘Amen’ to all three as I see all of these positions alive and well in those who seem to enjoy harassing me with their version of truth.

But, looking deeper, I realise that I also, at times, defend my ‘more reasonable’ position by rallying support amongst my friends who embrace a similar paradigm to my own, compromise when around those on the ‘other side’ just to be seen to be acting with civility, or encouraging taking sides and fighting the other side with my weapon of choice: words.

As Doug Pagitt has said:

Our biggest challenges come when we assume that those who hold worldviews or values different than ours lack knowledge or values.

Too often I’ve mocked the beliefs of people unlike me (in time past when I had a more fundamentalist mindset, and now as more of a progressive Christian). What I have assumed is that they had to be uninformed, ignorant, or living in a cocoon to believe as they do. I’m beginning to see this is not so. They have simply started with a different framework for their thinking, a different bias. And in the light that we all have incomplete knowledge and limited ability to understand life’s mysteries, their worldview may be just as valid as mine.

If we are ever to live together in community–and I believe it is the only way to be true followers of Jesus–we must learn to accept (not just tolerate) one another fully, in spite of our disagreements. This doesn’t mean we won’t hold our convictions firmly, but when we do say or do something that flows from those convictions, we know we will be fully loved and fully accepted, regardless.

One of our staff members said something in morning prayer recently (sorry, I can’t recall who it was) that is relevant to this post. Essentially, they said that God chose us as a collective body, not merely as individuals. God chose that you would live in community with me–that is not either your or my choice. If God, who we claim is all-wise and all-knowing put us together in the same body, there must be a good reason for it. Rather than try to figure it all out, why don’t we just accept it and live together in harmony? Rather than fighting and arguing and stirring up each other to debate and discord, why don’t we simply clothe ourselves with love which, as the apostle writes, is the bond of perfection?

(Easy to say–damn hard to do!)

On that note, I realise I have much to learn, and I’m looking forward to what else I discover as I continue reading Paradoxy.

Salvation

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.

Amen.

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.

More about ANKoC

I’m in the middle of reading Brian McLaren’s new book ‘A New Kind of Christianity.’ I find it refreshing and challenging, yet I know others find it threatening and sometimes even damning. There are hundreds of critiques, reviews, and condemning write-ups on sites and blogs on the internet–a few have even read the book and spent serious time studying it. While I intened to write up my own thoughts at a later date, here are a few prepared earlier. Bishop Alan Wilson on his blog says this:

The label “Orthodox” can [be] appropriated, ludicrously, as a synonym for “Conventional.” Real orthodoxy, even in the merely denominational sense of the term, is far from that. Although you may say Orthodox Christians have a funny way of showing this aspect of their faith, its first principle is to be is radically plugged into a living tradition, with a dynamic view of the Holy Spirit. Checkbox conformity to type is very much less than that.

This book expresses generous Orthodoxy, to use the title of another of Brian McClaren’s books, because it emphatically does not substitute modern thought for tradition — something it will be doubtless accused of doing by people who know very little about either. McClaren ain’t no Jack Spong. His working materials are the ancient creeds and practices of Christianity. These he uses as bricks with which to construct a building rather than smash windows or construct coshes. To continue the building metaphor, this is not a new building, but a tithe barn conversion in which the materials of the old structure have been lovingly taken down and cleaned to give them another 500 years of life, rather than disposed of.

Read the full post here.

Here’s a post from Nic Paton that deals with the Fall/Redemption aspect (or the Greco-Roman Six-line narrative).

There are many more and I hope to read a few more and will post links as I do.