Monday, September 12, 2005

How Did I Get Here? (Part I)

(Cue up the Talking Heads)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack -
And you may find yourself in another part of the world -
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile -
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
wife
And you may ask yourself - Well...How did I get here?


Well, leaving out the automobile, house, and beautiful wife part, that’s where I’m at lately. I’m looking around me at this point and asking myself, “How on earth did I get here?”

Several incidents in the past two weeks have been the final nails in the coffin of my association with some old acquaintances in the world of Internet theology. And the question I’m asking myself is, “What happened? I used to be pretty much where they were. Now we’re staring at each other over a chasm. Where did that chasm come from, and how did I end up on the other side of it?”

As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve come up with several general categories to lump my thoughts together. I’ll start with where I’m closest to them, and move out to the lunatic fringes from there.

THEOLOGY – I am still a Christian (I believe in the Triune God of the ecumenical creeds, and the mediatory work of the God-Man Jesus Christ). I am still an evangelical (I place the Gospel – the proclamation of the work of Christ – at the center of the church’s mission and life, and my own). Heck, I am still a Calvinist for the most part - I'd even defend the "L" if you backed me into a corner. So, as far as putting down on paper what I believe, I’m not all that far apart from my erstwhile friends in these respects. So where do I differ from them?

One difference is that I am no longer willing to define everything as sharply, and argue with everyone who does not agree with me on all of them, as I once was (and as they evidently still are). I have read widely from a great span of Christian traditions – Anabaptist, Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc. There are great differences in them in some respects, but godly theologians in each camp have passionately argued for their positions, from Scripture. Each has attained wisdom and insights that the others could learn from. And I am no longer convinced that there is only “one true church” that has it’s theology down pat, and to whom everyone else must come and learn. In fact, I think that some of our differences (especially re: recipients of Baptism, and who can commune at the Table) should be charitably “tabled” (pardon the pun) for the sake of greater fellowship among believers from different evangelical denominations.

Another big difference is how I now view the Church. The Church, as I stated above, is not primarily a “one right denomination”, with poor benighted “lost sheep” in all the other denominations – this seems to be the default view, in practice, of my erstwhile friends. God is working through *many* denominations and groups, and we are ALL part of the Body of Christ. *Every* believer, of whatever creed, country, or color, is our brother. And some of these denominations and groups are very distasteful to the Reformed camp. One of the biggest body-blows to my “tight” view of theology and the church was Philip Jenkins’ book The Next Christendom. The thesis of this book is that the Western manifestation of the global church is going to be sidelined by the Southern manifestations – and those manifestations are going to be decidedly Pentecostal/Charismatic in flavor. This stunned me. How could God possibly want the Church to grow apart from the most perfect system of theology ever attained by the Church (the Reformed system, of course)!?! I briefly entertained the notion of overseas theology teaching – but I also quickly came to realize that in many ways, the Churches of the South were in no need of my help – in fact, in many ways they were manifesting the fruits of the Spirit (especially in faithfulness under persecution) that many Reformed types could only dream of. I’ll have more to say on this in a later post.

In the circles I have come out of, correctness in theology is evidently the penultimate Christian virtue – considering how much time is spent on it. However - from my readings, from my observation of the church scene in my town, my country, and the world - it has become clear to me that absolute purity in doctrine may NOT the penultimate virtue in God’s eyes after all. And the whole question of whether we can attain such purity is a good question in itself – one I will take up in the next post.

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