Thawing the Theological Cold War

russian tank_cold warMy friend Karen sent me this article that really resonated with me, The Arrogance of Mutually Assured Destruction in the Church. It’s a pretty short post, so I’ll post it in its entirety;

During the Cold War between the United States of America and the former Soviet Union, the build up of nuclear arms became a standard practice. If one side built a weapon of mass destruction the other side countered with ever increasing numbers of more powerful and destructive weapons. The idea behind this proliferation was simple: if both sides knew that the other had weapons that could ensure total destruction, it functioned as a deterrent to go to war. This became known as the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). As long as either side continued to equal or escalate armaments “peace” was maintained through “strength.”

Looking back on the Cold War, there was a kind of arrogance in this “peace.” Each side wanted to show that it was better and more powerful than the other, and if war would break out, victory would be assured in the destruction of the enemy. Ironically as long as victory over the other was the implicit goal, no peace was achieved!

How often in the church do we seem to practice an arrogant doctrine of MAD, seeking for personal or theological victory rather than peace and reconciliation? How often would we prefer a build up of arms rather than humility and grace? How often do we promote a Cold War between doctrinal camps, between rival theological perspectives, even between members of our own churches and families rather than make every effort to keep the victory of unity and peace already won in Jesus? (Eph. 4:3, Col. 2:15) The gospel calls us to unity and peace, but this can only be achieved when we put down our arms and in the humility demonstrated by God in Jesus Christ reach out to our “enemies.” This can only be done when we give up our own victory and arrogant plans and embrace the humility of Christ found in the gospel. Without this self-denial and sacrificial step, there is no chance of peace and unity. However, with the humility of Jesus we can put down our armaments, repent, forgive, and find peace.

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Big Sheep Need Food…and Know Food

Whenever I run across statements from pastors that I think run contrary to the witness of Scripture, it just makes me cringe. I do so because of their responsibility to their congregation and the orienting effects of what is being promoted.  And so it was with a statement I came across the other day;

Hebrew 5:12 speaks to those who should have matured by now but are still sitting in the pew waiting to be spoon-fed. When someone says I’m leaving my church because I not being fed it may speak volumes about their lack of maturity. Only babies need to be fed, mature believers know how to feed themselves and others.

Now I don’t want to pick on one person.  But I want to leverage this comment and express a concern that is relevant on a broader scale. Because I’ve heard this statement before, that mature believers shouldn’t expect sermons to feed them. I get that pastors are challenged with people who don’t want to read their Bibles and grow. I get it and empathize. But the idea that we should not expect to be fed is so grievously unfaithful to the witness of Scripture, the task of discipleship and the purpose of preaching,

First, to say we feed ourselves runs contrary to Ephesians 4:11-16

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are togrow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

sheep eating from troughWe always need the food of the gospel and Christ-centered preaching. Always! I can’t imagine that when Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep that he stipulated a caveat “until they can feed themselves”. The idea that feed ourselves runs contrary to what it means to be in the body of Christ. Maturity doesn’t happen because we feed ourselves but because we grow together in the Lord and learn how to apply godly wisdom. No matter how much even a pastor is accomplishing for the Lord, feeding of God’s truths from others is always needed. That is how we grow together in the Lord. Continue reading

The Bible Study I Think We Really Need

person reading bibleI recently saw a publishers list of forthcoming books, most of which were academically oriented but at the same time, user-friendly type material. I couldn’t help but notice yet more books on “how to read the Bible”.  Now anyone who knows me, knows my passion for this area. As one who spent many years reading Scripture in a fragmented way with the tendency to impose presuppositions on to the text. This is because the teaching I was exposed to informed the method by which I was reading Scripture and interpreting accordingly.

Over the past several years, my studies have reverted to understanding Scripture more holistically, historical and cultural background, how language is being used, who the author’s were and what were they addressing, how the events of each book relate to the overall grand narrative of what God is accomplishing in redemptive history. But most importantly how Christ is at the center of it all. This has cut down on the tendency to take passages out of context and impose prescriptions where they really don’t exist in the narrative.

So I get that we need the “how to” books that break down good reading methods. A good study bible will have articles in it for this very purpose (I recommend the ESV Study Bible). Also, there’s Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All its Worth.

But I don’t think this goes quite far enough. I could be wrong, but the problem does not seem to be that Christians don’t read the Bible, though that has been on the decline. Even the ones who do are already reading with certain presuppositions. The rise in Biblical Studies have given the impression that we can read Scripture with a neutral lens but that’s a problem. I love what Derek Rishmawy says about that here. And as I wrote about here, no one comes to the text neutral. No matter how objective we think we are being, there are presuppositions that are being imposed on the text. Continue reading

The Myth of Non-Theology and Neutrality

reading-the-BibleAs I observed a few discussion threads over the past few days on Christian topics, a theme tends to emerge. Some Christians disdain any mention of theology, doctrine or hermeneutics. You’ll get one pitted against each such as theology vs true faith or doctrine vs scripture. A typical statement goes like this that one person told me – “theology and doctrine has its place but that is not the substance of our faith.” Yes, Christ is the substance of our but to think theology and doctrine is not is both naive and not true. Not true.

Every Christian has a theology, a set of doctrine and a hermeneutic. Everyone!

Theology is whatever we think about God.

Doctrine is what we believe that theology teaches.

Hermeneutics is how we interpret what theology teaches.

If you say the substance of your faith is Jesus Christ, then you have to come to some conclusions about what that means, who he is and how you arrive at your conclusions. This is the task of theology and without it, you have no reasonable basis to come to any conclusions about the Christian faith.

This also supposes that you have some way of interpreting the facts about the Christian faith. From a Protestant perspective, this presumes that one is basing their understanding on the Bible, recognizing that it is the testimony of Jesus Christ cover to cover, breathed out by God to give us his word through the pens, personalities, and literary style of 40 authors (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The problem then is not knowing what it is and believing that we have complete neutrality when approaching the Bible or using other means to determine our faith. We all have some way of formulating what we believe and why we believe it. Continue reading

4 Lessons I’ve Learned from Reading Broadly

man reading booksIt’s comfortable for Christians to read inside our denomination/tradition. People who think like us, who draw the same conclusions make learning fun. But I think we can become too tribal about Christianity, put our stake in the ground to quickly and use it to battle others in the body, often unfairly.

I’m increasingly realizing the value of reading broadly and by broadly I mean works outside of our denominational/doctrinal perspectives. Actually, I don’t think I read broadly enough. But the more I do, I’ve recognized some characteristics about myself have emerged that reinforces the need to get out of the comfy box.

1.  My discernment: or rather lack thereof. There’s something about having to read through work that doesn’t necessarily align with my doctrinal/denominational perspective that forces an examination of what the author is really getting at. I love that in seminary, some profs intentionally assign books for this purpose. Some even have such troubled theology that sounds really good. I’ve observed that going through the exercise of deciphering what is valuable and what is opposed to historic Christian orthodoxy, sharpens discernment. But if we only read from one perspective, the tendency might be to oppose anything that doesn’t sound like the gurus from our tribe define it.  Reading broadly on the other hand with the intention of understanding, strengthens discernment.

2.  My arrogance: I can place a great deal of confidence in own investigation. And I have. Of course, there were many instances where I claimed to “fairly” evaluate all sides but in reality didn’t really.  Reading broadly confronts that sense of superiority I feel when I think I have everything figured out. It helps me realize that I can learn from others, even those with whom I disagree. When combined with point #1, I’m increasingly finding some valuable nuggets that a more tribal perspective might suppress…and has suppressed. In fact, I can’t even count how many times I’ve dismissed something just because it’s aligned with a certain teacher or doctrinal perspective without giving it a fair shake. Yep, arrogance. Continue reading