According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What To Do About Bad Theology

Lately I've been mentioning an existential form of interpretive theology placed by us, the Bible's readers, upon the biblical passages of Scripture - whether rightly or wrongly. For most of us, our theology from Scriptures more probably is gained by our own enculturated views of God, His Word, His mission, and outreach, presuming that our pre-shaped social views and ideas are the more correct form of biblical interpretation of God and biblical doctrine. Not realizing that we have invaded the process of interpreting Scripture based solely upon our own views of its "rightness" and "wrongness," its sense of "holiness" and "judgment." Existentially, this works out to make us the Word's sole interpreters based upon our own view of the world around us.

"Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals."
                                                                                              - Jim Forest

And yet, though our resulting theology may range from being bad and incorrect, to harmful and destructive, still God allows us the freedom to interpret His Word based upon our own understanding of it to the world around us. We become, in essence, God's holy narrators... if not false teachers and shepherds... when misunderstanding His Words for our own words of gospel.

To drive this point home, not long ago I knew a person who, when coming to faith in Christ as a new Christian, began to immediately proclaim God's gospel message as one filled with the prejudicial assumptions of their former life's societal views. Now, in their case, this made sense and was helpful to their spiritual growth in a curious sort of way, though not commendable as a post-redemptive practice. Still, they felt strongly that in order to gain Christ, and to leave their worldly practices, the prejudices of their newly acquired church setting must necessarily be correct and required voicing, even if they did not understand why those errant sentiments were both unnecessary for their faith, and generally speaking, unreflective of Jesus' life and ministry, message and death.

This mostly typical response thus makes it necessary for the shepherds of God's church to pay better attention to what they are saying in the pulpit, and how it is being perceived through their ministerial emphases within their churches and amongst their responding congregant's assenting views and sentiments of yeah and nay. As God's servants we are to rightly divide His Word of truth and love - and where we are conflicted, to step back, and pray over, its division whilst seeking the guidance of God's holy church where possible. Listening not only to the tandem voices of sycophants in mutual assent with our own, but to those less-golden voices we normally would tune out thinking their insight and passion to be misdirected to God's holy Word. We might call them "liberals," or "progressives," or "fundamentalists," or even "evangelics," but we each form a portion of God's holy church, that together, might lend a more concerted voice of epistemic humility and harmonious spirit.

Overall, for the follower of Jesus, and the servant of the Lord, though we would seek to preach God's truth, it is better, as the Apostle Paul would say, to preach God's love lest we become like tinkling brass bells clanging away on subjects we little understand, or worst - might exasperate to greater societal harm and division within our congregant's hearts and ministries. So that when we do speak, let us err on the side of grace and mercy, forgiveness and wisdom, if at all possible. To not callously banish those whom we disagree with to the fires of hell. Nor heap unkind words of misunderstanding upon the lives of broken seekers of God's way. For these are not the marks of God's servant. But marks of a false prophet and false shepherd come to scatter and divide, devour and harm, God's holy calling in the lives of men and women. We pray then, dear Jesus, to forgive us our trespasses, even as we would learn to forgive those who have trespassed against us, so that your Kingdom beauty might become a light within our lost and desolate lives so lit, however meagerly, amongst men such as ourselves. Amen.

R.E. Slater
September 18, 2013

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What to Do About Bad Theology
September 17, 2013

A few years ago, I had the chance to spend some time with an African American couple who pastored a small church in an urban area. They were good, kind hearted people with a real passion for God. And they knew the bible better than anyone I’ve ever met. One night we sat down and opened the bible and spent about 3 hours doing the best, most interesting bible study I think I’ve ever been a part of. The really odd thing about it was that they held some of the worst theology I’ve ever encountered.

The worst of it was that they taught that people of African descent bore the mark of Cain and were uniquely cursed among all the people of the earth. Africans had been cursed due to their worship of demonic spirits, their abhorant tribal practices and the division of tribalism which lead to violence and dehumanization of other Africans. Evidence of the unique depravity of African people was their willingness to sell each other into slavery. (Just so we’re crystal clear – this isn’t what I think. This was the teaching of this couple, who were themselves African American.)

Not quite as bad, but still erroneous was their teaching that in order to overcome the curse put on them by God, people of African descent needed to walk the same path by which God redeemed Israel. Emancipation from slavery was their escape from slavery. Next they must receive and keep the law which would lead to them being grafted onto the house of Israel so they could inheret the work of Jesus. Essentially they lived and practiced their faith much like Messianic Jews.

The “best” part of their theology was rejecting all patterns of thought which were part of the mentality of those who were cursed. They identified the mentality which kept them tied to the curse mainly with tribalism which among African Americans was typified by gangs (ie quick to anger and be offended, us vs them outlook, a willingness to resort to violence, rituals by which members gained access to the group, a will to power). They also rejected the sort of legalism which took away their God-given right to do things like drink wine, play cards, dance, go to the movies, etc. Instead, they encouraged, kindness, humility, tolerance, ready forgivess, patience and other Christian virtues. And they threw in some prosperity gospel style “believe and think right, reap the benefits” thinking for good measure.

All in all, I think I can safely say they had some bad theology going. If I had met them a few years earlier, I probably would have been so repulsed by it that it would have kept me from enjoying their company, much less engaging in scripture study with them. I probably would have tried to argue with them; convince them to see the error of their ways. I would have been angry that there were people spreading the sort of theology which defames God like that. Instead, I went to their church picnic, drank wine and covered my head with a scarf to pray with them.

Now, you may not ever have the chance to meet Christians with such wild theology, but odds are good that there are theological beliefs which drive you to the point of wanting to commit violence. It could be neo-reformed theology, partriarchal teachings, pro or anti-gay marriage theology, legalism, liberalism, or some other ism that drives you nuts. We Christians have a very bad track record of being able to tolerate differences in theological opinion. Yet unity among believers is a common teaching of the New Testament. It was one of the things which Jesus prayed for us, in fact.

What I have come to understand is that since our ability to grasp truth fully is limited, God’s concern is less that we believe the right things and more that what we believe is drawing us closer to him. And the truth is that we hold so many theologies not simply because we’re evil or unthinking sheep or don’t care about truth. Rather, we hold so many different theologies because there are so many different ways of being wounded, confused and needy. Different theologies can meet different needs.

That couple I met with their terrible theology? They and the members of their church came from violent, gang infested neighborhoods where the disciplines of the middle class didn’t exist. They had inherited a history of unspeakable cruelty and oppression towards their people. And their theology, mistaken as it was in many ways, was helping them make sense of and overcome all of that. The narrative of God’s curse on Africans helped them understand their history and find a way beyond it. The discipline of keeping the law helped them learn the sort of disciplines which middle class people often take for granted – planning, budgeting, keeping a schedule. Framing the dysfunction around them as tribal remnants or oppressive, slave mentality made it easier for them to recognize and reject the water of dysfunction they were swimming in. It was terrible theology, but it served a real purpose for these particular people in this particular time.

Again, their’s is a rather extreme example. But the truth is that those theologies which make you want to wretch may well be just what someone else needs. And it could well be that the theology which brings you life would do nothing for them. We all need different things on our way to a greater truth.
Of course, bad theology isn’t always so benign for those who hold it. It can, in fact, destroy people. It can engender abuse. It can make people’s hearts hard or shatter them. It’s not always without consequence. And it’s for this reason that a lot of people expend a lot of time and emotional energy speaking against bad theology. Which to a certain extent is fine. I guess. But more and more I wonder if this urge to argue and divide doesn’t really stem from our own immaturity and lack of faith.

First of all, God doesn’t need us to defend him. As Crystal St. Marie Lewis says, “When a god begins to require the custodial protection of those who worship him, he is no longer a god. He becomes an idol.” Without realizing it, many of us think that God can not handle those who defame him without our assistance. That if we don’t step in to mount a good defense, bad theology will win and God will lose. The truth is that God will make himself known in his own way and his own time with or without our assistance.

The second issue is that we have actually underestimated the scope of the problem; there’s a lot of evil theology out there. Much more than you think, in fact. Any theology which isn’t completely true is evil. God is light and in him there is no darkness. If it’s not God, it’s dark and evil. So there’s evil in your theology and in mine. But, whether it’s evil in our theology or in the theology of others, the answer isn’t to search it out, cast it out and rise up against it. Rather it’s to allow God to do that work. The bible says, “what the enemy meant for evil, God uses for good.”

Our part isn’t to fight, but to obey. Jesus said not to resist the evil man. Paul instructs us to keep our eyes on what is good, true, pure, praiseworthy. Evil is overcome by goodness. Do good to those who oppose you.

I know, I know, “all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” And yes, Jesus spoke out against the bad theologians of his day. But consider that doing good isn’t being passive. Often, doing good is an assertive challenge. Especially when working from a position of less power than the one promoting evil. Greg Boyd recently wrote a book in which he argued that God has choosen to do battle through the “weak power of love” instead of by taking hold of the strong power of aggression which we humans prefer to do battle with.

And those bad theologians Jesus told off? They provoked confrontations with him. He wasn’t sitting to the side when these people taught, pointing out all their errors and condemning them. With few exceptions, Jesus followed the edict to promote what you love rather than bash what you hate. We should do likewise.

I know that this seems like really bad advice. God’s instructions usually make for bad advice. Which, I suppose is why we so rarely follow them. But ultimately, we need to put our faith in the power of God and not our own. We need to look at these things with spiritual eyes rather than measure them with human methods. Do you trust in God and the work of the Holy Spirit to lead the bride out of all the bad theology? Do you trust that if you seek first the Kingdom – not go to battle for it, not defend it, not defeat its enemies – that God can handle the rest? If so, then may I suggest that the next time you run into some really bad theology, you simply recognize a brother or sister in Christ and love them the best you can?

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