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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 15 - Anonymous

“aha” moments: a pastor tells his story (15): anonymous

by Peter Enns
August 11, 2014

I have long thought that the #1 factor in bringing about theological change is that “life happens”–new experiences that cannot be held in old containers.

Many (but not all) of the “aha” moments posted thus far, including my own, have centered on some moments of intellectual clarity concerning Scripture that led to rethinking one’s view of the Bible, faith, and life.

For others, like today’s anonymous author, “aha” moments originate in painful personal experiences that drive one to go back and re-examine one’s theology.

I’m sure many readers will resonate with the author’s story–it is tragically common–and you will see the wisdom of his request to remain anonymous. I honor the author for wanting to tell his story and am privileged that he asked if he could post it as part of this series.


I am a pastor. I wish I had been a scholar and could have gotten my a-ha on with study and consideration. My a-ha, sadly, began with oh-no.

From the time I was a teenager I was taught that the Bible was “the Maker’s Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual.” I remember my parents having a sign that read: “God said it, I believe it, That settles it” in our car.

I was taught that the Bible “was” God’s Word and that was very different than the Bible “containing” God’s Word.

It was made obvious that everything in the Bible could be supported by everything else in the Bible without one single contradiction.

I was taught that everything needed a chapter and verse and then you were golden.

It was with the wooden-literalism of what is today being called Biblicism that I was taught to:

  • Follow exactly, the Matthew 18 model of confrontation — being sure to get the math exactly right (just two, take two, between two and three, etc.) “Have you Matthew 18’d them yet?”
  • Keep women out of the pastorate as they were to keep silent in church (because only the modern-day pastoral vocation was in mind in 1 Timothy 2:12) and we needed them in Sunday School, up through Junior High, anyway.
  • Always have all the children in all the worship services, per Matthew 19:14 “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.”
  • Stop and unleash all bad thoughts I’d had about a person to them and ask for forgiveness (Matthew 5:23 “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you…) I was also taught that only Catholics had altars and they weren’t Christians.
  • Demand head coverings for women (1 Corinthians 11:6, If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.) Okay, we did eventually find a workaround for that one.
  • Oh, and of course, to not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:19 says: Do not.)

I was taught not to be a liberal, to have a high view of Scripture, and to stay off of slopes that were slippery by sticking with those who were right and taking the Bible seriously because they were taking it literally.


In our church there was a lady who brought an accusation, of sorts, about an elder. She had an uneasy feeling about him that she couldn’t identify. I told her she should talk to him as they were family friends. We prayed. She did. We Matthew 18’d him.

She returned to me much later with the same feeling, indicating that it was a feeling she had about him with my young daughter. We prayed. I went to him.

No one else had said a word, so when the woman returned much later, and the two of us prayed, and then went to him, and then to he and his wife, I was staying well within 1 Timothy 5.

Then the two of us with another elder prayed, and went to him when she came to me the next time. She couldn’t identify the problem, and though some instances could be seen where there wasn’t always the greatest maturity being shown by this man, there was nothing suspect.

No one was bringing a specific accusation against this guy, and up until this time only one woman had a weird feeling. We kept 1 Timothy 5:19 in clear view.

Over time, as her feelings and paranoia increased (to the point that she came to believe she might even be dealing with mental illness), things began to change and the elder-in-question’s behavior became very strange and erratic. In a tumultuous series of events it came out that the man had been molesting my daughter for several years.

Oh-no. Actually, far, far worse than that.


In an instant, those (years now of the) woman’s suspicions came into complete clarity. In an instant, the Bible, and the God of the Bible, came crumbling down around me. 1 Timothy hadn’t righteously protected us; my literalizing of it had, instead, destroyed.

At first, the only thing that made any sense was working to protect my daughter, my family, and then the church. It was oh-no for years, and we all did the best we could. That was the only important thing to begin with and God’s graciousness, over time, did, and has done much healing and restoration.

But, though a lesser issue for me at the time however significant, I didn’t completely realize in those days that God had, in a sense, died to me.

Well, at least the God I thought I knew, and my understanding of the Bible He had given me had died.

The God I had known, and the Bible I had were somehow magical, and faithful adherence to them, alongside the certain and truly faithful, could never have brought about this result— even though I was told by several that this was God’s will for my daughter, and that she needed this for her discipleship. I think they needed to be certain about something.

Fortunately, when I came to the end of myself in all this, I somehow still knew one thing “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The oh-no was terrifying and tragic. But it was also watershed, and gave birth to a-ha.

Backtracking from 1 Timothy 5:19 — because of pastoral experience and not because of scholarly consideration — I began to divest myself of everything I thought I had known about the Bible. It was like a big reset button had been hit.

The underlying programming was there, Jesus and him crucified, but otherwise the hard drive had been wiped clean. It wasn’t easy as I remained a teaching pastor during the entire time.

Along the way I uncovered multiples of untruths purported as absolute truth, and in some cases flat out fabrications of facts by noted scholars, apologists and pastors, with the supposed intent of keeping me safe from the slippery slope of liberalism and disbelief.

When I ran into some of those that happened to bring my former university under fire, I returned to campus after many years to talk with a faculty member about his less-than-literal Genesis views. It was a warm day, during summer break, and this professor — whom I had never met before — spent more than five hours with me to talk me through what he really believed, what he contended the Scriptures are, and what the university held to.

I discovered there really were other honest ways to read the Bible. I walked away from that meeting knowing that one of the hell-bound liberal Bible scholars I had been warned about for years, was in every right and best way, my brother in Christ.

Oh-no, had progressed to a-ha, and finally, climatically became A-HA! I felt like the little Who named JoJo, in “Horton Hears a Who” who finally discovers he can YOPP!

In the face of great tragedy, I remain thankful for Paul’s example and that I too resolved to know nothing except a crucified Jesus. Those events are now many years in the past. My family and congregation continue to heal, and my daughter has married and even given me grandchildren.

And, I am thankful for the fruit of the trauma, even if I could never be thankful for the trauma itself. Which, yes, means I don’t think 1 Thessalonians 5:18 means what I was once taught it meant:

"18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God 

in Christ Jesus for you. (NRSV)"

* * * * * * * * * *

Index to Series -

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change

Part 1 - Introduction

Part 2 - Peter Enns

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