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Spying Churches

Spying Churches

I’m struck by the fear with which churches greet new ideas. No, I think I should make it more direct than that. I’m struck by the fear with which churches greet ideas. Any type of ideas. The type of people who manifest this sort of fear are generally those who are either unable to support what they believe or perhaps simply don’t want to be bothered with the necessity.

My parents were life-long missionaries for their denomination, but after they retired they were suspected of some form of dissident theological beliefs. The fact is that I have a hard time really defining the difference between their beliefs and those of their denomination. They certainly remained loyal to the denomination, including supporting it financially even through all of this.

They were visiting one local church for a period of time and considering joining. One of their lifelong practices was hospitality. If you were visiting their church they didn’t just welcome you, they offered you an invitation to come home to lunch. They did so one day, and a couple of the elders showed up as well to make sure they weren’t misleading the visitors. As I said, my parents remained loyal to their denomination, but my mother straightened those folks out in a hurry!

All of this, and much more, came back to me when I read Shame Is a Prison, And I’m Breaking Out (HT: Rachel Held Evans). The author writes of being called with her husband to meet with her pastor who felt that her views as expressed on Facebook and her blog were inappropriate. She tells of the shame that was involved and that made it hard to break free. I needed to read her post, because my immediate mental response was “why didn’t she tell him where to go, get up, walk out, and never darken the door of his church again?” It’s just not that easy.

And in spite of my mental reaction, it’s not that easy for me either. I like to get along. I like to be part of the team and work together with a church. But there are points of conscience that I will not surrender to the group. I do understand churches wanting to make sure their official pronouncements are compatible with their statements of faith, though I advocate keeping the list of essential doctrines as short as possible. When protecting the church’s doctrines lead to spying on members, I think it has gone too far.

When I was single, I didn’t realize how much more this sort of thing impacts women. After I got married, I was approached by people who wanted me to explain things my wife said or to “correct” her in some way. I made an early rule and shared it with my wife. I would not even defend her in these types of conversations. Whenever someone was talking to me about something my wife said I would immediately suggest that they talk directly to her. “She’s perfectly capable of explaining this herself,” I would say. The interesting thing is that while this statement would cut off the discussion with me, I am not aware of anyone who actually went to talk to her. That suggests to me that I was 100% right about whether they were trying to criticize her, or actually interested in learning more about the subject. They hoped I would be the sensible one and straighten her out without their having to display the courage and courtesy of actually talking to her.

The motivation here is fear, I believe, and the result is weaker church members. I would suggest instead openly encouraging both questioning and suggesting answers by every member of the church. This will create stronger Christian communities.

(I’m currently editing a book to be released early next year, So Much Older Then … by Bob LaRochelle. In it he describes a process of offering time for a congregational response to the sermon. I think it’s a wonderful idea. When I’ve experienced such a time as a speaker it has always been positive.)

The Fanatic Illustrated

The Fanatic Illustrated

In a previous post I used the relationship between essentials and non-essentials to group ways in which Christians (and Christian groups) operate. One of these approaches to doctrine was labeled “the fanatic” (see image).

With some help from Joel Watts, I’ve found a good illustration of this, and it’s The Berean Library, which lists as false gospels such diverse folks as Pete Enns, the New Apostolic Reformation, seeker sensitive churches, and preterists. Now I have my own problems with some of these, but there are two reasons I think this particular page illustrates the “fanatic” diagram:

  1. Each of these groups they regard as being in error is accused of teaching a false gospel. In the context of Galatians, from which that label comes, this means that their errors are definitely in essentials.
  2. The wide variety of groups means that a large number of doctrinal positions are regarded as essential.

This combination means that there is little room for compromise (on non-essentials) or cooperation. This reminds me of a church pastor I called on behalf of a city-wide prayer gathering a few years ago. He informed me that he wouldn’t attend the meeting because there was no point in praying with people who were wrong.

That would leave me out all the time! I suspect I’m wrong on many things. That’s why I continue to study. Perhaps I can become “righter”

Shifting Theology

Shifting Theology

Last week I was talking about doctrinal distinctives, and today Scot McKnight has a post very close to that topic. He’s more specific, talking about pastors who shift theology. I think he would have done better to illustrate this post with something other than pastors who have become secret atheists, though I know such things happen.

The interesting question I would have is just how much can a pastor shift, and on what issues. From there I’d be wondering how much a leader can shift, for example, a Sunday School teacher. Finally, where might the standard be for members?

Having grown up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, where I had to affirm a large number of doctrines before baptism, I have experienced the very tight option. After I had left the SDA church, I received a call from someone who wanted to complain about my parents’ positions. They were debating about very minor points and were completely shocked when I pointed out that I didn’t accept either of the positions they were comparing. (The topic was the SDA doctrine of the investigative judgment, which I reject.) To me the issues they raised, and which were critical to them, sounded silly.

In an earlier, Unity, Diversity, and Confusion, I argue that it’s important to have some essential doctrines, but it’s also important both to know what they are and to keep them limited to actual essentials. A church denomination (as opposed to belonging to the universal church), has limited impact, in my opinion. If one finds that one is drifting from the essentials, as understood by that organization, one should cross the street openly and honestly.

Let’s say that a local congregation regards tithing as essential. I think it is just as much a lack of integrity to pastor or lead that church if you don’t accept that essential from their point of view, as it would be to pastor a church after you have lost your faith. (I use this example, because I do not believe tithing applies to Christians.) I would make an exception for those cases in which the congregation is aware of the difference, but accepts the leader in spite of it. In that case, however, I would question whether that doctrine was truly an essential in that particular congregation.

In addition, what precisely is essential? That is not an easy decision either. Are your differences actually on doctrines that are essential? Most congregations have more stated doctrines than are actually essential. Perhaps your shift is one on which you should teach and preach.

I always like to add a caveat here. I’m a publisher, not a pastor. I work for myself. I teach Sunday School, but I’m not on the church board. Thus I speak from the cheap seats. A pastor who has committed his or her life to a calling and to a particular church group has a  much more difficult decision to make than I will experience.

On Doctrinal Distinctives

On Doctrinal Distinctives

Dave Black links to an article regarding the recent statement on the traditional Southern Baptist understanding of the doctrine of salvation. Craig Benno comments further. You may well wonder what a United Methodist is doing commenting on this particular issue. Is it any of my concern whether Southern Baptists accept Calvinism or not, or which view is more traditional?

No, not at all. What’s interesting to me is the process of looking at “distinctives” and essentials (and you must read at least the first article to understand what I mean here), and distinguishing them. Dr. David Allen lists a number of items on which Southern Baptists can agree generally, but then explicitly places the Calvinist/Traditionalist split outside those boundaries, and thus a topic on which Southern Baptists can disagree.

Many of us might disagree on these items. I’d see the distinction between Calvinism and other views of salvation as much more important than the distinction between inerrancy and other views of biblical inspiration. But, again, I’m not a Southern Baptist. But making these things explicit is a healthy process, I believe. Knowing what we consider essential is important.

The United Methodist Church can often tend much too far the other way. It’s hard to tell precisely what it means to be a United Methodist. Certainly we have statements of belief, but there is really no expectation in most churches that the members actually believe any portion of those statements. Of course, the idea of “essentials” is not itself an essential, at least as I see it.

I actually wrote all this mostly to link back to some previous posts I wrote on this topic:

Unity, Diversity, and Confusion

Excessively Large Tent = Crash

Not All Doctrines Are Equal

Finding and Protecting the Essentials

I’d say the first of these is the most important statement of my views.

Morning Reading – 11/6/2007

Morning Reading – 11/6/2007

I read a large number of blog entries each day, and I never have time to comment on everything I’d like to. Considering how many posts I do write, this may be a good thing. One way to comment without having to write is by linking to extremely good posts, and this morning provided me with some excellent material.

Responding to Torture

First, I have been trying to get a handle on writing a post on torture, with the Mukasey hearings, but I haven’t gotten beyond “torture is evil.” After that it feels odd to be explaining that torture is bad. It’s so much a part of me, that I have a hard time taking it seriously as a debate, but there it is, being debated by presumably serious people.

But Joe Carter has saved me on this point, by writing a 100% on target, excellent post, Our Tortured Silence: The Shameful Response of Christians to Waterboarding.

All I would add is that our fear sometimes makes us waffle on our moral convictions. We must fight terrorism, but we must be sure to maintain our integrity while we do it, or the terrorists win even if we physically defeat them. Let’s be sure we like who we are when we’re done.

Dividing the Denominations

Through an unrelated comment, I found a post on the division of the church, Happy Reformation Day/Hallowe’en. This relates to my own previous post, Setting Doctrinal Priorities. I’m not concerned about their being denominations, or at least accountability organizations that bring congregations together, but we very often do not see the unifying factors, and thus splinter further and further.

What is the Gospel?

Again, relating to two earlier posts, Adrian Warnock has posted on justification again, and after quoting a description of forensic justification, and details of imputed righteousness, he says:

That, my dear reader, is the Gospel. What better explanation of it have you ever read?

Now I don’t have a problem with Adrian seeing the gospel there, but that is simply one way of expressing it; it is not the only one. When we divide along such detailed lines, I see many problems ahead for Christian unity.

Setting Doctrinal Priorities

Setting Doctrinal Priorities

A recent jury verdict against a group of hatemongers has brought up lots of questions. One that I heard was simply this: “The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. How can you, as a Christian, claim that this group that protests at military funerals is not a good representation of Christianity?”

There are a huge number of reasons why I would say that these people do not represent Christianity, starting with the fact that it is always inappropriate to read a single text and then say, “This is what the Bible teaches.” Why? Because the Bible teaches many things, and often these will be in direct conflict with one another when one reads them in that fashion. Let’s take as an example this command:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” — Deuteronomy 23:1, (NRSV).

Now compare it to this:

?4? For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
?5? I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off. — Isaiah 56:4-5 (NRSV)

Now my point here is not to make these two commands conflict, but rather to point out that we cannot build a complete doctrine of what God thinks of eunuchs based on just the text in Deuteronomy 23:1. There are other factors to consider if we continue to read.

One of the characteristics of fundamentalist groups is an inability to prioritize their doctrines. All truth is truth, and one cannot lay aside any aspect of truth. I discuss this kind of an approach to doctrinal unity and diversity in a post Unity, Diversity, and Confusion, where I recommend having a defined core that gives a group community, but allowing a broad range on which disagreement is permitted.

I think the common characterization of fundamentalists can be unfair at times, however, as there are many who adhere to a traditional understanding of doctrinal fundamentals and are quite able to see differing priorities within those. I recall that my dad who adhered to every doctrine in the dictionary definition of Christian fundamentalism (per Webster’s 3rd International) being confronted with a situation in which a patient would die unless he could get a particular medication. Now unlike some missionaries I know, my father refused to violate the laws of the host country, even when he could have gotten by with it. In this case, however, when the government refused an import permit, he arranged to have the medication smuggled in and saved the patient’s life. Lying and breaking the civil law became less of a concern than saving a life.

So in this case I’m speaking of those fundamentalists who fit the stereotype and have a hard time prioritizing. One could borrow Tillich’s definition of idolatry, which I quote from distant memory (so be merciful!), making your ultimate concern something that isn’t ultimate. The doctrinal version of this is centering your faith on something that isn’t central.

Fred Phelps and his small gang do, in fact, prioritize doctrines, but they do a very bad job of it. Only a very small portion of the scriptures directly address homosexuality, yet for them being against homosexuality is the central doctrine of their faith, as shown by their actions. It trumps all versions of redemption, God’s love, atonement, grace, and an incredible number of sins that are spoken of more frequently in scripture.

This inappropriate center then leads to behavior that is so far off that we can call it a “wacko fringe.” In a post from Saturday I quoted another blogger who had tied the term “wacko fringe” heavily to the charismatic movement. Well, here’s a truly wacko fringe group. So what’s their key problem? I think it’s an inability to prioritize doctrines and beliefs.

Most Christians will react with horror at their behavior, and justifiably so. Some will also be puzzled when opponents of Christianity respond by pointing out the Biblical texts against homosexual acts that are in scripture. But why should one be puzzled? We know that Christian groups have been taking small selections of texts for some time and creating groups that qualify for the “wacko fringe.” It is one of the hazards of not having the inquisition around. People can come up with their own doctrines.

Of course, depending on your perspective, it could be that the inquisition is the wacko fringe, though they were ostensibly in the service of orthodoxy and of the mainstream of their time. The point is that freedom to study for oneself and create doctrine also leaves open the door to bizarre doctrinal ideas and fringe groups.

Now I’m going to discuss a number of positions and views and suggest some potential for getting off center. I don’t intend to suggest that any of these positions are anywhere near equivalent to the Phelps group. In fact I’m going to include a couple of positions that I personally have held and had to modify as examples. I want to point out the potential danger, and suggest some antidotes.

Let me start with myself and a very simple example. I got married for the first time in my early 40s and acquired a complete family in one step, a wife, three step-children, and one other young person living with us at the time. Now I really like to think I’m non-judgmental, but with a military background and a rather punctual personality, I had a strong tendency to look down on people showing up late for church. If they had children they should just get up earlier and prepare more efficiently, and get those children to church on time!

It took the weekend after we returned from our honeymoon to make me repent of my judgmental attitude and realize just how unsympathetic I was. You know, even when they are older, having multiple people in the household makes it much harder to get everything done on time. That first Sunday we straggled into church over a 20 minute period, all of us late, including me. Now we got better at it later, but I learned a lesson with the first Sunday–it’s much easier said (and judged) than done!

It’s good to get to church on time, but it’s also good to exercise Christian charity to those who have more difficult circumstances. My single male viewpoint and uptight personality on the issue of punctuality made me put being on time to church way too close to the center of good spirituality. There’s a good scriptural point here to help correct this too. Punctuality may be a value, but not being a judge is also a value. Which one is expressed more precisely and repeatedly in scripture? Well, Jesus at least expressed it pretty clearly in Matthew 7:1, and as far as I can see he clean forgot to say, “Be on time for church!” So where should my priorities be?

Let’s stick with my own weaknesses for another paragraph or two. I used to be a very positive preacher and teacher, and I don’t mean by this that I was always upbeat. What I mean is that I preached a message for the successful and victorious. I was balanced enough to remind them that there would be hardships, but I tended to brush past these to the wonderful new heights each Christian would attain every day as he or she walked with Jesus. Now is there a place for teaching about overcoming and to talk about hope and victory? Of course there is! There is plenty of that in scripture.

But then I lived through a five year battle with cancer for our youngest son, which ended with his death. There was no quick solution, no sunlight just around the corner, no moving from victory to victory on a daily or weekly basis. There were lots of times when we had to struggle through and keep plowing forward even when it was hard to see the hope.

Before, I would push very quickly with folks I talked to and try to get them to feel hope right now, and push forward for the victory quickly. Then I learned something new about struggling and hardship. It wasn’t that I knew nothing of that before or that I never taught it. It was simply that I put my emphasis on living the mountaintop to mountaintop life. Now I think I have gained new balance.

A last story on myself comes from just last weekend. I was talking about dealing with very rigid views of scripture with my teacher, Dr. Alden Thompson. He knew me when I as an undergraduate Biblical languages student, approaching the edges of Biblical scholarship very carefully, lest I get burned. I made a snippy remark about someone, and he said, “Remember what you were like when you first came into my Hebrew class.” And he’s absolutely right. I have a tendency to be impatient with people who are slow to come to the same conclusions I do (incredibly obvious and wise ones, of course!).

In this case the lack of balance is that I sometimes do what I accuse theological conservatives of doing: I put doctrines above people. In John 9, we see Jesus and his disciples encountering a man born blind. The disciples are interested in a theological question–whose sin made him blind? Jesus was interested in healing the blind man. I need to watch my priorities and put people ahead of doctrines. (Of course, that dictum is itself a doctrine, but I think it’s a fairly valid one–validated by the actions of Jesus.)

I see a similar issue with the question of who can be saved. Do they have to understand a particular set of doctrines, a particular view of substitutionary atonement, or do they just put their trust in Jesus, according to their best understanding. Hanging on the cross, Jesus used a different priority than we often do today, offering hope on the simple request to remember the thief when he came to his kingdom (Luke 23:42-43).

A very little bit of imbalance can move us toward the fringe, and when one issue becomes our defining issue, unless it’s Jesus himself, it becomes very easy to head out for the “wacko fringe.”

Another illustration may help. Respecting the Bible is good. In this area there are many King James Version Only advocates. They respect the Bible, but only in one form, and so they disrespect it in all other forms. A book now has priority over all other doctrines and over people. One student of mine, a new Christian, was informed by one of these folks that he was not saved. Why? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and the word of God comes only in the King James Version. The fault with his salvation? He had heard the gospel preached from the New King James Version. Skewed priorities led to the distant fringes.

So how do we avoid it? Well, I think Jesus provided us with a guideline when he said that all the law and the prophets hang on the two laws–love for God and love for our fellow human beings (Matthew 22:40). Now it’s not impossible to get off track even with that. For one thing, our definition of love can be skewed. But let me suggest looking up and down the line. As we get more detailed in our doctrinal pronouncements, ask ourselves if them fit the two laws. Can we hang them there? When we’re looking at love, does our definition fit the life of Jesus? Can we see our definition of love in the way God has acted in history? It’s a two-way test. (For my application to Bible study see Hanging Biblical Interpretation in which I express my hanging rule.)

In all of this we do need to express our beliefs. If those who seek balance do not speak, Christianity will be defined by whoever does speak. We are to be witnesses. We think of knocking on doors and bringing in conversions. But what about simply representing in our own small sphere who Jesus can be in our own lives? One of the blogs I read regularly is Allan Bevere. He wrote a post on preaching, starting a series, and his first principle of preaching was to preach to the audience that is there.

That relates closely to a principle I teach in Bible study–look first in the Bible for the things that apply to you, rather than to other people. Let God’s word correct you first in all cases. That should happen before you preach, teach, or share. Let it hit you and convict you! Then go talk to other people.

As a church, we could apply that very appropriately as well. Look for the things that correct your own action. How about heterosexuals spending more time looking at the sins they themselves are tempted to? Would that not provide a bit of balance, no matter what one’s conclusions were about homosexuality?

I’m simply suggesting that we try to put first things first, and that we each look for the first things that we ourselves need to hear. Other people’s sins will quite often take care of themselves much more effectively when we’re spending most of our time on the most important things!

Am I an Evangelical?

Am I an Evangelical?

[Reflective rambling alert, to those who prefer more substantive stuff.]

I’ve answered this question before, but it was brought back to me over this past weekend when someone who knows me well enough to know better described me as “a solid evangelical.” Say what? He definitely intended it as a compliment, but I was somewhat surprised.

Then I was reading Adrian Warnock’s blog, on which he has begun to work through Piper’s new book The Future of Justification. Adrian says:

That infamous quote from N. T. Wright and his framing of thousands of years of debate about the imparting or imputing of Christ’s righteousness as ‘muddle headed’ is breathtaking. Either Wright is as much of a lone figure reformed as say Martin Luther himself, pointing back centuries before him to another lost truth that makes Luther as much in error as the Pope of his time, OR Wright, however bright a scholar he is, is very wrong. I believe Piper has shown how very wrong Wright is. Join me over the next few days as we explore how he does this.

When I read something like this from Adrian, surely an evangelical, I have to doubt whether I want the label. It’s not that I think Adrian or Piper are being discourteous. It is just that they split doctrinal hairs down so many times. To me, N. T. Wright is conservative. I understand the differences between him and other evangelicals. I just don’t see the critical importance of the difference in the way Adrian states it. (I will certainly be following Adrians comments, though I doubt that I will read the book.)

In fact, I don’t think the Bible itself manifests anything like the unity in describing human sin, redemption, atonement, and God’s expectations of people that appears in this very tense reformed evangelical theology. N. T. Wright is not, in my view, all that opaque. He’s extremely thorough with impeccable scholarship. And as for Martin Luther, while I appreciate some of his reform efforts, I truly do not think he said the last word on understanding Paul.

Reformed interpretation of Paul has gotten muddle headed and it has done so simply because theological propositions have been given preeminence over an exegesis of the text. In addition, an assumption that the Bible teaches a single theology tends to paper over the differences.

Labels are such slippery things. Any label that manages to acquire a positive connotation will also tend to spread, as people want to claim the label, even when they are not in the center of the definition. “Fundamentalist” has had a bit of a negative connotation, and so it hasn’t become nearly so diluted. The label “orthodox” (lower case ‘o’) is generally very positively perceived in Christian circles. It’s definition started with those who toed the doctrinal line put out by the church councils, and these days very few Christians want to be called “unorthodox.” I like to say that being “orthodox” means you can say the apostles creed without crossing your fingers. Trouble is, of course, that people have very different tolerances for reinterpretation before they feel obligated to cross their fingers.

In my previous answer to this question I mentioned the evangelical commentators on Daniel I have found, including Earnest Lucas who wrote the Daniel volume in the Apolos Old Testament Commentary series. Lucas maintains that one can assert Biblical inerrancy and also a 2nd century date for the book of Daniel. When I mentioned this to an evangelical friend, he said, “Well, that series is published by InterVarsity Press and they’re pretty much just another liberal publisher any more.” Note that Lucas does not exclusively affirm a 2nd century date, but simply asserts that either is possible for one who believes in inerrancy.

So an evangelical commentary on Daniel can assert a 2nd century date, and InterVarsity press can be considered liberal. Such are the wanderings of labels over the conceptual landscape.

The Joys and Sorrows of being ex-Seventh-day Adventist

The Joys and Sorrows of being ex-Seventh-day Adventist

I don’t actually view myself as “ex” anything, even though we all are ex-something and headed onward to something else, I hope. But I don’t shun contact with members of the church in which I grew up, and thus I sometimes have to deal with the default identity of ex-Seventh-day Adventist.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of SDAs who see me as a person apart from that one point of identity. There are even some non-SDAs–who were never SDAs–who define me as an ex-SDA. The connection between the church in which I grew up and my present identity cannot be severed in their view. What they would like me to do is cut all ties as clearly as possible and make myself anti-SDA. It’s the old “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” approach. And of course that approach isn’t bad if the question is good and evil, God or satan, constructive or destructive. But for brothers and sisters in Christ, I reject that approach.

I can illustrate this through two experiences. The first came as I was coordinating a series of events with Dr. Alden Thompson, professor of Biblical Studies at Walla Walla University. One of these was at an SDA church. While I was in the back of the room selling copies of Alden’s book, a young man approached me and asked me about my own affiliations. When he found out I had been raised and educated SDA and yet was now a Methodist, he said, “I just can’t imagine how anyone could have issues with Seventh-day Adventists doctrine!” Well, I can.

The reverse occurred when I gave a copy of my mother’s book Directed Paths to an evangelical non-SDA to read. She objected to the fact that I quoted Ellen White in the preface, even though the specific quote was certainly harmless. To her, my quoting Ellen White implied some kind of endorsement of every word she had said, and thus put my dedication to orthodox Christianity in question.

But I simply don’t see it that way. I’m ex-SDA, and now United Methodist because I do not agree with certain specific SDA doctrines that would make it difficult for me to worship and do ministry as a member of an SDA church. There are similar doctrinal issues that would make it difficult for me to work and ministry through a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Southern Baptists, or the Assemblies of God. Yet I have no problem calling all of the above groups Christian brothers and sisters. In fact, rather than calling myself a Methodist, I like to call myself a Christian who is a member of a United Methodist congregation. You see, there are plenty of Methodists with whom I have similar doctrinal disagreements.

I would prefer to ask just what strengths there are in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, and to look at just how I can benefit from those strengths. In my own experience there are quite a number. I was steeped in the Bible as a young person. I took an extraordinarily varied set of courses in Biblical studies and Biblical languages from skilled instructors in Seventh-day Adventist schools. I got an excellent view of ethics and some holiness teaching. I don’t agree with everything I was taught, but I have to ask who does agree with everything they were taught in school? More importantly, who should agree with everything?

If I am to criticize my SDA education I would say that I actually agreed with way too much of what I was taught, and was not challenged by enough “foreign” ideas. I didn’t spend enough time sufficiently early in my life learning to evaluate a variety of ideas.

As a Methodist, I’m not going to make the same mistake. I have a particular heritage because of my background. That gives me the opportunity to bring the broad center of Christianity into contact with Seventh-day Adventists and vice-versa. I think this is a good thing. It does force me to fight the ex-SDA label from both sides, but that’s worth the price. That is not the only barrier I’m interested in crossing, but it is one that I am well-equipped to challenge.

As Christians we are far too fearful of seeing our beliefs challenged, even by those within our own faith. As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I need to be challenged by Calvinists, and they by me. Those who tend toward antinomianism need to be challenged by the more positive view of law present in the Adventist tradition, and of course the reverse is true as well. If our doctrinal beliefs are so fragile that hearing a sermon or a teaching that challenges them frightens us and makes us want to go hide in our denominational caves, then those beliefs are too fragile, either ontologically or perhaps merely in our own minds. Fear is a sign of weakness, not of strength.

This weekend there is a conference going on at Andrews University commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book Questions on Doctrine. Some SDAs would prefer this event not be commemorated. I think it’s a good thing, simply because it stirred up thought. The bad thing is those who try to smooth the waters before the benefit of living water is gained by all.

At the same time I will be putting my words into action, as Pacesetters Bible School again hosts Dr. Alden Thompson on the campus of a United Methodist Church, in our conference on restoring Biblical literacy. This is too late for advertising. I simply provide the link as evidence that I practice what I preach on this point.

Those who tend to think of me as a closet SDA because I was raised SDA, have to do no more than read a little bit of this blog (the creation vs. evolution entries would do nicely) to realize that this isn’t the case. SDAs can ponder how I could possible reject SDA doctrines, and that’s fine too. Other ex-SDAs can wonder how I can both leave the church and still have a positive view of it. I hope they do think about that. One of the greatest tragedies is someone who lives their life in resentment over how someone treated them and whose identity is truly provided by what they have rejected.

There are joys and sorrows to being ex-SDA, and in the end, I find it’s not so different from any other piece of my life that I’ve left partially behind, but is still part of me.

Not All Doctrines are Equal

Not All Doctrines are Equal

Before I carry forward into my discussion of the nature of authentic Christianity, I want to link to a couple of posts in which I have discussed my view of what Christianity is. I wish to do this near the beginning, because I will be making a number of statements about what Christianity is not, and it’s easy in such a situation to define oneself by what one opposes rather than by what one supports.

Christianity is not totally unified. That is an understatement, of course. But while I would like us to be more courteous and open in the way in which we approach one another, I don’t believe it is essential that we be identical in order to be unified. Thus I can object to the behavior of other Christians, or disagree with them on points of doctrine without also regarding them as outcasts. The feeling may even be mutual.

Not all doctrines are equal. I’m more concerned with someone’s belief on the incarnation, for example, than I am with their beliefs on baptism. I’m more interested in their commitment to the two laws (love God, love your neighbor) than I am about their orthodoxy on the trinity, though I am a fully orthodox trinitarian myself, to the best of my knowledge.

So here are a few posts on Christian unity and diversity to provide an anchor point before I go talking about how different we are and how much we have changed and even should change. They are in order from oldest to most recent.

. . . and just for fun Only Evil People Disagree with Me!

I’ll refer back to these as necessary.

Sola Scriptura (Link and Comment)

Sola Scriptura (Link and Comment)

I am running late today, and may not get much of what I intended to post completed, but in the meantime, Mark Olson has a post on sola scriptura over at Pseudo-Polymath which is quite interesting. He has already been taken to task (only with the utmost courtesy, of course) by a commenter that the view of sola scriptura that he discusses is not one that would be recognized by most reformed or evangelical scholars.

In a way, the commenter is right, but in another way, not so much. I think most evangelical and reformed scholars who reside somewhere other than the ivory tower will have encountered such an attitude in the pews of protestant churches, and most have probably endeavored to better educate those who expressed it.

The popular perception, and one I even encounter from many pastors, is that sola scriptura somehow means that doctrines form sort of magically from scripture, without mental processes or influence from other sources. That caricature is very easy to knock down, but often needs knocking down, because there are so many people who thoughtlessly continue to hold it.

Hopelessly this post, and a promised follow-up will help people better understand the various positions.