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A Morbid and Boring Christianity

A Morbid and Boring Christianity

The quote above comes from chapter 1 of S. J. Hill’s book, What’s God Really Like?, and I’d like to spend some time with this, looking at it from different angles. The first angle is one of worship.

I was in a church committee meeting some years back where a room full of people were discussing young people and the worship service of the church. The question under consideration was why young people weren’t attending our worship services.

After about 45 minutes of (fruitless, in my opinion) discussion, I asked the question: Might we instead discuss whether we can think of any reasons why the young people would attend our worship service?

I, and every other person in that meeting, attend church out of ingrained habit. We have done it for years, it’s what we do, and come Sunday morning, come hell, high water, or several feet of snow, we’re going to find a church service and attend it.

I don’t mean that that’s the only reason I go to church, but it is something I tend to do. If I don’t like one worship service, I’m going to attend another.

But many people, oddly enough (!), require a reason to get up on Sunday morning and go to church. They want to accomplish something.

At this point some of my friends start talking about “dumbing down” the worship service, or want something “relevant.” The tone indicates that “relevant” is some sort of weak effort to replace “real worship” which will involve actual pain and require grit and determination.

“I barely stayed awake through that service,” says the parishioner, looking and sounding holy. Going through a boring worship service is a test of our commitment to God.

Well, perhaps not.

As I read passages like 1 Corinthians 14, I see the word “edify,” which is just a churchy sounding word for “build up” or something similar. The worship services at Corinth sound a bit chaotic, and, well, interesting. Paul encouraged them toward order, but in the end, if you apply all his rules, you still have something very different from what we do today.

Our problem with 1 Corinthians 14 is that we try to apply the solution without having the same problem. We put a straight-jacket on a corpse. The corpse, in case you missed it, is our time of worship.

Now a morbid, boring, and unattractive Christianity is not just about the worship service, but I think we might start there. You see, I think all those complaints about young people wanting relevant service are just whining. Whining because the young people don’t like what we did all our lives.

But if you look at the state of Christianity in America today, I think you’ll see evidence that was we did all our lives—and I’m talking to my generation (I’m 61)—hasn’t worked all that well. Perhaps we need worship that is actually relevant.

Relevant in several ways:

  1. In expressing our relationship with God. (Subtext here — we might need to have a relationship with God and not just a set of theological reflections.)
  2. In preparing us for actual service. (We tend to use the word “ministry” a lot. I think that allows us to separate ourselves from the word. How about “every member serving others” instead of “every member in ministry”?
  3. In help us to build our relationship to God.
  4. In helping us learn to relate to one another. (Hint: sitting in pews listening to a preacher, then heading out to beat the Baptists [or whoever] to lunch doesn’t build your relationships with other people.)
  5. In encouraging us in our lives as they are in this world.
  6. In helping us realize that “worship” doesn’t occur in a “service,” nor does it follow an “order of service,” but is a lifestyle. In fact, it is our lives (Romans 12:1-2).
  7. In helping us learn new and useful things.

Is that what happens when you go to church?

This just barely touches on this question. I’d like to discuss it some more. S. J. Hill is definitely right about one thing: The way we think about God is going to impact everything. If we think of God as interesting, involved, and yes, cool, we will thing that interesting and exciting things are part of worshiping God. If we think God is vindictive, we’re going to look for the right set of rituals to appease him.

If we’ve really forgotten, as I think many of us have, to think about God seriously (serious and joyful are not contradictory!) at all, that’s also going to impact the way we worship.

If God showed up on Sunday morning, would God enjoy what was going on?

A God That’s Cool

A God That’s Cool

Whats God Really LIke

In the introduction to his book What’s God Really Like? S. J. Hill tells the story of a student who announced at the end of a term in a class he taught, that she had discovered that God was cool.

I don’t know how you react to that, but the moment I read that line I knew that I’d be offering the author a contract to publish the book. I’ve long been annoyed by all the theological words we use to describe God, even when those words are true.

My question is this: Do we understand the words? Does “omnipotent” mean anything to me? Does “infinite?” One can get infinitely wordy and yet communicate very little.

What’s more, how likely are we to be attracted to a relationship with a God because of all of these ultimate words? It’s not that I do not believe God is ultimate. In fact, I like the language of Paul Tillich that God is our “ultimate concern,” and that making anything that is not actually ultimate our ultimate concern is idolatry.

This idea of ultimate concern leads to the claim that faith in God is something that involves and demands everything. To quote Tillich, “Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements” (Dynamics of Faith, Nook position 16).

Notice how I jumped into theological speaking in discussing this topic. I think Tillich is talking about a dynamic God, an exciting God, and I even personally love what he has to say about this God. But can we say this a bit more to the point?

A God who engages your whole personality, who is ultimate in everything, will have to be more dynamic than a set of theological definitions. God must be more than a collection of attributes. To be truly dynamic, the God we’re talking about here must be exciting, interesting, all-encompassing.

In a word, Cool!

Unless, of course, you mean something different than I do by “cool!”

In his little book Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job, Bruce Epperly notes:

Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim once noted that the most important theological question is not “Do you believe in God?” but “What kind of God do you believe in?” The author of Job would concur with Fretheim’s vision. Job is a God-filled book, reflecting the deep piety of its author and his main character. Like the Psalms, Job describes a faith for every season of life and shows that piety can be revealed as much in our questions as in our affirmations.

Bruce G. Epperly, Finding God in Suffering: A Journey with Job, p. 8

Now who could possibly go to the book of Job to find a cool God? That’s a frightening place! A God who was involved in all that couldn’t possibly be cool.

Let me detour for a moment. I recall traveling with a friend who was not a Christian. We had a long time to discuss things. My son James had died only a few weeks before. After a considerable discussion of the nature of my faith, my friend said, “I so admire you for keeping your faith through all of that.”

I was a bit shocked. It was my faith that had held me together. I had spent much of that time with God, something yelling and screaming. Sometimes weeping. But also sometimes laughing.

The God that could ride with me when I had hours to travel to a speaking engagement while James was in intensive care is a God I can call cool. Yes, I can use terms like merciful, kind, compassionate, and loving. Those are all good. But the reality is more lively.

Until I read S. J. Hill’s book, I hadn’t thought of the word. I like it.

Bruce Epperly also comments that theology begins in the experience of disappointment and suffering (ibid, 3).

My challenge as we explore the nature of God is to connect that point of entry with discovery of a God whose personality is pleasing. Yes, a God who is cool.

Knowing About God or Knowing God

Knowing About God or Knowing God

In the dim reaches of time (no, no dinosaurs, not that long ago) I was attending college, and right during registration for my second year, I heard the call of God to study biblical languages. The call is another story, but whether it was God or not, the idea of studying the languages fit with my personality and preconceptions.

The most important thing was to get “it” right, and “it” was whatever God had revealed. For me, this meant the Bible, and so what I needed was to go back to the original texts, a task I thought possible in those days. I also hoped to be independent, not looking to any human being to tell me what God had said, but rather to have discovered this for myself. I also thought this was an attainable goal.

More fool me.

Avoiding Theology

In pursuit of this goal, I wanted to avoid the study of theology, because theology was separated from the Bible. Why study theologians when I could study the actual source? Why discuss theological ideas unless they were very directly rooted in the biblical text?

This attitude was based on my belief that God had provided a complete and final set of facts in the Bible, and that if I got these right, I would also be right with God. I had a certain amount of perfectionism in my make-up. I’d gone to a Christian school where papers were to be completed perfectly before a student went on. I’d memorized scripture there and then had to write it perfectly, including punctuation. That exercise complete, I had to record it, again perfectly.

I do not remember these things as chores. To me they seemed quite the proper way of going about one’s learning. Wrong wasn’t really an option. I was doubtless wrong many times, but I never believed I was wrong, so no problem!

Theologians, because they were arguing from theological premise to new conclusion, were certainly on the wrong track, because they would certainly never attain certainty. You needed to be absolutely right about God.

Certainty Evaporates in the Face of an Uncertain Text

I got pretty good with biblical languages, but I also had the bad taste to study textual criticism, and in that I discovered several things. First, I would never to absolutely certain of the biblical text. My textual criticism teacher made sure I understood that by having me create my own critical text based on the manuscript images available to me. Using a limited set of resources (this was before the internet and folks like CSNTM), I was unable to produce an absolutely certain text of half a dozen verses. Not even my determination was able to convince me that my goal of independently getting to the very root of scripture was attainable.

As I studied further into biblical criticism, I also found that even the idea of the original text was fraught with difficulties. Jeremiah comes in two versions. Daniel and Esther have additions. What would constitute the original text?

A Question of Goals

There are those who assume I left the church for a period of nearly 12 years because of these issues regarding the Bible. Many assume I went to a liberal seminary and was led astray. Neither of those things is true. I had plenty of teachers who tried to get me to get to know God, and most of my professors were quite conservative by any standard.

What happened to me was a failure to connect the data points I had about God with a knowledge of and experience of God. I knew a great deal about God. I knew God not at all. My worship life withered away in graduate school.

People told me what was going on. Lucille Knapp, who taught me Greek, would comment regularly about the literary beauty of passages. For graduation, she gave me a book of religious verse with a pointed suggestion that not everything was to be found in digging through the Greek. Alden Thompson, my advisor, regularly pointed to issues of devotion, of connecting to God and not just to stuff about God. In graduate school, my advisor Leona Running similarly pointed me to other things, while at the same time helping to satisfy my thirst for research about the data.

With the data in hand, I left the church. All churches.

In a post some months ago, Wanting to Be Right Theologically, I noted this pursuit of righteousness by correct theology. If we just get our beliefs right, we’ll be OK. But as important as our theology can be, this is just as much, or more of a burden than aiming work our way into favor with God. It doesn’t work.

Theology is important, but it’s importance is in the way it can help us relate to God, most importantly in realizing that letting God into our lives isn’t the end, but a new beginning.

Ramblings for the Coming Year

This is going to be my topic for a number of posts in the coming year.

I got started on making it a topic through working on the book by S. J. Hill, What’s God Really Like?: Unique Insights into His Fascinating Personality. As Stephen R. Crosby says in his endorsement of the book, “A robust theology of beauty is, and has been, conspicuously absent in much of western theology.”

Even when we get things technically right, when we realize that God’s grace is sufficient, we can end up with a dry faith, a boring faith, a rather sad faith. We can find ourselves saved by, and living by, the data. We can have a relationship with our theological beliefs, and not with the one we believe in.

I’m going to follow S. J. Hill’s book through, but I’m going to use many other books, primarily ones that I publish (I am a publisher, and this is what I do!), but also others. I can think off-hand of a range of books from my list, including most of our devotional category, that have helped to drive me in the direction of really enjoying God and seeing God as having a personality, and not just an entry in a theological dictionary. I’ll mention many of these books, but I’ll also be writing about my own experience and thinking and looking at the scriptures.

Join me in thinking about these things, and hopefully in experiencing a God of beauty.

I will be keeping books on a resource page here.

Thinking about a Crucified God

Thinking about a Crucified God

My company, Energion Publications, recently released a book What’s God Really Like?. It’s endorsed by Brian Zahnd;

In What’s God Really Like?, S. J. Hill invites us to become fascinated by God and, in that fascination, to move beyond the fear-based themes that have so often distorted our image of God. With a focus on Jesus and Scripture, Hill paints a portrait of a God who is “holy wild” and overflowing with generous love and contagious joy. This book is a welcome and timely remedy to the unworthy portraits of God that have too often haunted our imaginations.

Brian Zahnd
Lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO
and author of

Another Energion author, Allan R. Bevere, posted the following video, a sermon by Brian Zahnd. I think all of these go well together!


 

The Value of Theological Disagreement

The Value of Theological Disagreement

Earlier today I posted links to a video by Andy Stanley and a response by Michael Brown. Some people have commented on this issue indicating that it was unfair to “attack” Andy Stanley about his views.  (These were not on my blog post or its Facebook link; the controversy is widespread.) I have a few comments on this.

  1. There are those who claim that one has to listen to the entire series in order to get the context and respond. I would disagree. If you make a short video, be prepared to be challenged based on the content of that video (or audio file or blog post, for that matter). I think there is sufficient material in Stanley’s presentation to which one can respond.
  2. It’s interesting that one is expected not to respond to Stanley, yet Stanley is critiquing quite a number of other Christians. I do not criticize Stanley for doing this. If you’re going to assert that X is true and Y is not, you’re going to critique someone.
  3. As in #2, those who critique Stanley are in much the same position. If they are to assert that X is true and Y is not they will obviously be offering a critique of those who hold Y.
  4. Which leads to my main question: Why is it wrong to question theological statements, especially sweeping ones that are offered as a critique of other Christian positions?
  5. As for the “Marcionite” argument, we’re in a standard name-calling situation. For some reason, we think that by labeling someone we have responded, and, on the other hand, by defending ourselves from a label, we’re defending our position. Forget the label; ask whether the viewpoint is correct, or whether it can be improved upon.

I believe it is very important to discuss theology, and discussion involves the assertion that some things are less right than others. The idea that we can never point out what we believe is an error in the teaching of another is ludicrous. Now if we arrogate to ourselves the ability to judge someone’s salvation or their standing with God, that’s another matter. But to assert that some things are true is by nature to assert that others may be less accurate or perhaps untrue.

In this issue, I actually go farther than I perceive Michael Brown is going. I don’t believe there is a singular, straightforward distinction between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. I believe that there are many cases of God changing the way in which he relates, as God carries out God’s plan to save humanity. Thus the Christian Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments should be read as a single story. There are points of distinction, but they occur in a variety of ways and are usually envisioned ahead and then their interpretation grows afterwards.

I object to simply dismissing a portion of scripture. You have accomplished nothing of value, I believe, by unhitching the New Testament from the Old, first because they are connected by much more than a hitch. There is an earth-shattering change with the incarnation, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, but this takes place in the midst of a growing understanding of God and his actions in the Hebrew Scriptures, and we struggle to understand this completely millenia later.

As an example, many—I suspect the vast majority—of those who heard Jesus may have been surprised by his attitude toward the gentiles, and may have similarly been concerned by the church’s mission to the gentiles. Indeed, the gospels and Acts record that many were. But Isaiah (2nd/3rd Isaiah, 40-66) would not have been so shocked. One may point to differences, yet I think Jesus appears no more radical in his look at the law than Isaiah 56. So if the audience was shocked, they were missing some of the lead-up story. I think they may have been less shocked than modern people imagine. There were many viewpoints in Judaism at the time.

And if Isaiah 56 wasn’t radical enough, then perhaps Ruth or Jonah would take the place of radical scripture. Or, if we really wanted to get down to it, we might note Genesis 12:3, Genesis 17:5 (from Abram’s call and covenant).

There are certainly things that are hard to deal with in the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament. There are also some of those in the New. My problem with a dismissive solution, broadly stated, is that the texts are still there. God has been working with people for a very long time and people have been interpreting God’s actions for a very long time.

So let’s disagree, critique, and grow. A bit of love and generosity would be good as we do so.

(Featured Image Credit: OpenClipart.org.)

Spectrums: Liberal to Conservative Is not Enough

Spectrums: Liberal to Conservative Is not Enough

nt church booksLast weekend Dave Black was our guest here in Pensacola. I recorded some videos for promotional and educational purposes and Dave also preached and talked about missions (with plenty of pictures) at Chumuckla Community Church. I will be posting some of these videos soon, but they are not quite ready yet.

Dave is a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m a United Methodist with the dreaded ‘L’ word in my blog tagline (“Thoughts on biblical studies, religion, and living from a passionate moderate, liberal charismatic Christian”). Obviously this is some sort of liberal-conservative dialogue.

Not really. I’ve written recently about dialogue and why, as a publisher, I publish books from a variety of perspectives. In a video I produced in the early days of Energion Publications I used a triangle, with the points being charismatic, liberal, and evangelical. I would note that for this to work now it should be “conservative evangelical” as the label “evangelical seems to have lost some cohesion. This will happen to words, especially those that are perceived as positive labels.

But even those three points fail to catch some of the issues, and there’s a bit of a tendency to think of Christians grouped at the points of the triangle. One of the reasons many have trouble with labels is that people don’t fit into the center of the semantic range of a label. In addition, on different issues one may take different positions. I have political views on some subjects that seem very conservative, while on others I seem quite liberal. Similarly on theological issues I don’t try to fit all in one camp.

There are two points (I think!) in all this rambling. The first is that we don’t fit cleanly into one label on all issues. The second is that we may be able to connect with people in other camps on particular issues. In all cases (should this be #3?) this should suggest options for learning from one another.

For example, when many charismatics talk about modern revelation they use theological arguments that are also commonly expressed by liberal or progressive theologians. Not a few of those I’ve talked to want to deny any connection, but behavior and practice tell a different story. There is some theology to be learned here! Similarly many charismatics should—and do—learn biblical studies from their evangelical brethren.

Many liberals or progressives, on the other hand, don’t want to be linked to charismatics because of emotionalism or other extremes. Yet too frequently progressive biblical reflection tends to be more a matter of challenging the conclusions of evangelicals rather than developing a robust theology and application of scripture. Yes, this can be a stereotype. I have several authors in the Energion Publications list, such as Dr. Bob Cornwall, Dr. Bruce Epperly, and Dr. Drew Smith, none of whom fit the picture. And there are many more like them.

9781631990465mOne of the interviews I conduced with Dave was about his book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Dave goes back to the book of Acts for keys to how the church should behave now, in the 21st century. And this brings up a very different spectrum: church structure.

We could make a spectrum that runs not from conservative to liberal, but from strongly hierarchical to mutually submissive, from high church to low, from central control to local. Similarly we might look for a spectrum of views on who is in charge of the church, how much, and in what way. That could run from Jesus in charge directly to a highly hierarchical view of how the lordship of Jesus is implemented in the life of the church. None of these would exclude people from any liberal-conservative, charismatic-evangelical, or any similar ideological spectrum.

My plan is that as soon as I’ve posted my interview with Dave on his Seven Marks book, I’m going to start blogging through the Marks. As I do so, I’m going to bring in points from some other authors, such as Bruce Epperly, whose book Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel also goes back to Acts to ask what we can do in the church today. Beside both of those I’m going to reference the book Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations by Dr. Ruth Fletcher. There are definite differences of approach in these books, but there are also many points of contact.

So I’m going to ask two questions in my series:

  1. Can we find a way to apply these seven marks in other theological and ecclesiological traditions? (I fully believe we can, though there are places where our ecclesiology needs to change, and that’s a good thing!)
  2. More specifically, how can a United Methodist congregation look back to the New Testament and so become a more authentic witness for Jesus in the world today? There are those who would say many of these ideas are not possible under denominational rules, but I wonder. How much would a simple commitment to being “servant of all” on the part of those at the top of the organizational chart might change the reality without altering the paperwork?

So watch here over the next week. I’ll post the video and then begin the discussion. I hope I can find some people to discuss this with me vigorously. My comment policy is largely open. If you don’t threaten the family friendly nature of the blog, you can express yourself.

 

Follow-Up to According to John: No One Has Ascended into Heaven

Follow-Up to According to John: No One Has Ascended into Heaven

I want to follow up a bit on the study last night. I’ll embed the YouTube below for those who want to view this study after the fact. A few things occurred to me since the study.

  1. Meditations on According to JohnI’m really spending a great deal of time on the use of stories and of metaphors in discussing theology. I’m convinced that we don’t recognize the metaphors we’re using often enough. For example, it’s worthwhile to note that most discussion of substitution occurs inside the metaphor of the courtroom. It’s then important to recognize when a discussion, whether current or in scripture, occurs within another metaphor. John 3:16 occurs in a different metaphor, or perhaps more than one, and it comes after John has evoked the story of the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). In that story, the key line is “look and live.”
  2. It’s very important to distinguish “light” as John uses it from our 20th/21st century use of that metaphor. Yes, that word is another metaphor. Jesus did not claim that he as going to provide physical light to the whole world. The modern tendency is to think of light as information and enlightenment as the reception of information. For John, and for Jesus as represented in this gospel, light is more closely connected to life. To mix the metaphors, you look up at the light as he is lifted up and you live. The healing of the blind man in John 9 links closely to this metaphor. There is light and the ability to see light.
  3. Metaphors allow us to talk about the same general subject from different perspectives. Thus one can talk about atonement using the metaphor of the battlefield, the courtroom, and the family/community without being contradictory. I would suggest that one shouldn’t mix these metaphors, at least without being very aware of what one is doing and doing so carefully.
  4. I had an excellent audience question, and this time one that wasn’t in my notes as something I might discuss. Just what was John doing? Jesus speaks so differently from the way he does in the synoptic gospels. Why? It’s a good question, and I went the right direction as I started to answer it. Overnight it occurred to me, however, that the synoptic gospels also had in mind building community. They were just more tied to an existing sayings tradition in doing so. The change, in my view, is one of emphasis. The particular kind of community building involved is one of defining oneself. What is it that we believe as a group that makes us a spiritual/religious community? There is a danger here in following the example of the community reflected in According to John. They are distinguishing themselves from the Jewish community, of which they had previously been members. Who are we apart from being Jews who believe in Jesus? We have to avoid following this line of reasoning to anti-semitism, as Dr. Weiss points out. In addition, however, we need to avoid community building that is done over-against others. There is a certain amount of “and you’re not” when one defines a community. But we need to avoid defining ourselves in a way that reflects negatively on others. The community in John had good reason—they were a persecuted minority. We have less reason.
  5. I’m very glad for Dr. Herold Weiss as a guide in this study. I’m assuming those who are joining me are reading his essays. He’s much more to the point. I’m adding a good deal of discussion of the nuts and bolts to help people think about their own theology, or at least I hope it helps. This can get boring, but sometimes wading through the nuts and bolts (intentional mixed metaphor!) is precisely what we need to do.

And here is the YouTube embed for those who may have missed it:

Link: Is the Trinity Biblical?

Link: Is the Trinity Biblical?

In my study of John last night I referred people to a post by Michael F. Bird, author of the book Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. I have been using his book as one of my theological references for the study. He responded to a review in which he discussed some of the same issues I’ve discussed. I promised a link last night, and here it is.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the trinity expresses a combination of various biblical materials and the experience of the early church in language that is demonstrably not in the Bible. I don’t see this as a problem. In general, when we write doctrinal statements of any sort, they reflect a combination of the way we read scripture, our traditions, our personal and collective experience, and of course the function of our reason. I perceive myself as seeing the connection as looser than Bird asserts, so I’m certainly willing to defend him from critics who say he hasn’t claimed enough. On the other hand, he may have claimed too much, and in this case, perhaps more than needs to be claimed.

Nonetheless his book is fun. Note also that the subtitle illustrates the point I was making. I tend to think that the more systematic our theology gets, the less biblical it is. Being both systematic and biblical seems to me almost a contradiction in terms. The Bible is not systematic. But that’s part of the fun of my current study!

Theologian Pastors

Theologian Pastors

Mostly, this is a link to Allan Bevere’s post, which builds on Michael Bird’s post.

I’m one of those parishioners who would like to hear more sermons from well-educated theologians. Even if the circumstances are different (see comments to Allan’s post), I, like John Wesley, have but a lowly MA.

But there are several things that will need to happen for this to work.

First, we will need to redefine the role of a pastor in the minds of the people in the pews. For them, preaching is less than an hour of their pastor’s work during the week. Sure, if you pin them down on the subject, they’ll admit there must be preparation time, but it’s still only a minor thing. They want to see the pastor visiting, administering the church, attending all the committees, being around for social occasions, and in some churches doing part of the maintenance work. Face it, to most of the people in the pews, theology just isn’t work.

Second, we need to learn to have the whole church do pastoral work. A nation of priests sounds alright until we need to put it into action. There are people in every church who are called to do pastoral work, such as visiting the sick and shut-ins, helping with various ministries to those in need, and so forth. There are others gifted for administration. If the work was divided between the gifted, perhaps there would be more time. Then we could have a pastor who was primarily teacher or “resident theologian.”

Third, if we get the daily non-theological work (or the theology in practice, perhaps) taken care of, we need to convince the people of the church that a theologian is a worthwhile investment. I think it would be. In fact, it is one of the few staff positions I see as necessary. In many cases, a group of churches should band together and hire a resident theologian. Then the leadership of those churches could go study with that individual, and in turn teach their congregations. The theologian, of course, should also spend time with everyone.

Fourth, if we are to reduce the separation of the academy from the church, perhaps the academy itself needs to be distributed more. Modern technology might be able to help with this, and I don’t mean largely by distance learning in this case. I mean by theologians, resident or not, giving classes in various areas that would be tracked for credit. In other words, one’s academic degree would not be accomplished entirely in the academy, and one’s academic career could not be spent entirely in the ivory tower.

I’m probably leaving dozens of problems out of this discussion, but since I don’t see us getting past my points 1 & 2, I guess that’s enough!

 

Defining Christian

Defining Christian

Adrian Warnock recently wrote a post on defining what is a Christian. I commented on that post, and largely had no problem with it. I’m looking forward to Adrian’s definition of an evangelical. Now Dave Warnock (no relation that I know of) has written a post critical of Adrian’s effort. Since I usually agree with Dave as opposed to Adrian (I’m a regular reader of both blogs), I paid close attention to Dave’s thoughts.

I may be wrong, but I originally read Adrian’s post from the point of view of making a personal decision. For example, when I say that I’m looking for a Christian church in my neighborhood, what do I mean? Does that include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Oneness Pentecostals? If I’m referring someone to a church for fellowship, what exactly do I mean? That personal definition is, for me, not the same as a theological definition, nor is it equivalent to saying who is saved or not (which I leave entirely to God), nor is it saying which congregation contains the better people. It’s a definition of common ground for the purpose of fellowship as a community of faith. For that, when I look for a church to join, it would be limited to those who can say the Apostles’ Creed without crossing their fingers. I know that sounds rather flip, and my theologian friends won’t like it that much, but it’s a pretty accurate description of what goes on in my mind.

I want to emphasize that I do not regard this as a condemnation of all those churches that might not fit the definition. I’m not going to join them, but that’s my decision based on the nature of my faith. I can handle lots of variation within that broader context.

In dialogue, I use a broader definition, one that also doesn’t precisely match the theological definitions Dave quotes. I simply accept as Christian everyone who claims the name “Christian.” I might not be able to handle the theology of their church community as a member, but I accept that it is not my place to decide what they are. They have to accept or reject the labels. That’s a completely different context from the first. I will (and have) explain those two viewpoints in such a dialogue, as well.

I may have misconstrued Adrian’s intent. I intended to answer the question of just what it meant to me to label myself Christian. That’s the first context. That’s how I answered the question. So having worked it through a couple of paragraphs, I’m sticking with my original response.

The third sense, a definition of Christian used in theology (a necessary effort, for example, when doing theology, is obviously a necessary activity if one is to discuss theology. But that is where I point out that I’m not a theologian in the professional sense of the word.