Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Response to an Evangelical Reject

                As I am wont to do, I spend time every week reading and studying theological and biblical discourse and debate wherever they might be on the interwebs.   This is for three key reasons: 

 1) As a Pastor I feel it is a duty to be familiar and knowledgeable on what is out there in the “atmosphere” of Christian and religious thought so that I can better interact with the issues that the people I have been entrusted to lead are thinking about and dealing with.  

2)  There are many resources out there, papers, articles, sermons, etc, that serve to encourage, educate, and challenge me in my own walk in a way that is an enhancement to my own ministry.  

3) I seek to be regularly challenged in my own thought process and my ability to articulate my position wisely and effectively through the reading (and sometimes interaction) with viewpoints that often stand in stark contrast to my own.

                A blogger that I often read is Kurt Willems.  He generally falls into the third category for me.  This does not mean I do not consider him a fellow brother in Christ, I just have some strong disagreements on many secondary theological issues that he articulates.  I have, at times, responded to some of his articles on his actual blog.  What recently caught my eye was a recent posting of his labeled “You Might be an Evangelical Reject if…”  http://www.thepangeablog.com/2011/06/06/you-might-be-an-evangelical-reject-if/  I have a number of objections to his list, and instead of trying to just briefly respond on his page in the comments section I believe a longer response would be more respectful then just a drive by commenting.

                So, without further adieu, I present my point by point response/questions for Kurt(or for anyone who would find themselves in agreement with his points).

Point 1: You’re uncomfortable calling other branches of Christianity “apostate.”
                Are there examples in the mainstream of evangelical culture that you have observed that leads you to believe that the reverse is true?  Namely, they are comfortable, or, actually enjoy, calling “apostate” upon other denominations and churches.  

                I would contend that no one is ever “comfortable” making that sort of statement.   BUT, if there is a biblical justification for it you cannot allow comfort to dictate the speaking of truth.  As church leaders we have a responsibility to protect our flock from “wolves in sheeps clothing”.  There are ABSOLUTELY churches and denominations I would counsel my church members from attending if they were moving away (or going to college for the first time).  I would never take that approach with any sort of “because we’re better” approach. 

                 When these questions and situations have arisen my approach has been to look with that individual at key positional and doctrinal statements made by the particular organization in contrast to clear biblical instruction and teaching.   For illustrative purposes, I am sure Kurt would strongly encourage a friend or church member to avoid association and support of the Westboro Baptist folks.

                 Arguably, where Kurt or I would draw a line in the sand concerning who we would consider “apostate” is slightly different, but that is ok, those are good and informative debates to have.  But bottom line, at some pressure point, those of us in leadership roles have a responsibility to those who look to us for leadership to clearly teach and instruct where apostasy is concerned. 

Point 2:  You worry that those who cling to terms like orthodoxoften do so because they believe it to be synonymous with Neo-Calvinism.”

                I have found that the vast majority of the people who I have taught and discipled over the last decade are very unconcerned(and often unknowledgeable) about these terms.  The greatest focus is on biblical knowledge, and when confusion arises about something scripturally, the wise and dependable counsel of the history of God’s work and leadership in His Church (capital C used deliberately) is a powerful and important resource.

                I guess we could define that as “orthodox”.  But people do not naturally understand it in a way that automatically comes with baggage.  Which using any sort of term that is abused and misused can do.  The concept of apostolic leadership in the church is a very important leadership structure in maintaining biblical and spiritual consistency and protecting from heresy.  Meaning, it should be a red flag to me if I “come up” with some new biblical epiphany and discover that it is an issue that had been discussed and dealt with by the Church in the past and my idea had been found greatly wanting.   

                The Church is rife contemporarily, and historically, with people who have tried to reinvent Christianity in their own image.  Nearly every time it has been created and developed far outside of the consistency of the Church throughout history.  And every time these “new” churches eventually leave the fold completely(Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, the Gnostics, etc).  

                While not a direct response to Kurt’s second point, whether or not some people use “orthodox” as a way to defend their “neo-calvinistic” position, do not be so quick to judge peoples intentions when they use that term.  What they mean when they say “orthodox” may be much different than you are supposing.  Also, personally, as a Calmenian myself, I fully recognize and rest in the reality that the church existed for 1500+ years without the terms or schools of thought “Armenian” or “Calvinism” so I am not too overly concerned with either one, and rarely have the people I lead been either.

Point 3: You have significant questions about controversial theological “hot button” issues of the days and are some-what comfortable with the subsequent cognitive dissonance.

                How does this make you an ER?  Again, what you mean when you say something might mean something different than what I mean.  What would Kurt define as hot button issues.  If he was questioning whether or not Jesus died for our sins and through His redemptive work we can have new life, of course I would question where he stands!  So again, what are these hot button issues that you are actually referring to?

Point 4:  You’ve been asked to leave a church leadership position for philosophical / theological reasons.  

                Philosophical purity for ministry is very essential for the effectiveness of a church.  Study the world at large to see how not sticking with your key operating principles negatively effects your overall effectiveness(Coke changing formula, Pepsi focusing on non-soda related business)  Without knowing the details of why someone was asked to leave I can only generically say, you cannot have a church operating successfully if the Senior Pastor is saying “this” is what we focus on and “this” is how we do it, and have a key leader or staff person plainly contradicting that position.

                It does not mean that one view is elevated or “better” than the other.  It simply means we have to all be on the same team and be about the same thing.   If you are running a three legged race you have to be aligned, or you will fall.  If you do not align with the philosophical approaches to how your particular church does ministry, it is not a moral issue, just go to where your gifts are better used for the kingdom.

                As far as theological issues, same thing goes.  YOU CANNOT CONTRADICT PUBLICALLY YOUR PASTOR.  A senior Pastor is called by God to be the leader of that community.  Outside of clear sin and heresy we are called to humbly submit to the authority of those that God has called and appointed as the leader.  There is no qualifier in scripture that we should honor our leaders ONLY as long as they are worthy of it.  If you are unable or unwilling to support the biblical teaching and leadership of your pastors, then you should be asked to leave!  It only takes a small amount of yeast…..

                Basically, being asked to step down from a leadership role is not directly due to being an ER, but an issue that is going to be true in any church context where there is a severe disagreement, but again, is not encapsulated by ONLY Evangelical congregations.

Point 5: You had a “love wins” sticker on the back of your car before the book controversy was even thought of.

                Being a Rob Bell fanboy(not meant to be a slur towards Kurt, because I am pretty confident he would not label himself thusly) could be a justifiable concern for a church.  Not necessarily for the “common” laity, but regarding the last point it is a concern for leadership.  As a pastor, if some random church member had that sticker, I would probably want to talk to them about it and come to an understanding of why they had it.  Depending on their answer I would want to talk biblically about why “we” as a church leadership would be in firm disagreement with some of Rob’s positions.  

                If this was a leader in my church, this would be a serious issue because many of Rob’s theological positions are in direct contradiction of many important stands we take as a church.  And if this was something we could not come to a resolution on we would not want that leader leading people anymore. 
Point 6: You read theologians from all across the spectrum.

                I have never heard of any church rejecting someone because they do not ONLY read acceptable literature.  Most of those who I would define as evangelical are some of the most well read theologically speaking people I know.  I am confused by Kurt’s assertion that reading something  outside of the mainstream makes you an ER.  Ironically, just this morning I was having a discussion with our librarian about some “contradictory” theological books to add to our library to show our laity some of the differing viewpoints on end time theology.  So I not very sure how this is an ER statement….

Point 7: You think that science and scripture both reveal God’s truth in complementary ways.

                Maybe I am just an ostrich with my head in the ground…I have never come across any evangelical approach to science that slurs scientific truths and discovery.  Or, at least any mainstream voices that do so.  Again, I am curious as to what Kurt would define as scientific that is being rejected by evangelicalism today.

Point 8: You think that what we believe about the so called end timesactually matters for how we do mission today.

                Agreed….every church I have been a part of feels the same way.  I would like to know what examples of the opposite there are.

Point 9: You know that living the truth is more important than defending it logically.

                Again, agreed!  Even those in the evangelical circles that hyper focus on apologetics would agree with you once you get past the initial conversations.  And if their lives are not reflecting that reality I know of many who in the pursuit of “logical defenses” have been convicted on a personal level to be more active in the practical outliving of the call of the Cross.  

Point 10 : You recognize culture wars as pathetic attempts for Christians to grab for power.

                This is a loaded and totally unpacked statement.  There is without doubt many who have abused the Christian community’s cultural moral concerns as a way of obtaining personal power.  In my hometown, heavily republican district, we had someone running for Congress as a “Christian family man”.  His commercials were all about his morality and values, but if you knew him personally, you knew he was as wicked and sinful as they get with no heart for the Lord, period.  But, he wanted to be in power, and to have political power in our area, you HAD to run as a conservative republican.  Luckily he lost, but it is a good example.

                This does not change the reality that Christians should stand firm for truth in the culture they are a part of.  I know Kurt does.  And just like we have to be careful to not be co-opted by wolves in sheeps clothing politically about “conservative” biblical values, so does Kurt.  There is a litany of evil people who use the honest heartedness of social justice advocates to obtain power while having no real desire to affect the changes the impoverished need.  

                So while Kurts cultural/political positions may fall out of the Religious Right’s purview of power, they are just as abused and used as Trojan Horses for evil men.  

Point 11: You don’t use the word inerrancy to describe biblical authority because its too rigid a definition and a modernist categorical imposition on the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures.  
                Where is it rigid?  I read a number of church belief statements in response to this point to see what they say about scripture and its authority, and across the board, they take a very rich and nuanced view of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Even the word inerrant has a multiplicity of degrees in Evangelical interpretation.  If by me saying I can trust scripture to accurately convey the message of God as He intended me to understand it, I am being too rigid, then I guess we are at a definite impasse.  

                If I read Kurt’s statement in the way I think it is implying, I am highly concerned.  Either the bible is reliable and means what it says it means(with appropriate reflection upon its cultural and historical contexts) or it is not.  If it is not, then what do we stand on?

Point 12: You think women should do anything BUT be silent in the church. (Can I get an AMEN from my sistas?)

                Again, I need this unpacked more.  One, what is Kurts interpretation of verses that DO tell women to be quiet in church.  Two, what is his biblical argumentation for egalitarian vs complementarian positions.  Does Kurt believe there are specific roles that men and women are best suited to in the way that they are image bearers of different parts of God’s image?  

Point 13: You think that postmodern philosophy helps theology more than it hurts it.

                I do not think the prevailing philosophy of any age has any real bearing on theology and its truth.  It just helps to define how we best communicate to a lost world.  Ignoring the realities of an era is a great misstep.  This also means, for me, that postmodernism is a non-issue and does not have a good or bad value.  It just is.  A bit of confusion on how this makes you an ER.

Point 14: You drink alcohol sometimes (in public).

                Who are these strawmen evangelicals that Kurt is referring to.  Mark Driscoll who is the Rob Bell for evangelical fan boys advocates drinking in sermons.  Heck, he advocates drinking high quality beer and considers cheap beer a sin(natty ice anyone???)  I do contend that as a pastor I should avoid drinking in public because I have a greater degree of responsibility to lead those who are struggling by how I live out my faith.  I have alcoholics in my congregation, me drinking at a bar would be a very damaging temptation for them.  So, for their sake, I keep my drinking to sitting alone in dark rooms while crying……which is how we all do it….right???

Point 15: You endorse someone that has been deemed a heretic by apprising.org

                Until this article I had never heard of apprising.org and have discovered some pastors that I like to be negatively presented on this site.  So, I guess Kurt and I are in the same boat.  I did not know, though, that apprising ministries spoke for the evangelical community authoritatively.  

Point 16: You believe that there are significant parallels between the Roman Empire of the 1st Century and the United States of modern day.

                I have been hearing this since Sunday school!!!  Who disagrees with this?  I have led whole bible study plans through this idea multiple times.  Nearly every church that I have ever been a part of has mentioned this at some point.  Who are these strawmen????

Point 17: You believe social justice is central to the gospel of the Kingdom.

                See my response on point 10.  Also, where is the biblical call to social justice, AS IT IS DEFINED IN OUR CULTURE TODAY?!?  

                I agree we have been a pathetic church when it comes to the poor and the downtrodden in America.  But, I see a personal call to the church and individuals to step up their outliving of the Gospel, not a call to force government policies to achieve this goal.  If the church lived the way they were called to, this would not even be an issue.  For me this is a pass the buck issue that obligates others to be forced to do that which we as Christians have been called to do.  Also, as in point 10, the people trumpeting social justice care little for it in reality.  The well intentioned people on the ground level of these issues are simply useful sheep in political machinations that are achieving the opposite of their hearts desires.

                So, for me, I do not think the gospel is CENTERED on social justice.  Social Justice is just a natural outflow of living the gospel.  But that is an important distinction.  It is works for grace vs because of Grace I work.  It might seem a minute chicken or egg difference, but it is a difference that matters to God.  

Point 18: You throw up a little in your mouth every time someone says thatthe rapture is coming soon, so what’s the fuss with taking care of the planet?  Lets save souls!”

                First, I believe God cares more about Kurt then he does about a bird.  Dominion over the planet does come with the command to take care of it.  If I was too watch over your house, and you came home and it was burned to the ground, you would be right to be angry with me.  I could care less about the rapture, but I care infinitely more about souls then the environment.  My time and money is a zero sum game.  I only have 24 hours a day and only have so much money.  If I have to choose between donating to the Sierra Club or supporting a missionary, I’ll pick the missionary.

                The way Kurt phrases this puts environmentalism in direct contrast to the Harold Camping mentalities.  That is unfair.  

Point 19: You’ve said “I’m not that kind of Christian…”

                Anyone who has had an honest conversation with a non-christian has uttered this phrase at least once.  Doesn’t make you an ER.

Point 20: You considered or actually voted democratic in the last two elections.

                Here is a big reveal.  I am a one issue voter.  For me, pro-life is a non-negotiable.  And I do not care what party a person is from.  Before people say that is so stupid…you are ALL ONE ISSUE VOTERS.  Including Kurt.  No matter how much you might like someones policies, or how great they seem, if they also advocated killing mentally retarded people by firing squad, you would not vote for them.  Even if there other policies seemed to actually decrease the number of mentally retarded people being born in the long run, you would still run for the hills.  We all have a pressure point that we will not cross no matter what.  I am sad to hear that Kurt does not draw that line for something like abortion.  That does not mean he has to vote republican.  Just not for someone who supports abortion.

Point 21: You think that African American Activists have valid points when it comes to justice issues.

                What points have they made that evangelicals disagree with?  Who is this strawman???

Point 22: You have gay friends.

                Perhaps this is one of Kurt’s “hot button” issues.   I have had gay friends in my life.  I am totally open to more gay friendships.  They don’t like me.  Believe me, I have never tried to attack them over their lifestyle and sexuality.  But, when the inevitable question comes up about what I think about it(especially when they hear what I do) and I answer them biblically, they are no longer interested in being my friend.  I guess I would have more gay friends if I just took the approach of saying, I am not that kind of Christian….you know…one who believes the bible means what it says……I am one of those Christians who takes my personal emotional response to an issue and works really hard at getting the text to fit my emotional interpretation.  

                Not accusing Kurt of this at all.  I am not actually sure of his position on this issue.  But, I do know that people who are currently unrepentant in their sin do not like being reminded(not that you actively do so, or that you even should) of their sin.

                We had a gentleman visit our church last year.  Lots of sin issues, offered the gospel message, declined.  Avoided us for a year.  Showed up this past Sunday, after a 30 minute conversation prayed to receive Christ.  Bringing his family this coming week to church with him.  We were never mean, condescending or “judgemental” of him.  But he was unwilling to repent of his sin, and knew we were going to challenge him on it.  The Holy Spirit worked on him for a year to bring him to this point.  We have a responsibility to lovingly and correctly speakabout our sin and our need for repentance and the grace of God through the redemptive work.  

                Scripture is clear.  Rejecting sin does not save you, but, if you do not have a repentant heart, or at least a willingness to address and work through God on being free of your sin, it is a huge red flag that you have not truly believed in and accepted Christ!  

                Having a “number” of friends who live in sin does not make you a more biblical Christian or an ER.  It is something we should all make an effort to pursue.  This past week in a bible study with teenagers I had them each list a friend of theirs who does not know the Lord and challenged them to spend time with them this month and build a friendship.  

                But we are cautioned in Psalm 1 to avoid too deep of fellowship with those who are “scoffers” and sinners.  So, if someone would tell me their best friend in the whole world was an unrepentant sinner and “scoffer” of God’s word I would be extremely concerned for them.  I would never say, stop being their friend.  But I would try to help them build more biblically affirming friendships within the body.

Point 23: You’ve been in a conversation where the other was appealing more to the constitution of the USA than actually biblical theology.

                What was the context of this conversation?  If you were debating the powers and scope of government as described by our legal documents of governance…..I guess it would be practical to discuss what the constitution says.  Otherwise you are advocating for ignoring the law to foist your brand of religiosity on the country.  Which is what the religious right has been accused (rightfully) of doing for decades.

Point 24: You’re also an Anabaptist

                Most of the Anabaptist positions would fit well in my evangelical church.  So I am not sure how that makes someone an ER

                Overall, I really like Kurt’s blog.  I do absolutely disagree with him on some issues, but do not consider those issues to be essential doctrines of Christian faith.  But, in this blog, I have found his strawman “attack” on the Evangelical strain of Protestantism to be wholly without merit.  So I found myself inspired to do a point by point critique.  Which you already know if you stuck with me till now…..

                Feel free to comment and critique.  I welcome it.  And do not forget to check out Kurt’s blog, but since he might be listed as heretic by apprising.org, I guess I will not endorse his blog……

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Relationships and God

                Relationships are the fundamental interactions of people that define and shape ourselves and others.  As we are made as image bearers of God Himself, we have innate characteristics that are properly aligned to be understood as “relationship identity”.  God is a triune God, (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and His very character is that of relationally living.  To fully understand God one must undertake the journey to understand all three unique and integral facets of His existence.  The Father divorced from the Holy Spirit, or the Son existing without the Father, are impossibilities, because without those defining relationships being innately in existence you would not have the Father as revealed in scripture.  

                In this same fundamental sense, we cannot understand who we are individually without understanding who we are relationally.   Our Image Bearing of the Divine comes with it the basic tenet that we are indeed shaped and defined by the types of relationships we have, their depth, their length, their quality, their types.  For those who have become parents you recognize that in a very wonderful way you are no longer “just” so-and-so.  You are now the mommy or daddy of someone.  New people that you meet and forge relationships with might initially only know you as the parent of their child’s friend.   It was actually quite a shock to me when I discovered that my parents referred to each other by their first names, and not just “mom” or “dad”! 

                For so many people, we are lost and floundering.  Depression, confusion, loneliness, anger, frustration, fear, are some of the defining words we either feel periodically, or, nearly constantly.  This is because we sense that we are untethered to  the fundamentally necessary aspect of our very existence:  Relationship.  And not just any relationship, but the essential defining relationship that we are ultimately made for.   Relationship with our Creator.  Our Abba Father.  Our greatest need is to restore that relationship to its rightful place.   That is when we will begin to experience life in the way we know that we should.

                Establishing solid footing for your primary (read God) relationship is the most important thing you can do to help you navigate the waters of life.  From a finite perspective of my basic human relationships this is very clearly illustrated.  I would contend that my most important relationship status is that of husband and father.  It is over and above all other relationships:  My job, my parents, my friends, my neighbors, etc.  This in no way is a devaluation of these other relationships; it simply informs how I respond to them and how they are defined.  It gives me a clear “true North” in decision making.   In all situations that I may find myself in I look towards the effects upon my family as a primary guide for the decisions I make. 

                This is all simply laid out to preface a series that I am endeavoring to undertake for the edification of myself and those who I hope to be reading:  “Rightfully Motivated Scripture Study that leads to Rightful Scripture Study”.  How do these preceding statements of relational issues pertain to the study of scriptures?  Fundamentally, because the study of scripture is the study of God in His completeness(at least complete to the degree in which He has chosen to reveal Himself).  

                Like any healthy relationship, the development and sustenance of that relationship is deeply rooted in an ever deepening intimacy in your knowledge of the “other”.  Scripture is not a musty old tome of long past quoted literature, instead, it is correctly understood to be a living and breathing thing that allows us mere mortals to feel the breath of God breathing upon our face on every page.  Therefore, if you were to be in pursuit of deeper relationship with God, you must make yourself available to hear His voice.  I cannot get to know my wife better by never listening to her, or, ignoring her completely.  There must be a daily pursuit of hearing her words and the heart that those words reveal.

                Over the next few weeks I will be addressing what I feel are the fundamental approaches to scripture that we should incorporate into our Christian life.  Devotionally, Interpersonally, Relationally, Studiously, Disciplinelly(sp…?), Consistently, Prayerfully, Outwardly.   Ultimately, if you undertake the journey of growing more confident in your knowledge, intimacy, and depth of your relationship with God through learning to listen to Him better, I trust that you “true North” will solidify itself into your life as a beacon of hope in times of suffering and confusion.