Thursday, September 28, 2006

Camp Orthodoxy

My friend Steve has been hosting a good conversation lately on his blog "Theological Musings". The topic: orthodoxy. I don't want to repeat what has already been said there, but I do encourage you to read the posts and comments from "Why Such A Short List", "But What About Those Mormons?", "Orthodoxy: Starting A New Thread", and "Thoughts On Sound Doctrine". (Wow! That sure is alot of "required reading" for my post huh?...but well worth it!) What I would like to do here is expand on/respond to the previously mentioned posts in a little more depth than I can go into in the comments section of "Theological Musings".

There seems to be a reoccurring theme that runs throughout the history of God's people. That theme? Camping! Now what do I mean by camping? What I am referring to is the process of receiving something from God as revelation and then camping on or stopping at that revelation. As far back as the time of Moses, we find God's people receiving His provision and then desiring to stay in that moment where they "met God". The children of Israel were led by God in the desert for some time before Moses sent spies into the promised land to see how they would go in and possess it. Notice that Moses did not send the spies to see if they would possess it, but how. The result of this expedition? The children of Israel determined that what God was calling them to do was too hard, and they became satisfied to just remain in the place that they believed to be "safe".

The Pharisees are another example of a group of people who were caught holding on to stale bread that had once been "manna from heaven". (Rabbit trail: Isn't it interesting that God instructed the Israelites that they were to only use the manna for one day before it rotted? Was God setting a precedent here that yesterday's sufficiency can become today's corruption?) The Pharisees were quick to point out the Law of Moses (which was at that time the "word of God") to Jesus in order to correct Him or condemn Him of sin. Jesus, contrary to the ideas of many an evangelical, actually superceded the "word of God" though by, for all intents and purposes, saying that some things that Moses said no longer applied. One such case was that of divorce. The Pharisees used a quote from the Torah to prove to Jesus that it was acceptable to divorce as long as one followed the Mosaic command of providing a certificate thereof. Jesus, however, superceded the Law of Moses by saying, "Moses gave you this command because of the hardness of your heart, but from the beginning it has not been so." In other words, "There was a time when this was true, but a new day has dawned, and now there is a higher standard; the standard of love."

We find Jesus doing this kind of thing alot. He really seems to like the phrase, "you have heard it said...but, I say unto you." I believe that Jesus is trying to show us something very important. "And what would that be", you ask? Maybe that revelation is more dynamic and less static. Maybe that our theology should be less about the head, and more about the heart. Maybe that God just doesn't like the box that we have built for Him? Sound dangerous? It just might be:)

I think that the author of Hebrews give us some interesting insight into the nature of God's revelation:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV

Notice the progression. At one time, God, in a limited way, revealed Himself through the words and writings of people. But now, God has chosen a living Person by which to reveal Himself. Hmmmm. In other words, simply a record of good rules and regulations was not enough. In order for God to completely reveal Himself, He had to transcend doctrinal statements, prophets and spokespersons, and even the writings of the Old Testament, and instead, simply live among us as the revelation. Now, this idea by itself is awesome! So, understandibly, once again, this is where many people decide to set up camp. "Brother, we have the Bible to show us how God revealed Himself in Jesus. That's all we need." Contrary to popular belief though, this is still not enough! It's not just about how God revealed Himself in Jesus, but how He is now revealing Christ in us! Paul said:

it pleased reveal His Son in me
Galatians 1:15-16 NKJV

Written revelation is wonderful, but it has it's limits. Words can only go so far in explaining who God is. Words can only go so far in grasping the riches of His grace. It seems to me that our theology must be impacted by living fellowship with the Son, and not only by a book. I love the Bible. I thank God for the Bible, but the Bible is only the record of the Word of God, not the Word itself. That title belongs to Jesus alone. The Bible was simply meant to point us to the Word of God, which is Jesus. Our understanding of God must come from our encounter with the Living Word, not only from the record thereof.

Now, how does this tie into the question of orthodoxy? I think that when it comes to the idea of orthodoxy, we need to take care not to put God "in a box". If God has now chosen to reveal Himself in Jesus and continues to do so through us, then we must be careful that we don't try to convey the idea that creedal or doctrinal statements can contain this revelation. If the record of the Bible itself is not sufficient to completely grasp the revelation of God, what makes us think that a confession or creed can? I do understand that there are certain essential beliefs that one must embrace in order to consider themselves a member of the Body of Christ, but I believe that sound doctrine cannot be contained simply in the mind. Following Jesus, at the heart, is not about knowing the right doctrinal verbage or having a polished theology as much as it is about daily living in Christ, and allowing God to reveal the Son to me and in me. My question is this; by nailing down our entire belief system in something such as a creed, are we becoming static and stagnant, and therefore, in the name of truth, closing ourselves off from any further revelation that God might want to give us? Are we drawing a line in the sand that even God Himself cannot cross? I sure hope not. Hmmmmm?!?!?!? Maybe we need to stop camping on the "truth", and instead start walking with the One who is the Truth. What do you think?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quantifiable Christianity

It seems that the modernistic world we live in is in love with measurements. Of course we all have measuring cups in our kitchens for measuring ingredients, measuring tapes in our toolboxes for measuring walls and spaces, and odometers on our vehicles for measuring the miles that we travel. But, it just can't stop there can it? No, it seems that our rational minds just have to dominate every area of our lives. We have IQ tests to measure how "smart" we are, travel services to measure (in stars) how comfortable a particular hotel is, and even letter and number grades to measure the cleanliness of our restaurants. But, once again, it just can't stop there. We need Food Network competitions to decide whose dessert is the "best", just as we need Randy, Paula, and Simon to tell us whose voice is the most pleasing to the ear. Can everything be so neatly compared and tightly packaged?

My wife and I just got back from our 10th anniversary vacation in which we went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. While there, we purchased a little book called "Best Easy Day Hikes--Rocky Mountain National Park" by Kent & Donna Dannen that that gave us some tips on good places to hike within the park. In the front of the book was a section that we both found humorous entitled "About the Cranky Authors". Here is an excerpt:

"For a quarter century, guidebooks by Kent and Donna Dannen have been the standard reference for the trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. Therfore, many reviewers of their trail guides have accused the Dannens of being "experts". This accusation offends the Dannens, who maintain that experts should never write guidebooks. For example, experts write user guides for VCRs, fax machines, and computers. Experts lack ignorance and, therefore, lack the perspective of the ignorant, which is essential to explain anything. Because experts really do know all the answers, they have no clue about the questions. Guides written by experts are understood only by other experts, who rarely read them because they do not need to."

Wow! I could hardly have said it better. This reminds me of conversations that I have had with computer techies in which I was led to feel pretty stupid. In this age of experts, of professionals measuring and quantifying everything for the rest of us, little creedance is given to someone actually experiencing something for themselves. Instead, we prefer to have someone else pre-process any kind of abstract knowledge for us and then deliver it back to us in chunks of steadfast, absolute, and pre-measured answers.

While I believe that these prepackaged measurements can sometimes be detrimental when measuring things like music and food, I think that they can be downright dangerous when used in reference to our relationship with God. I, for one, am growing tired of things like systematic theologies and creedal statements being used to determine who's "in" and who's "out". Many times I have had a good conversation with someone about the things of the Spirit interrupted by the question "And where do you go to church?", or "What do you think about ________?". As a matter of fact, this very thing happened to me twice today. As many of you know, I work at a Christian bookstore. Just today, I was helping a customer find a Bible. He was wanting some information on various translations, so I began to tell him about some of the differences and tried to help him find one that would be beneficial to him. About half-way through our conversation, he just had to ask, "What denomination are you?"...Why??????...What does it matter???? Well, best I can tell, this was the measuring rod to determine whether or not it was "safe" to continue listening to what I had to say.

One area that I have struggled with myself, is the way in which we, as believers in Jesus, seem to measure our spirituality or the validity of our walk with God. The daily "quiet time" is a perfect example. A "good" Christian reads the Bible at least once every day and spends time everyday in "prayer". What this has boiled down to for me is feeling okay about myself on days in which I read one chapter of the Bible and prayed through certain mental checklists, and feeling that I was displeasing to God on days when I failed to do so. This is a Scripture that I have not been able to shake for a long time though:

"When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don't be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!"
Matthew 6:7-8 New Living Translation

That sure doesn't sound like the ritual that I have become oh so familiar with. What is prayer anyway? Is it a time or times throughout the day when I stop to talk to God, or is it the very atmosphere I live in as I continually walk (even into the bathroom) with God?

It seems like the reason we like formulas and rituals is because they are so easy to measure. It's more quantifiable to "spend time with God" than it is to embrace Christ as your very life. It's easier to measure your time in the written word than it is to measure your life as influenced and impacted by the Living Word (Jesus). It's more appealing to the flesh to go to the "house of God" than to actually be the house in which He dwells.

I think that the main reason we seek to measure our spirituality is because of a lack of security in our idenitity in Christ. If Christ really is my identity, then I don't need to rely on religious rituals to make me feel "safe". I know that I am safe because of His finished work as well as knowing that I am in Christ, and Christ is in me.

I, myself, used to feel like I had all of the answers. Now I feel like I have many more questions than answers. I am beginning to embrace "the perspective of the ignorant" which truly does seem "essential to explain anything." It seems that only when we know what the questions are can we begin to uncover an answer. What do you think?