Thursday, April 15, 2004

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of questioning lately. I’m feeling like a skeptic. Maybe part of the problem is Christians are often bombarded by messages (usually from other Christians) that tell us that “real” Christians don’t question. Real Christians don’t need to question because our faith should resolve all those nagging issues. What does that say about my faith?

I stumbled across an interesting blog today from the Vineyard Community in West Palm Beach, Florida. I read an article called "
Good Theology Matters.
" The author, Mike Bishop, makes an interesting argument. Here are a couple of his thoughts:

“So much of the theology around seems to be generated in order to defend pre-determined ideas about who is right and who is wrong or what's offensive or not offensive. Theology that simply protests another group's ideas is simply an argument - not theology. If we're constantly having to defend our theology against competing groups, then possibly the issue is pride, not determining "the truth". On the other hand, theology that simply warms the heart will leave the rest of your body and life untouched. Ideas about God are worthless unless they cost something or cause you to lose sleep at night.”

“Theology is really about how you practice life in light of God. The only way your theology can be meaningful to others is if it actually makes sense with the way you practice life and if that way of life is worth pursuing.”

One of the common themes in the postmodern church movement is a need to create space for ordinary people to “do” theology. I think ordinary people usually think of THEOLOGY (imagine a grizzled, gray haired, bearded professor saying, “THEOLOGY”) as the dominion of academics. For most United Methodists, how many of us really know what the official theology of the church is? How many of us actually own a copy of the Book of Discipline (I don’t)?

Bishop goes on to talk about the idea of faith. He quotes N.T. Wright (a renowned Biblical scholar) as pointing out that Jews don’t see Judaism as faith. They see it as a halakah, a way, or a “life-path”. That makes sense to me. It ties back to Borg’s critique of conservative Christianity as primarily a belief system rather than a way of life. Maybe a part of the “way” of being Christian is to question? It seems to me that Christianity would be more powerful if it showed the world a way of life, rather than primarily a peculiar belief system.

This reminds me of the dc Talk song, "What if I Stumble." The song begins with some guy saying (not an exact quote) "The biggest cause of atheism in the world is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny him with their actions." But I think the issue goes well beyond hypocrisy. I think the problem is that Christianity in America doesn’t really tell us powerfully what it means to be a Christian. When you think about the images you get from the media about what it means to be Christian, it’s not particularly compelling. You see people who picket abortion clinics and behave like monsters, people who feel strongly about praying before high school football games, people who care deeply about the sexual practices of homosexuals, and people who refuse to watch R-rated TV and movies, unless of course they’re bloody, violent movies about Jesus. Really, what do any of those things tell us about being Christian?

In the Methodist Church, I think we could do a better job helping us ordinary people understand how our social mission relates to our theology. But, when you think about attracting “unchurched” people, I’m not sure we have a good story to tell them. Why should they show up to our little church in Aloha when they could stay home and watch football? I’m not sure that churches with “gen-x” worship services really do much better – they just have a product that’s more entertaining (and louder?) than what’s on TV. But how do we convince people that being a Christian can change your life? That the Christian halakah is different?

Back to the Vineyard Community in Florida. Their "About Us" section talks about a way of “doing” church that really appeals to me. Basically they have quasi-organized gatherings where people walking the same path get together. That might involve singing, prayer, bible study, or just watching their kids running around. It is about connections with people trying to walk the same path and being in community. It sounds fantastic and maybe a little revolutionary. I’m not saying that we need to get rid of Sunday worship, but what if the UMC really focused on creating communities of faith? We talk about it, but most of the people in our church only see each other on Sunday for the most part. How can we create a sustaining, comforting, and nurturing community that is focused on living a Christian life? One of the things they talk about is that Church doesn’t have to happen at the church. Church can happen anytime Christians get together. That’s a powerful idea!

So I decided to check out the national Vineyard USA website. I checked out their statement of faith, and sure enough they’re biblical literalists (and believe in its inerrancy). Using their church-finder, I found a Vineyard community in Hillsboro. Sure enough, they’re biblical literalists too. I found my enthusiasm fading quickly. Right now I’m having trouble taking seriously anyone who believes the inspired/inerrant/literal school of thought. I find it to be an absolutely untenable position. Am I taking this too seriously? I wasn’t about the jump off the Methodist ship so to speak, but I found the Vineyard ideas interesting. I guess they can still be interesting even if we differ on some big theological issues.

Getting back to the theology issue – I think biblical literalism/inerrancy is a question of “truth” and how we live (to reference the quote above). I think it speaks to the relevancy of the Bible in modern times and our philosophical approach to Christianity. I really don’t think it is an unimportant issue. An interesting side note, in one of the articles I posted the link to yesterday, they discuss the issue of Christian “essentials” versus “non-essentials” (I think that was the terminology they used). They point out that nowhere in the Bible does it talk about essentials versus non-essentials. I think their point being it’s all essential.

I’ve written too much today. Gotta stop.



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