Thursday, January 17, 2013

What is Thinking Biblically? No, Seriously, What Is It?

"If you listen well, you can find the honest questions. If you don't listen well, you will only hear what you have answers for."

I don't have all the answers. If there's one thing that I've learned well it's that. The more I learn, the more I see just how much more I have to learn. I don't say that with some weird, false humility either, I say that because it can seem incredibly overwhelming to me sometimes. Ideally, the process of maturation is slow and steady. It's like raising children. You don't tell them everything there is to know about life right away. Difficult concepts should be unpacked in stages. Sex, for instance. Just because they ask where babies come from doesn't mean they need to know the ins and outs of sex any time soon. You give them what they can handle a little at a time and pray that you don't royally mess them up.

I'm trying to become more systematic in how I approach learning, organizing and building off of what I already know while acknowledging that the process is dynamic. I'm not saying truth changes, but our perspectives certainly can change. This can be both wonderful and terrifying. It requires a commitment to prayer and faith in a living God. It's easy to look at the early followers of Jesus and think if only we had the opportunity to walk with those that had been physically present with Jesus. Would it have been easier though? The teachings of the early church radically changed things. There must have been some seriously difficult conversations taking place between friends and family members. Do we follow or not follow? Is this truly the one we've been waiting for? The Jews were waiting for a Messiah that would deliver them, but this wasn't quite the deliverance they hoped for. Can you imagine grappling with the theological implications of a crucified and risen Lord? They didn't have New Testament explanations that we have but had to wrestle with what was written of Him from what we know as the Old Testament. How many of us would have had the faith to cling to Jesus instead of our system?

Where does that leave us now after a couple thousand years of trying to figure out God? Of thinking "biblically?" I know very godly people who come to very different conclusions on various passages of Scripture. So which is the proper biblical interpretation and how do we know? From what I've seen, people come to different conclusions not based on who is "being biblical" but based on their denominational framework. Baptists come to Baptisty conclusions, Anglicans come to Anglican-ish conclusions, and Presbyterians come to Presby conclusions. The theology they start with shapes where they end up. If you're a Calvinist, you look through that lens, Arminians through Arminianism. Not to mention all the other "isms" that we build. It seems to me that there should always be some sort of tension in this, however, because no denomination can possibly get everything right. Right? So, shouldn't we be having a whole lot of honest conversations within whatever framework we find ourselves and not settle for prepackaged answers? Why is that so scary? What are the benefits and detriments of forming our faith communities based on our particular system of belief instead of our common love of Jesus? Is there a difference between dogma and doctrine? Is there a difference between strong faith and strong doctrinal stances and can either of them stand alone? How can we cultivate a culture of learning that casts out fear and leads us into loving God with all our heart, soul and strength?

Can we drink from the deep wells of the mystery of God and trust Jesus above the systems while finding safe places to ask questions and be vulnerable in the fellowship of not having all the answers?

I don't know.

God help us spur each other on to know You and make You known. God help us to have a theology of weakness, where we look at the cross, and not our agenda, as our model. God help us live what we claim to believe. God help us be good listeners, seeking out where You are moving, and be faithful interpreters of your work in our world.

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