October 17, 2017

One Foot In The Wilderness

boundary-line-webMichael Spencer kept looking over his shoulder. He was willing to express views that were not popular among others of his denomination and he expressed concern that there were individuals out there who were looking for opportunities to “report” him to the administrators at the school where he worked. I got a real sense of this when I started comparing this blog with his sermons. It was if I was reading the writings of two different people. Topics that he wouldn’t touch in his sermons he would raise on Internet Monk. Items like Inerrancy, Youth Earth Creationism, how the church responds to homosexuality, and a host of others.

When I was at seminary I was told a story by my Hebrew and Greek professor  He was known to have some strong views that didn’t exactly define inerrancy in the way that many in the denomination would like.  He was once  at a denominational banquet about to enjoy his dinner, when a stranger sat down across from him.  Without so much as introducing himself, the stranger asked in a belligerent way, “Do you believe in inerrancy?”  My prof had a five second internal debate.  “Do I want to spend the next hour trying to explain the finer points on my beliefs on inerrancy to someone who is not likely to want to listen, or do I enjoy my dinner?”  He chose the latter, looked up at the man, answered “Yes”, and then continued eating.

Perhaps he was mindful of Clark Pinnock who learned his lesson the hard way when he was nearly thrown out of the Evangelical Theological Society for his views on inerrancy and open theism.  Pinnock’s willingness to be open to new ideas has paralleled much of my own spiritual journey and I strongly identify with his comment that:

Not only am I often not listened to, I am also made to feel stranded theologically: being too much of a free thinker to be accepted by the evangelical establishment and too much of a conservative to be accepted by the liberal mainline.

While Clark Pinnock managed to keep his place in the E.T.S., Peter Enns was not so lucky when it came to his employment. His published views on inerrancy resulted in him losing his job. As a side note, I am thankful to Internet Monk for introducing me to the writings of Peter Enns. If you have ever wondered about the question of a historical Adam or the interpretation of Genesis, two more of those touchy topics, his book “Evolution of Adam” is a must read.

Like Michael Spencer, I find myself looking over my shoulder.  I find myself at increasing odds with my church on both theological and philosophical matterd, some of which have been alluded to in this post.  There have been many times when I have wanted to speak my mind on an issue, comment on facebook, or even like a post, but have not done so.  Primarily because I know that doing so will create conflict and hurt feelings within the church, and probably lead to my removal from leadership of my small group.   It is my love and care for those in my small group, and others in the church, that causes me to bite my tongue.  To quote my lovely wife, “being right isn’t necessarily always the most important thing.”  I wonder though if my convictions about various topics will reach the point where I will no longer be able keep quiet.

For now though, I soldier on, but  it seems like I am marching on a finer and finer  line.  One foot in the church, and one foot in the wilderness.

P.S. A quick plug for small groups:  I have noticed a strong correlation in my life between my own spiritual growth and small groups.  If you find yourself disenchanted with church, or perhaps not attending, see if you can find a small group to be part of.  You may find that it makes a world of difference in your spiritual life.

Comments

  1. I second the plug for small groups.

    I’m entirely aware the stuff I blog about would get me canned from certain teaching jobs, or get in the way of being hired by certain schools and churches. But if I didn’t admit them up front, they’d unavoidably become a sticking point in the future. They always do.

    I tell ya though: I’ve been grilled by bosses and pastors, but Internet trolls are way worse.

    • They’re horrible. Name the wrong pony as your favorite, and they turn vicious.

    • I’ll take the internet trolls, thank you very much. They are so much easier to ignore. Having a boss or pastor that grills you (or in my case, both) can make life very miserable very fast.

      I’m not much a fan of small groups either. When I study the Bible, I want to learn. This has proven to be a highly ineffective medium for me, I learn so much better from better sources. If I want to grow close to some Christian brothers, I’d rather gather around food. It’s much more fun.

  2. Dave K eh? says:

    This post really resonated with me, especially this line:

    “I wonder though if my convictions about various topics will reach the point where I will no longer be able keep quiet.”

    I struggle with how to juggle the beliefs that I have with the beliefs that I “should” have. Often I feel very alone as I don’t have many friends who are like minded.

    My wife and I are a part of a small group which has been really nice in many respects. However, the small group study we are doing is called “Wide Angle: Framing Your Worldview” with Chuck Colson and Rick Warren which hasn’t engaged me so far. I can’t wait for it to be over.

    Can anyone recommend a good small group study for someone who already has “one foot in the wilderness”? I’d really like to have some good suggestions for the next time we need to select a study, and I’d like to have some options. Thanks for any suggestions you can provide!

    • Dave K eh? — One possibility might be to look at “Sacred Pathways,” a book about the multiplicity of worship styles throughout the historical church. It lends itself to a group study because it has self-evaluations and clear explanations and is quick and easy to read. It’s also thought-provoking both for those who are uncomfortable in evangelicalism and those who aren’t. I wrote of review of it for iMonk some years ago. Here’s the link: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/im-book-review-sacred-pathways

      • Funny comment about your sharp turn…. not in a small group myself, but this might be my book for 2014. Now where’d I put that Kindle ??

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      My sympathies. I slogged through a study of a Rick Warren book, that was tough going – fortunately it petered out, the group got distracted and took up something else. I had marked up almost entire chapters with – “What is the premise for his conclusion? He leaped!” and “Four pages and he hasn’t actually made a single actionable statement”… it was not pretty.

      Hang in there. Books do end, although some books make you doubt that.

    • Maybe some of NT Wright’s stuff in the “for everyman” series. Your study material is important,staying with the big story of Jesus, but the manner you discuss and shepherd each other even more important. Post what you decide on, I,d be curious to know what you went with.

      • +1. I’m using NT Wright’s “Hebrews for Everyone” right now with the adult SS group I lead. Really loving it. He hit upon a great mix of practical and theological, perfect for the lay-person.

    • Hey, try the BIBLE! Forget other persons’ views and studies, just cover a chapter by chapter, verse by verse study and let the other members of the group view their ideas without judgement. Make it a discussion and you will be surprised with how many others find themselves in the same boat as you. People will LOVE your group because they do not feel threatened nor pressured to hew to a denominational line. You can always say “Now, THIS is the way our denomination sees it, and this is the view we SHOULD hold, BUT…” This is what I do in the Sunday School class I teach and the SS Superintendent tells me that people love my class! He also knows how I stand on certain subjects but appreciates that I generally support the denomination’s line. there IS room for disagreement IF you do it wisely.

    • Suffering And Glory by David Jeremiah

      Topic: Suffering
      Scripture(s): Romans 8:17-18 free on sermon index practical not tainted by imbalanced and prosperity teachings also on that subject different verses
      adrian rogers the dark night of the soul http://www.sermonoutlines.org
      Threshing, and the Lord’s Balance
      by T. Austin-Sparks article onfree on T Austin sparks.com
      and threshing the lords method free on sermonindex.
      all these create a great subject for conversation. unfortunately I asked my pastor should I step down from my job and deal with my health. He said no believe God for healing and a better job. Two weeks later I was crippled and lost pretty much everything for the last several years. I never heard the messages above and I surley never heard the message by A.W. tozer on the voice of conscience. If I had new and understood the above. I may be still somewhat healthy with a home of my own and not bankrupt and devoid of health and retirement. The above all list important issues for Christians but may save a Christian confusion condemnation and give them more common sense than I had. Don’t override your God given conscience due to wrong undercover doctrines and people presuming to tell you what God will do for you. other than a few general truths in the Word..awful funny though you quickly find out not many will help you with any physical need wether minister or layman.

  3. “Spiritual growth” is forgetting about yourself…and living freely, as an authentic human (like Jesus) is supposed to live.

    Concentrating on “spirituality” has the opposite effect. It just turns the focus inward…the same place the Pharisees focus was.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > “Spiritual growth” is forgetting about yourself…and living freely, as an authentic human
      > (like Jesus) is supposed to live.

      The natural follow-up question is what does an “authentic human” in the 21st century West look like? “Like Jesus” is too glib an answer, because within that is a larger frame of what specifically you believe is like and unlike Jesus.

      And I just don’t buy the “forgetting about yourself” meme, the apostles made sacrifices – I just do not see them “forgetting” about themselves. Paul talked about himself a *lot*. If that is meant to describe something I do not know what it is, and in any practical way I do not believe “forgetting about yourself” is even possible. But then Jesus prayed to have the horror of what he had to face taken from him – that seems authentic to me, but not self-forgetting. The Psalmists did not forget about themselves.

      > Concentrating on “spirituality” has the opposite effect. It just turns the focus inward…
      > the same place the Pharisees focus was.

      We agree: Concentrating on “spirituality” has the opposite effect. Spirtual-but-not-religious is mostly about navel gazing, avoiding the inherent awkwardness and frustrations of having to live in a community, with a community comes the clumsy business of having to articulate – in common – the beliefs of the community. A community also has the positive effect of making one articulate, concretely, what one means; and it [hopefully] creates a hedge against spinning off in some odd arc [which people, all alone, may do; our fallen nature expressing itself in OCD kinds of ways].

      I don’t see how “spirituality” [what most people mean by that today] is/was a particularly Pharisaic focus – the Pharisees were ritualistic [but that was pretty much everyone at that time, so that may not mean so much]. The Pharisees were quite partisan. They made many statements describing the moral position of other-people. I doubt if you stopped any given 20-30 something on the street and asked them what “spiritual” meant that you would get a picture anything like the Pharisees.

      • Any chance of having Steve m. join your community….pleeeeze ???

      • I’m not sure that SBNR is all about navel gazing. Some is, some isn’t. It’s a huge group. For many, their simply is no navel gazing, no candle lighting, nothing. Nothing but perhaps being aware of a Divine being of some sort, or perhaps a belief that everything is sacred. True, most SBNR do not do their spirituality in community, I mean how would they when what everyone means by it is different and each individual experiences it differently?

        And some of the SBNR I’ve met are people who are just in between. They’ve given up on religion (in my neck of the woods, usually Catholicism which is the majority faith tradition here), but haven’t felt any need to pick anything else. They aren’t atheists, so by default, they’re SBNR.

        I’ve noticed that most of the commenters on internetmonk are fairly down on the SBNR, I suppose because they are stubbornly refusing to be Christians, but I don’t think being glibly dismissive of such a large percentage of our fellow men is a great idea.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > And some of the SBNR I’ve met are people who are just in between. They’ve given up on religion
          > (in my neck of the woods, usually Catholicism which is the majority faith tradition here), but haven’t
          > felt any need to pick anything else. They aren’t atheists, so by default, they’re SBNR.

          I think this describes Nones, not SBNR. SBNR makes an enthusiastic point that Spirituality is very important to them, but they are not Religious. Nones may believe something, but they are not sure what, and are disaffected towards Religion. SBNR is distinct from Nones in that they make noise about it… although they are typically not clear on what ‘it’ is.

          You are correct that these are two very large groups, and there is going to be a mirky area in betwixt and between. My comments did not acknowledge that.

          > I’ve noticed that most of the commenters on internetmonk are fairly down on the SBNR,

          Yes, I can be, I’ll admit that. I have a very hard time with Spiritual Non-Sense; just claiming “Spiritual” does not let someone off the hook for being consistent or coherent.

          A None says, “I am not interested [any longer?]” or “I don’t care”. I get that, I really do. SBNRs come across that they care, but not enough to decide about anything; it feels like a cop-out.

          > I suppose because they are stubbornly refusing to be Christians, but I don’t think being
          > glibly dismissive of such a large percentage of our fellow men is a great idea.

          I do not believe that stubborn-refusal is what bothers me.

          For me, the best metaphor to describe SBNR is the lady you stands up in the middle of the school board’s budget meeting and loudly demands “What is all this?! What about the children! We should be concerned about the children!”. [True story]. The point is – the budget meeting, dry, boring, tedious – that is about the children. It is more about the children than her concern, it is a decisive affirmative action taken for the children.

          It could be I am just so frustrated by Spiritualizing of what seems to be little more than feelings that is has fried my wires.

        • cermak_rd – +1.

        • Final Anonymous says:

          +1. Don’t be fooled by the smiley “I’m just not into organized religion” etc. response; many of the SBNR have some seriously painful stories from their time in community, once they trust us enough to tell them. Stepping out of community for a season to reset and heal may be the most spiritually healthy choice they can make.

          • Is “NSNR” a word? I don’t mean explicit atheists, I mean people the subset of “Nones” who just aren’t interested in religion. (Like most of the population of Japan.)

      • Your comments about the role of community in the articulation of belief has my head spinning. Seen or read something that fleshed that out ?? Oddly, or not I guess, groups that start weirdly then produce the kinds of communities that promote and susustain them.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Your comments about the role of community in the articulation of belief has my head
          > spinning. Seen or read something that fleshed that out ??

          “avoiding the inherent awkwardness and frustrations of having to live in a community, with a community comes the clumsy business of having to articulate – in common – the beliefs of the community. A community also has the positive effect of making one articulate, concretely, what one means; and it [hopefully] creates a hedge against spinning off in some odd arc [which people, all alone, may do; our fallen nature expressing itself in OCD kinds of ways].”

          Do you have a specific question? I did not intend to write anything beyond what is elementary [I think], perhaps we are reading each other cross-ways [or I wrote it that way].

          Communities exert a positive regulatory pressure on individuals, individuals are healthier [happier and live longer] within communities than when isolated. Communities can certainly have their negatives, but being isolated most certainly has its negatives [in terms of mental health, pragmatically and, I believe, spiritually]. Peer pressure gets a bad wrap but most psychologists and organization behavior people would argue it can be even more so a potent positive – ask a parent whose child makes “good friends”. Our bond to a community suppresses our whims and moods and obsessions. And it makes others available to us who may be more knowledgeable about X, Y, or Z than we are.

          A religious community, formally or informally, has a Creed [it is much better, IMNSHO, if it is formal and often referenced, but that is another topic]. Thanks to the creed one is reminded of that to which one agreed, and one knows if one is In or Out – it may be okay to someday realize you have become Out. A creed needs to be general and basic enough to include enough people to make a community – a creed of agree-with-me-about-absolutely-everything would exclude creation of a community. But a Creed must be specific enough to bind people together and manifest common action. The existence of the Creed in many way makes discussion more possible as a framework is provided. Sometimes one won’t agree with what the community says or does, sometimes one will think it should go this way or that way, but we can agree on the Creed. This is a healthy process, it is human – and thus, also, imperfect.

          • I was obscure, sorry. I meant “spinning” in the sense of chewing on a deep idea, or in this case, several deep ideas. I’d never thought much about the articulation of belief within a community as being a safeguard, not only to a set of beliefs, but to individuals as well. Your comment above helps me understand this also from a creedal point of view. I don’t really (yet) have a specific question, but this theme is worth mulling over.

            There seems to be an unavoidable tension between how general/basic and how specific these creeds would be in order to be truly community building (in the healthy sense of the word).

            Thanks for your posts.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            >There seems to be an unavoidable tension between how general/basic and
            >how specific these creeds would be in order to be truly community building

            Absolutely. And in long lived communities you see the needle sway this and way and that. That’s Ok, times change and exert different pressures on communities in different ways.

            One sees this in enormous communities such as nations [policies often change radically] as well as within religious communities – which may themselves be composed of communities within communities.

            One of the beautiful things I find in the RCC is how many communities have flourished with differing traditions and emphasis for hundreds of years all within the *communion* of a greater community.

      • Jesus is (was) the oily truly authentic human. Living selflessly with NO self consciousness.

        We, on the other hand, are self-obsessed idolators.

        Thanks be to God that He came for types like us…ungodly sinners who just aren’t up to the task.

      • I don’t think it’s possible to “forget” the self, and I don’t think Jesus is calling us to that. Rather, I see Jesus showing us how to “transcend” our self. Trying to forget our self is like trying not to sin–turns us constantly back on our self which is one meaning of Paul’s use of “sarx”.

    • Wonderful post, thank you so very much

    • Your definitions of “Spiritual Growth” and “spirituality” are too limiting. Tying both terms exclusively to a “focus inward” and by inference a negative view of contemplative practice is short sighted. In my walk contemplative practice has added great richness and profound joy: not navel gazing, self-focused selfishness.

      Several biblical references affirm that being alone with God, and in silence, are affirming aspects of one’s faith “walk” or spirituality, if you will. “For God Alone, my soul awaits in silence, says the psalmist.” The Hebrew bible translates the opening words of Ps 65 as, “To you, silence is praise, O God in Zion: and unto You shall the vow be fulfilled.” Several times in his ministry Jesus went to the mountains, “away” and alone, to pray and to gain strength from the Father. In Revelation, we read “ I stand at the door and knock, if you hear my voice and open the door I will come in and eat with you and you with me.” There is no clearer invitation to this kind of prayer.

      It is in contemplative prayer, when I experience this closeness with God. When I am in silence – with no words spoken – is when he moves me and shapes me and when I find healing. Without it; without those times of self-examination and prayer for renewal I am ill-equipped to be propelled out into the world each day.

      • @ Tom C;

        Yes! It is both “this and that.” “Spiritual” disciplines (as is contemplative prayer, centering prayer, lectio divina, etc) should produce a byproduct of making us more “useful” to others around us.

  4. Mike, this post makes me sad and frustrated for you, and for everyone who has to wear a public mask about what matters the most in this life….our relationships with our God and our brothers and sisters.

    (I work for a public school system in adult education, and even then have to bite my tongue several times a day…not due to theological premises that aren’t in step, but to avoid speaking of my Lord and Savior at ALL! Yours is a heavier burden by far, I fear…..)

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > There have been many times when I have wanted to speak my mind on an issue,
    > comment on facebook, or even like a post, but have not done so.

    Ditto.

    > Primarily because I know that doing so will create conflict and hurt feelings

    It helps to also remember – that doing so will likely accomplish nothing positive.

    > To quote my lovely wife, “being right isn’t necessarily always the most important thing.”

    Wisdom.

    > Without so much as introducing himself, the stranger asked in a belligerent way,

    There is an important aspect to this – the stranger did not ask in order to learn the answer. I believe, at least as adults [maybe no so much when younger], that most people are pretty good at reading the vibe from someone – is the question actually a question? On a related tone I can identify an Evangalist just by how he looks at me when he sits down, hesitates, offers some innocuous question or greeting… I know I’m being scoped out. Coping with this type of social predator is just part of life. Conversation is not always dialog.

    > I wonder though if my convictions about various topics will reach the point where
    > I will no longer be able keep quiet.

    Possibly, I’ve been there. Usually what happens at that point is regrettable.

    • Since Adam hit some of the points that resonated with me, I’ll add to what he says:

      > There have been many times when I have wanted to speak my mind on an issue, comment on facebook, or even like a post, but have not done so.

      Jesus was faced with this repeatedly. How did he usually speak out? Asking questions that got at why the other person believed what they believed, that reflected what He believed.

      > Primarily because I know that doing so will create conflict and hurt feelings.

      I think most churches should be lumped under a new denomination: “Church of the Offended.” I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed believers taking offense at other believers for things said and done. If you go to church for any period of time, I guarantee you’ll offend someone at some point. Maybe it’ll be a comment about the music, or the sermon, or the potluck food, or the foyer décor. It doesn’t matter…someone will get offended. I think the problem is we’re too afraid to challenge offended people, asking them why they’re offended by something. “So what if I don’t believe in inerrancy. Why does that offend you?” Make them articulate their beliefs. You never know…it could lead to a good discussion.

      > To quote my lovely wife, “being right isn’t necessarily always the most important thing.”

      This is huge, but there’s a nuance that’s missing. I’d add to your lovely wife’s statement this: “And what makes you think you’re right, anyway?” One thing I’ve learned is that not only are most people wrong, but so am I. So if you go into a discussion with more humility, it helps. For instance, I often say things like, “I used to think differently than this, but here’s where I’m at right now. I can’t say I’m right, but sense some truth in it.” And then offer your OPINION, making sure you’re not labeling it TRUTH.

      > Without so much as introducing himself, the stranger asked in a belligerent way,

      Again, I’d take the Jesus approach. Ask a question. “Why do you want to know?” Or “Before I tell you my view, what’s yours?”

      > I wonder though if my convictions about various topics will reach the point where I will no longer be able keep quiet.

      Adam said, “Possibly, I’ve been there. Usually what happens at that point is regrettable.”

      Yes. But again, one of the things I’ve learned is that my convictions aren’t necessarily right or correct, either. I may feel strongly about something, but could it be 3 years from now I’ll feel differently? I think a major problem with Christians (well, even non-Christians – really, anyone who holds an opinion) is that we’re too soon to think we hold absolute truth, when really it’s opinion formed by experience. A humble “I might be right, I might be wrong” approach helps avoid the ugly stuff. (Sometimes. Back to the “Church of the Offended” comment.)

      • This works if the other party in the conversation is willing to accept your answer of “here is where I am now,” or answer your response of a question honestly without immediately turning it back on you, and engage in a discussion. The problem in my experience is that as often as not the other party is conducting a litmus test with you as the subject, hunting for the “right” answer and sniffing out any doubt or equivocation and promptly pouncing on it.

        When one encounter’s this type of absolutism, it isn’t a conversation, and usually these sorts of interactions lead nowhere. There’s no upside.

        • Admittedly, I have a more utopian view of things like this, but I’m also finding myself bolder in challenging people’s absolutism and find some of these approaches work.

  6. David K eh?:

    On the bottom of the Wikipedia page for Clark Pinnock under external links, there is an eref(by that I mean something you can click on and get for free) on “Unbounded Love A Good News Theology for the 21st Century”.
    I would like to use it in a small group. After listening to Pinnock, I am still only open to open theism, but he has so much more that is right on, eh!

    • Rachel Held Evans just did a “Ask A …” with Greg Boyd. It was the first time I’d heard of open theism. I read this definition: the idea that “omniscience” in God doesn’t mean “knows exactly what will happen” but instead means “knows every single permutation of what could happen” to my 16 year old who is hot on string theory. He blinked once and said that that is how he had always thought about God. God’s possibilities where vast – so vast our brains could not imagine that he can be sovereign over all possibilities.

      • the idea that “omniscience” in God doesn’t mean “knows exactly what will happen” but instead means “knows every single permutation of what could happen”

        These ideas don’t need to be either / or—although I’m not suggesting that you’re limiting them. I think it’s more likely that God does know all things past, present and future; and also that he knows all things that are possible—and this allows for a much greater God and even a greater hope of redemption, if there are other possibilities or other destinies. I like your last phrase: “so vast our brains could not imagine that he can be sovereign over all possibilities.”

        And I wish I had been interested in these things at age 16 as your son is—with me it was age 20 or so. You might try out this Einstein quote on him, if he hasn’t already found it: “Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation…”

        • Thanks, Ted, I will. He went on to ramble something about Grand Unified Theory but lost me.

          • He would have lost me, too. I got interested in these things in my early 20s, even went back to school, a Christian college, to study physics (Einstein a great inspiration) so I could put all this together with the bible. But, I couldn’t handle the calculus and had to drop physics. Discovered history as a major, and you know, it did pretty much for me what I thought physics would do, without quite answering all the questions. Sometimes I think the important thing is to ask the questions, so I hope your son keeps doing that.

        • Ted, I have real difficulties with Greg Boyd’s views on spiritual warfare, having been exposed to far too much of what he thinks well before *he* began thinking/writing about it. Add his version of open theism to his ideas about demonic poets rampaging against God, and I think you end up in a very scary, creepy place that has little to do with Jesus and the entirety of the NT (as well as much of the OT).

          I know we Americans are suckers for apocalyptic religion – I fell for it myself when I was young, and spent decades trapped in churches that believe what Boyd advocates (and the some). I cannot accept his views on open theism without putting them into the overall context of the *rest* of his beliefs.

          Me, I’m inclined to accept that Christ’s work is finished and try to help people who are truly caught up in cosmic battle/focus on the demonic come to grips with other perspectives. (You know, like mental illness isn’t caused by demons, evil comes from the human heart and mind – and that, while Satan might be real, he is not running “the world” and isn’t out to get them.) But it can be very hard to get that across.

          • Err, not sure how autocorrect came up with “demonic poets”! I think I *might* have added a stray syllable by accident…

          • Doesn’t it, though? It came up in a reply that hasdnt cleared the spam filter as yet.

          • I’m not familiar with Greg Boyd, and what I have heard of open theism doesn’t impress me. But, the idea of God knowing all things possible—that haven’t happened in our existence—catches my attention.

          • I’m not familiar with Greg Boyd, and what I have heard of open theism doesn’t impress me. But, the idea of God knowing all things possible—that haven’t happened in our existence—catches my attention.

            Well, that’s what open theism is… It isn’t saying that God doesn’t know certain things. It’s simply saying that the future is not set in stone. That’s not to say there’s nothing to be certain of, either. All it’s saying is that the future is partially open insofar that the choices we make have real consequences in regards to how the future turns out, at least in part.

          • Thanks, Phil.

            OK, I just read about open theism on wikipedia, so now I’m an authority. 😉

            There’s a lot of the old argument there about God being all good vs all powerful, and whether he’s all-knowing. Some of it hangs on what God “can” do or not do, and that’s meaningless. God can do anything; it’s what he will do or not that’s meaningful.

            Lots of room for paradox in this, and I love it. God is still sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, all good, etc, no matter how many directions the future can (or does) go. It’s something like relativity or trinity—mind-bending and paradoxical, but not necessarily contradictory. Too many people look at this stuff and insist on either / or scenarios and get stuck.

            This also could generate some discussion about prayer and how that affects God’s will or the future.

            I see on wiki that Madeleine L’Engle was a proponent of open theism, and now I’m really going to go to the library and check out A Wrinkle in Time.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        For an ancient take on a similar question, you and he might look into The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. It is a Late Roman Empire work which was very influential in the Middle Ages. It’s main question is of theodicy, but this leads to a discussion of predestination and free will, which in turn touches on divine omniscience.

        It inevitably does violence to summarize it briefly, but to summarize it briefly, Boethius presents God as existing outside of the universe. To put this in modern terms, this includes the fourth dimension of time. God observes the universe from its beginning to its end. Thus he knows all that happens there, regardless of where along the time dimension. This does not affect free will, any more than our ability to look into the past affects the free will of those persons in the past.

        • Richard – sounds fascinating! I’ve known about it for ages, but have never read it. Must remedy that.

  7. Reminds me of one of Dallas Willard’s insightful remarks, “Being right is a heavy burden to bear.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >“Being right is a heavy burden to bear.”

      Even lesser. I do not know if I am “right” about many things. But I do know I am “informed” about some things. It is a heavy burden to sit quietly, or feel the compulsion to participate minimally, when glib or axiomatic statements are bandied about, or when only the tersest of answers are acceptable. When you just want to blurt out: “That simply is not true!”[1] and demand the supporting premise/data/documents – and you know there will not be any if you did – it is sooo clear why can’t you `just see it`? Because things are complicated, and there is so often the ***demand*** that they be simple.

      [1]Or so vague how can its truth (or not) even be evaluated or considered?

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Quoth the poet: “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.”

  8. I resonate with the dinner problem. My biggest problem is with family. I get asked something like “Do you think homosexuality is a sin? Yes or no” and I have a choice, enjoy dinner or spend an hour explaining my long thought out position and having everyone in the family hate me. At this point, I refuse to answer, that makes them just as mad but I get to eat dinner.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > At this point, I refuse to answer, that makes them just as mad but I get to eat dinner.

      +1 But then only one person out of 10 is mad, verses 9 out of 10. You win by the numbers! 🙂

      • Somehow this reminds me of plowing snow.

        When I took the job plowing in my town, for a while 30 years ago, I had all kinds of advice about when to start plowing, where to start, where to pile the stuff, etc. The former plow truck driver took me aside and said, “You want to plow snow jest exactly the way YOU want to plow. That way at least ONE person is happy!”

    • At this point, I refuse to answer, that makes them just as mad but I get to eat dinner.

      I’ve started using a new tactic in these situations. I answer with a question: "Why does it matter to you?" That response usually leads to a more interesting, and sometimes more fruitful conversation.

  9. Some of us enjoy controversy, but yeah, magisteria are twitchy things by nature, and more so the less secure they are.

    My favorite professor in my fundamentalist college got the boot for saying he wasn’t certain about a pre-Tribulation rapture. That’s twitchy. The Roman Catholic Church is a paradise of diversity by comparison.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > and more so the less secure they are.

      +1 It is interesting that a dying ‘brand’ tends to become even more aggressive about Intellectual policing. It reminds me of the biological process of apoptosis – something has gone wrong so we’ll expedite the process.

      > The Roman Catholic Church is a paradise of diversity by comparison.

      +1 But they [the RCC] have a millennium of experience with changing tides. The great majority of organizations in the United States are not even three generations old; Evangelical organizations maybe just two. They are still infants by comparison.

      • > It is interesting that a dying ‘brand’ tends to become even more aggressive about Intellectual policing. It reminds me of the biological process of apoptosis – something has gone wrong so we’ll expedite the process.

        Trouble is, everything’s undergoing mimetic apoptosis at the same time, so we all feel like Galileo.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > everything’s undergoing mimetic apoptosis at the same time, so we all feel like Galileo

          Hmmm. I very much appreciate your writing and thoughts. But I do not see things as quite that dark. I know so many positive people making positive contributions, or at least trying their damnedest. Things everywhere do seem like a shambling mess – but I know people wrenching on that rotten infrastructure to raise it again from the mire – in all manner of ways, secular and religious. Besides just the good souls scurrying about like a bunch of jawas, there are some leaders such as Pope Francis, who are at least naming the evils [which seems like the first time in a l-o-n-g time].

          And congress passed a budget – so ANYTHING is possible. 🙂

        • That link: click at your own risk. Heartiste, etc. manosphere alert.

        • Mule, that list at the link is very disturbing on any number of levels, though two of the principal ones are racism and antisemitism, along with very hateful attitudes toward LGBT folks.

          I don’t see how you can reconcile Christ and this stuff. Just don’t get it at all.

          • Mule Chewing Briars says:

            We’re just gonna have to agree to disagree.

            Take two deep breaths and ask yourself a question. Did I endorse that list, or am I an evil person just by knowing it exists?

            Take up your problems with Roissy with Roissy. I don’t light little candles to him, but he’s very refreshing after too much Rachel Held Evans.

          • Why did you post that list? I can’t see any reason aside from your agreeing with it, given the fact that your Galileo comment echoes that of the writer at the link.

            I have little patience and even less time for the kind of bigotry at your link. It’s not easy to stomach (putting it mildly).

          • Roissy is overtly misogynistic, and hateful toward many men as well.

            Your choice of “refreshing” reading is just not consonant with your stated religious beliefs, imo.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            Mule said “Take up your problems with Roissy with Roissy. I don’t light little candles to him, but he’s very refreshing after too much Rachel Held Evans.”

            Amen, brother. I would rather hear clear eyed critique of the culture from someone considered a hater, than cultural cheer leading with a feminist religious slant.

          • Patrick – I don’t understand the hostily many feel toward RHE. And doubt I ever will.

      • Christiane says:

        “They are still infants by comparison.”

        but people must incorporate a space for them in the Body of Christ and they must be brought in and respected, even though they don’t return the favor in many fundamentalist-oriented cases . . .

        the Body of Christ has no one in it who is not ‘needed’ . . . it’s just a case of being humble and patient enough to let the Body itself assimilate all who enter it and appreciate the gifts they bring with them

        it’s complicated,
        unless the model is to serve one another . . . then we begin to understand how this works at all

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          >>“They are still infants by comparison.”
          >but people must incorporate a space for them in the Body of Christ

          Yes. The statement was not meant to be necessarily derogatory. But it is necessary to recognize how early they are in the phases of organization evolution – they still seem oriented around specific teachers [what may be called cult-of-personality], their institutions tend to be insular, etc…

          I find it easier to look upon them charitably [even given the sometimes utterly gross things one hears on Evangelical radio] if I try to keep this in mind. They for some reason [which is their right and choice] feel compelled to try to ‘start over’, With that choice will naturally come some level of buffoonery. Whether they grow and become more intellectually robust and considered in their statements or if they crumble and fade out… only time will tell.

          I sincerely hope they do not remain in a constant cycle of rebooting; the worst possible scenario for everyone.

  10. I have worshipped and been a part of leadership in both Lutheran and charismatic congregations. Yes, and read Greg Boyd. The tension produced by the different cultures has brought up the question of integrity. How can I be true to who I am if I lead a deceptive life on the outside? I am now developing a course I call Authentic Life with a small class who seem to appreciate it. My working thesis is that we are not who we say we are, which is power filled believers living the abundant life. Our lives betray what we truly believe. I resonate with this post. Thank you.

  11. I can empathize with getting sick of getting interrogated. When my wife and I were campus pastors, it seemed like towards the end of out tenure every meeting with the senior pastor turned into something like that – “Did you hear what Rob Bell said last week? What do you think of that?” It wasn’t that he cared what we thought. He wanted to make sure we weren’t heretics yet… Annoying.

    I think the issue is that is Evangelicals have made it so the faith is completely based on what you believe, and therefore making sure everyone is believing the right things becomes the number one priority. After awhile, though, it becomes tiring. Eventually you’ll slip up and say the wrong thing around someone and all hell will break loose. I decided a few years ago that I was simply giving up playing those games. It’s actually probably the reason I’m not in church leadership any longer. If I have to decide between that and being true to myself, I’ll pick being true to myself. I understand not purposely trying to offend people, and I do try to not do that. But I’m also not going to go out of my way to hide how I actually think about things when asked.

    • David Cornwell says:

      ” Evangelicals have made it so the faith is completely based on what you believe, and therefore making sure everyone is believing the right things becomes the number one priority.”

      This is a product of the Reformation, when doctrine became the supreme basis of unity. These theses are advanced by Brad Gregory in “The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society.” As a result what one believes, defined in a propositional manner, became the container the Christian life. Because of the Reformation this became true both of Protestant Christians, but also Catholics as they emphasized “interior assent to the propositional content of doctrinal truth claims, whatever they were.” More than “how” one lived out the Christian life, now it became “what” one believed about “correct doctrine.” The reference point for correct doctrine becomes Luther or Calvin, and their modern interpreters (however they must be careful), for Protestants, and a tendency to think that faithful Christianity did not exist before the Reformation.

      • I would argue that it goes back much further than the Reformation. The Church Fathers refined (for lack of a better word) foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g., the Holy Trinity, Deity of Jesus) during the second and third centuries, mostly to combat heresies and culminating in the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD which drafted the Nicene Creed. This doctrinal statement of faith (in essence, that is what it is), with the additions adopted at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, is still accepted by orthodox churches of every tradition as the basis of absolute/essential/indisputable Christian doctrine which must be absolutely accepted if one is to be considered a Christian and not a pagan, heretic, or apostate.

        “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1.9)

        • David Cornwell says:

          Very true. What Gregory is attempting to say, I think, is that even though correct doctrine was identified in these creeds and councils, that it was not the principle identifying factor in Christianity. The Christian life was more of an embedded “practice” in the social life and wider culture, with a lot of local tolerance as to how this was carried out. He isn’t non-critical of pre-Reformation, just making observations and interpretations. From our point of view, much of this is paradoxical. He is saying that in contrast, doctrine now is that which constitutes Christian unity.

          I have not read the entire book yet, so will attempt later to more adequately pin down his central claims. It is “thick” in more ways than one and is more of an academic work and takes time to wade through. It is a commentary and interpretation of the Reformation and consequences written by a historian. I have a reading list, and some other books to read before this one.

      • Err, as a Lutheran (ELCA), I feel compelled to point out that the Apostles, Nicene and Athabaskan creeds are bedrock for us and for many other Protestants. That’s quite different to the long lists of perfectionist if rules that tend to be central in so many evangelical/charismatic circles.

        For us – broad-brushing here – it’s more about the living out. A lot of other Protestants are doing and believing in that way, too, but they don’t have much, if any, presence in the world of most evangelical/charismatic folks…

        • Athanasian! I officially have declared war on autocorrect.

        • David Cornwell says:

          If I were choosing a new church home, ELCA would most likely be near top of the list. I have given consideration to a secondary church home, given the distance from my home church. And the ELCA a few miles from me is one I could end up choosing. My home church has a close relationship to a large downtown ELCA, and we share parking lots. We also held a joint conference a few years ago, along with the Presbyterian Church, on the heretical claims of rapture theology. This was back when people were asking questions about the “Left Behind” nonsense.

  12. This is an interesting post to me. The very first church I ever attended (and I’ve not talked about it before because it was a very short stay along the way) was an evangelical non-denom church. Once I figured out that they believed the Scriptures literally, I left for Catholicism, where at least I didn’t have to deny evolution. Catholicism gave me the intellectual freedom I craved. I was Catholic for 20+ years. But during the election of 2004, I began to realize that many of my fellow Catholics seemed to want to take away my political freedom (you can’t be Catholic and be a Democrat or vote for Kerry), so I left for the Episcopalians where I could have both political (it was a liberal congregation, unavoidable with its community, but had I been conservative, I might not have made many friends, but I would not have been denied the Sacraments) and intellectual freedom (and a lovely, familiar service, and a great priest and a warm friendly community).

    Of course the flip side of that is it is the shared beliefs that hold Christian religious communities together. So the religions I left weren’t wrong to hold the beliefs and expectations they held. I simply had to move until I found one that fit me.

    Of course, I did also leave the Episcopalians (it was a short stay) because I could honestly no longer believe the Credo (I think I hold to about 7 words of it) and because I could no longer accept the Greek Scriptures as truthful in any sense (Paul mainly, but since his letters were prior to the others, he probably did get the truest sense of the faith and it’s one I just can’t accept).

    Anyway the religion I am now provides pretty much complete freedom. As long as I don’t start advocating for building idols (real idols not the nonsense about making an idol out of money–unless it’s an origami idol), worshiping other deities or suggesting a return to animal sacrifices, I don’t think I could do anything to horrify my shul. It’s politically liberal, but then so is about 80% of the folks living in the vicinity, and probably 90%+ of Jews in the area are politically liberal. It is very positive toward all kinds of education and very positive toward science (it’s summer camp program one year was a study of entomology). So perhaps by temperament, as well as heritage, I have always belonged here.

    • cermak_rd, yours are some of the comments I most anticipate reading on this blog. For my part, I adhere to the Credo, but I must say that I love frequent contact with our Jewish community, for its emphases on the Bible, intellect, good works, and community.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      ” As long as I don’t start advocating for building idols (real idols not the nonsense about making an idol out of money–unless it’s an origami idol),”

      I was pretty much with you until this, at which point one of my eyebrows raised. I think it one of the more profound insights that the worship of an idol need not involve statuary.

      • cermak_rd says:

        It need not involve statuary, but it needs to be a real idol that is actually worshiped, that one expects will keep you safe from harm and that one owes worship to. Other than Scrooge McDuck, I have never seen anyone actually worship money, I mean, yes, it can help keep you safer than not having it, but no one seems to believe it’s owed worship. Nor have I seen anyone actually worship their free time or whatever. Actual worship such as the Hindus do with their house idols is what I think this commandment is getting to. Notice it was a golden calf, something worshiped and not just a pile of gold.

        • Even in Hindu puja ceremonies, worship is directed toward the deity/deities being worshipped, not toward the statue or other representation of said deity(he’s), though of course there are many exceptions, especially since many regional and local deities are included in the beliefs and practices of many Hindus (varies widely from region to region and is also dependent on superstition, etc.). But I can’t imagine most people believing that a statue or picture actually *is* Vishnu, Krishna, Ganesha, etc. etc.

          I think the golden calf might be intended as an Egyptian deity? They did believe in a god with a bull’s head, though am blanking on the name…

          • Well they would realize very well that the images are made by craftsmen. But they are deemed to “come to life” at some point, e.g. by filling them with holy objects, painting on the eyes, etc. There are holy hills which are considered gods. I have heard of rocks being venerated as gods by Chinese temples. But then, why is this more superstitious than an invisible God who takes human form and/or fathers a son at some point?

          • There is a difference between animism – as you mention re. rocks and other nature spirits – and the Hindu pantheon. Still, I take your point. There is no single kind of Hinduism, which accounts for divergences, to some degree.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            ” worship is directed toward the deity/deities being worshipped, not toward the statue or other representation of said deity”

            said every idolater ever

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            ” worship is directed toward the deity/deities being worshipped, not toward the statue or other representation of said deity”

            said every idolater ever ( Not saying you are an idolater, but that this is an ‘orthodox’ tenant by those using idols in worship.)

          • Patrick – but many xtians say the same things re. the use of imagery in churches and at home. (Statuary, icons, other kinds of paintings, book illustrations and holy cards, etc.).

            I think many people find that imagery helps them focust their thoughts and prayers. This is a human thing, and not really about idolatry per se. We all have images of God in our heads, even in cases where a given church or denim doesn’t allow any imagery of any kind. We get them from very diverse sources. I think we also could use education on the beliefs and history of other religious traditions here in the US. Misunderstandings and wrong assumptions can lead to judgment, prejudice and even outright violence. (Like the ancient, persistent and horrific blood libel that many xtians have used as an excuse to persecute, torture and kill Jewish people over the greater part of the last 2000 years… Right up to the stabbings and subsequent deaths of Sikh men here, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Because they were wearing turbans and anyone who wears a turban is a terrorist. Etc.)

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          What about Jesus warning against serving God and money? Seems His point was where your trust is. Whatever you trust in more than God is an idol. That’s why Calvin said our hearts were ‘idol factories.’

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            Numo, you said “– but many xtians say the same things re. the use of imagery in churches and at home. (Statuary, icons, other kinds of paintings, book illustrations and holy cards, etc.).”

            Exactly, and one of a number of reasons I am not a communicant in those traditions. The older I get the more uncomfortable I am with certain strands of the Lutheran tradition that are enamored with crucifixes. I don’t like them at the front of churches above the altar. The more contorted the intellectual gymnastics used to justify something that appears to be pretty plain, the more certain you can be that there is a problem.

            “I think we also could use education on the beliefs and history of other religious traditions here in the US. Misunderstandings and wrong assumptions can lead to judgment, prejudice and even outright violence.”

            I do not buy the liberal meme that ‘education’ is the cure for violence. Violence occurs in the cases you mention because our hearts are evil, not because one party or another lacks ‘education’ regarding someone they hate. True conversion to the Christian faith, the rule of law and well armed citizenry do far more to curb violence than anything else.

            That being said, the strictures against idolatry are pretty plain despite our best attempts to nuance the subject.

          • It might help if people *did* know that turban-wearing does not equal terrorism.

            The thought I posted re. actual education have little or nothing to do with “liberalism” and everything to do with common sense, as well as cultural literacy. But I suspect we’ll never agree on this, or on much else that’s come up in this thread, so i’ll let it go.

            Maybe some of your questions for cermak_rd could be answered by a rabbi or educated layman at a local synagogue. As for the repudiation of baptism, while it’s difficult to contemplate, I can see why it might be required even in Reform Judaism. Western antisemitism has a long and horrific legacy, and is making itself felt in Greece, Poland, Russia and many other countries. That’s why such a vow might be required of a gentile converting to Judaism.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            ” As for the repudiation of baptism, while it’s difficult to contemplate, I can see why it might be required even in Reform Judaism. Western antisemitism has a long and horrific legacy, and is making itself felt in Greece, Poland, Russia and many other countries. That’s why such a vow might be required of a gentile converting to Judaism.”

            So, once again blame the Christians.

          • Patrick – you really have no idea. Go learn some history, and talk to some Jewish people, and *then* get back to us.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            Numo, I have plenty of ‘idea.’ As a History major I am familiar with the pogroms and the genocides. Also dated a Jewish girl for a couple of years so am familiar with many of the nuances of Jewish culture and their struggles.( I asked her about Christian conversion to Judaism. She rolled her eyes and asked me why my friend would want to do something like that, followed by some comment that it might have to do with all the idols in our churches.) My comment meant to point out that even before Cermak could verify or clarify, you blame someone else for this supposed and as yet unverified (by you or me) repudiation. Let Cermak or any other Jewish commenter here shed some light on the subject. Let’s gather more facts before we bash the’ white male Christian’ oppressors.

          • we’re talking past each other, Patrick.

            As a coda, I think it would be odd if a *Reform* shul asked for a repudiation of xtian baptism. But I’ll leave it to others to try and discuss/explain, if they so choose.

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      Cermak, I am interested in how you become a Jew after being a Christian. A very good friend of mine with whom I was a Pastor many years ago converted to Judaism. He told me his rabbi told him ‘no’ three times when he broached the subject of converting, and on his fourth request figured he was really serious. He said then he had to repudiate his baptism in front of the synagogue during his ceremony of induction into the synagogue. ( I forget what he called the ceremony.) I have no reason to disbelieve him, however hearing this deeply grieved me and I have hoped in the intervening years that his portrayal was not entirely accurate. ( The Book of Hebrews has a lot to say on the subject and could be rightly subtitled ‘7 Reasons not to return to Judaism.’ ) Can you enlighten me on how the process works? My friend joined what he calls ‘Reformed’ Judaism if that is any help… Thanks

  13. Having been beaten down over inerrancy, evolution, America as a “Christian Nation”, Republican as God’s chosen political party, and having a beer or glass of wine with my dinner, my choice came down to

    – Give up teaching the small group that I loved
    – Lose my faith entirely

    I just couldn’t live in that environment any more, looking over my shoulder and having to worry about every little thing that I said or did. You’re supposed to look forward to going to Church, not dread it. I left the SBC, went ELCA Lutheran. Joy in God restored. Faith restored. It’s so freeing being in an environment where you don’t have to worry about being asked those kinds of questions because no one cares about those kinds of questions.

    • blessedarethepeacemakers says:

      re: I just couldn’t live in that environment any more, looking over my shoulder and having to worry about every little thing that I said or did. You’re supposed to look forward to going to Church, not dread it.

      “you” are?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > You’re supposed to look forward to going to Church, not dread it.

      Agree. Keep-your-head-down-and-your-mouth-shut should not be what you think when you enter the sanctuary in the morning. It was uncomfortable and then 9/11 happened. The ghastly direction the Evangelical community went in after that; honestly I was probably already on my way out – but that certainly plowed the road to the door.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I just couldn’t live in that environment any more, looking over my shoulder and having to worry about every little thing that I said or did.

      Like living in Stalin-era Russia with everyone around you an NKVD informant trying to curry favor with Comrade Beria and the Party?

  14. Mike, respectfully, I would ask, does the church you’re in have a confession of faith or a statement of beliefs? If so, don’t you agree that it’s unethical to teach anything on behalf of that church that is contrary to the confession or the statement of beliefs (without the church’s permission)?

    Obviously, if the small group is a ministry of the church, leading the group is a teaching position.

    This is different than your understandable and admirable concern about people and relationships. I would hope that the people in your group could hear about your variances from the official doctrine and still love you and still have you in the group. But it is only right, if the variances are important enough, that they and the church wouldn’t want you to teach them. I would say the same thing to Dr. Enns.

    • Hi edj,

      Yes, the church has a statement of beliefs. As a leader I have an obligation not to teach contrary to them. As a member I have to be in “substantial” agreement, however I might interpret that word. I had came to the church 6 years ago. I became a member 4 years ago. At the time I made it clear that I had contrary views on Inerrancy and Baptism, but was willing not to teach contrary to the stated beliefs of the church. Since then the statement of faith has changed, adding another tenet that I disagree with, and an associate Pastor has been hired who writes strongly against evolution. (I have been told that I can’t teach contrary to that either.) So two issues becomes 4. Plus I have very differing ideas on where we need to be going as a church. So that makes 5 significant areas of potential conflict.

      At what point do I need to say that this isn’t working?

      • As someone who was in a like situation just a few years ago, I offer this advice: Get out. Now.

        I should have gotten out years before I actually did. If I had, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the cynicism, anger, and bitterness that I am, 5 years later, still trying to free myself from.

        It will be painful. It was painful for me to give up the adult SS class I’d been teaching for years, but I was doing them and myself no favor by staying.

        You may not realize everything that staying in that environment is doing to you mentally, physically, and spiritually. I certainly didn’t . My wife said she noticed a change in my demeanor almost immediately after we left our former church and moved to our current church (ELCA).

        If you want to talk more with someone who has been there, feel free to contact me personally.

      • When I was struggling with my decision to leave the SBC and move to the Lutheran church I now attend, I emailed Michael Spencer, told him what I was going through, and asked him to pray for me. I don’t think he’d mind me sharing his response:

        I truly envy you. Go and don’t look back, even when the normal honeymoon is over and you see the faults of the new church. Enjoy and share what you will reclaim.
        peace
        ms

      • It’s always interesting how much a change in regime can affect the doctrinal orientation of a congregation. This is why belonging to a confessional tradition is helpful, though not a guaranteed fix. At least with groups like the LCMS or PCA, you have a route of appeal if the teacher crosses certain dogmatic lines that the body as a whole has come to terms with.

      • One More Mike says:

        Then strap on your backpack and head to the wilderness Michael B. Jump in with both feet, as it were. Sit under the tall trees by the river and realize that faith sustains the spirit; religion/denominational-ism is pernicious and a curse and will rip your soul out by the roots. And to those who say “spiritualism” is navel-gazing, what of it? Who doesn’t profit from blotting out the noise and contemplating in the silence? Those who can’t stand silence and must fill it with whatever comes to their minds, of course, but contemplation is anathema to those folks anyway and small groups were created for them. I’ve been 8 years in the wilderness and my faith is stronger, I can drive past churches without cursing and am even pleasant to the the JW’s and Mormons when they drop by. I can go to a service in the evangelical mega-church when I visit family and pray on my pocket rosary while all the so-called worship is going on and leave smiling, having traversed enemy territory and by the grace of God not been wounded (finally!!!). I have come to terms with the manipulation, guilt, abuse and fear the many churches I attended in my first 50 years shackled me and many members of my family with and they will never draw me back in, they will not rip my soul out again. Jesus said “the kingdom is within you” and if you listen closely in the silence you will see it.

  15. It’s not just teaching positions. As I was filling out a church volunteer form, I came across the question, “do you believe in the inerrancy of the bible”? I never finished nor submitted the form. The implication is that to not believe in inerrancy means one believes the bible isn’t true. How does one diffuse this?

    • Kenneth B says:

      If you ever find an answer, let me know. How do I summarize 40+ years of reading, study, thinking, prayer, and life experience that have led me to what I believe (today, subject to revision) about the nature and purpose of the Bible?

      • true, false, game rule, indeterminate, meaningless, game rule, strange loop…

        I’m putting down “game rule.” Of course, different denominations (and their associated employment opportunities) will have different game rules…

    • I think the prof was right: Just check “yes” and move on. ‘Cause even though they don’t know how to articulate it clearly, what they’re REALLY asking is if you believe the Bible is true. As long as you aren’t going to argue with what the Bible says, then you’re not likely to encounter any problem with that one. Evangelicals today seem to give a fairly wide variety of interpretation a fair shake.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “Inerrant” is not so cut and dried a word as is often imagined. Neither, for that matter, is “Bible.” I have no problem with applying either to my beliefs. If the questioner fails to follow this up with a discussion of definitions, that is not my problem.

        • Kenneth B says:

          If the questioner fails to follow this up with a discussion of definitions, that is not my problem.

          I’ve tried to take that approach, but I can never pull it off in good conscience. I know that what they usually mean by "inerrant" isn’t what I mean by "inerrant", so I feel like I’m lying if I say yes because I’m saying yes to what they think inerrant means.
          So I usually wind up asking them how they define "inerrancy", which usually leads to me showing them, gently, that they can’t believe in "inerrancy" as they have defined it because they either make so many exceptions as to render the concept meaningless and/or their definition is philosophically or logically inconsistent. (i.e the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, whose affirmations often contradict each other, and which dies the death of a thousand qualification.)
          Which usually leads to me being told that:

          You think to much.
          You don’t have to pick it to the bone; just believe.
          You think you’re smarter than me.
          You’ve got too much book learning.
          And my personal favorite: I’ll be praying for you.

          Which is probably why I stopped hanging around the kinds of people that would even ask me if I believed in Biblical "inerrancy". You can see why I don’t get Evangelical parties anymore. Not that I miss it, mind you; they never have good Bourbon.

      • +1

      • It reminds me of the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer saluting a German officer with “Heil Hitler” as he passed by. When Bonhoeffer saw another prisoner next to him refusing to salute, he urged him, “Salute, you fool. This isn’t worth dying for.”

        This issue is definitely not worth making a scene in a church my family likes very much. But I’m not sure I can go along with it. Magic bookism is heresy, perhaps to a lesser degree. It affects the way we approach and read scripture. It leads to numerology and all sorts of esoteric observations, such as secret meanings in the arrangement of Hebrew or Greek letters. It also is a less than subtle form of legalism – like YEC, where rejection is tantamount to rejecting the gospel.

    • Correction: the question was whether or not I believe in the infallibility of the Bible.

    • The volunteer questionaire actually asked if I believe in the “infallibility” of the bible, which to me borders on magic-bookism. Saying “yes” just to appease the interrogator would be to me irresponsible let alone dishonest.

    • @ Dumb Ox;

      I appeal to the Bible which in no way makes a stated claim of “Infallibility” and then point out that those who interpret the Bible as infallible are never infallible in their interpretations of the Bible.

    • It is ironic in a way. In highschool, I stood up to a pastor who was teaching from the pulpit that the bible was a collection of myths, e.g. Jesus didn’t really feed 5,000 but merely inspired the crowd to share their food with one another. Now, I feel compelled to stand up to those who teach that the bible is infallible. The post evangelical wilderness is starting to feel like the island of misfit toys.

  16. I’m not sure where I’d fit these days. A problem for me for some time now is that I’m not sure I expect Christ’s imminent return, despite its mention throughout much of the NT. In fact, I’m not sure I expect Christ’s return at all or at least not per Acts 1:11 and Revelation 1:7. (Revelation told its readers his return would be “soon” 7 or 8 times, none of which happened in the lifetimes of the original writer or readers, nor has it happened in the intervening ~1,900+ years, and I don’t think Preterism is a fully valid answer to this.) Much of the New Testament and some of the words ascribed to Jesus seem to expect his imminent return – at least in the lifetimes of the original hearers or readers of the Gospels and the Epistles. Yet it didn’t happen. Many of the things and instructions written in the Epistles were written with that expectation in mind. Would Paul or Peter or others have said something different if they knew that Jesus wasn’t coming back for at least 2,000 years, if at all? While we don’t know the answer to that, it’s something I ask myself when I read some of their instructions. It has also caused me to question their veracity, validity, and inspiration.

    C’est la vie in the wilderness. Unlike cermak_rd, though, I won’t be going to Judaism – been there, done that for the first 20 years of my life. 😀

    • “Soon” is a relative word. What “soon” means to you and me, who exist in time and space, is obviously not the same thing it means to God, who exists in neither time nor space.

      We are not the first to wrangle over it’s meaning and to get impatient over how long the Second Coming is taking. If I understand what Peter is saying in 2 Peter 3, discontent over Jesus’ tarrying was around in New Testament times as well,

      “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’ … But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3.4,8-9)

      Until someone comes up with a better explanation of the meaning of “soon” I’ll continue to accept Peter’s argument.

      • God exists in time and space at some level – otherwise he couldn’t interact with us or even know us, nor we him. Also, there is no such thing as time without space and vice-versa. Without either time or space (and without one you can’t have the other), you can’t even speak of being or existence.

        • I believe a better way of saying it is that God enters time and space at will, but that’s about as much clarity as I can put on that. Certainly in the Incarnation He “dwelt among us.”

      • If language means anything, “soon” means “soon.” “You will see” means the “you”s being spoken to. “We who are alive” means the “we” being addressed. Etc. While some things apply across time and space to all generations, when the context and the content seem to be addressing the original readers and hearers about events and things they can expect to see or experience, and those things do not happen, then it raises questions about the inspiration and validity of the things said. 2 Peter’s apologetic for Christ’s delay has been in use for 1900 years now. That’s a bit long, IMO.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > If language means anything, “soon” means “soon.”

          +1 +1 +1 All the timey-whimey stuff does nothing for me; the prophets, angels, and visions of the Old Testament [AFAIK] never use timey-whimey-Doctor-Who references, so why should I read the New Testament in light of a multi-verse quantum mechanical context?

          And for all we know that timey-whimey-multiverse stuff is junk. The math points that way now, might have better math next month [and that is not to deprecate the integrity or value of the math – modern life benefits *GREATLY* from that math – the math CLEARLY WORKS for lots of things – but this stuff is on the edge of the Scientific speculative; we’ll have to wait and see]

          I do find this disconcerting and it probably rates as my principle ‘doubt’. On the other hand I think Paul himself addresses some of the long-tail issue in his Epistles. Philip Harland (York University) touches on that in his “Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean” series, which is also a nice listen and moves along nicely.

        • And here I thought literalism was eschewed on this site! Seriously, there are many instances when a word in Scripture does not carry it’s normally intended meaning but rather is used as a hyperbole, for contrast, emphasis, and so on.

        • Cedric Klein says:

          I’ll throw out a concept, some author names, and book titles for you to Google…
          “partial preterism”
          “Ken Gentry”
          “Before Jerusalem Fell”
          “The Beast of Revelation”
          “Gary DeMar”
          “David Chilton”
          “Paradise Restored: A Theology of Dominion”
          “The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation”

          • I’m not sure if this comment is intended for me or someone else. If so I would comment that I am familiar with some of these names and titles having studied eschatology for some time. I will just say that I am neither a theonomist, nor a dispensationalist, nor a preterist.

          • I’ve read several of those. I explored Preterism for a time. Not fully convinced, but I may dig back into my resources. I just don’t regard what happened in 70 A.D. to be the return or second coming of Christ according to the way the New Testament depicts it.

          • There are “full” preterists and “partial” preterists. The former teach that all of Revelation was fulfilled in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the latter stop somewhere in Revelation 20.10 and teach that the rest of it takes place at a future time.

            With regards to Daniel, Revelation and Matthew 24,

            Preterism: prophecies either entirely or mostly fulfilled in the past;
            Dispensationalism: prophesies to be fulfilled in the future; and
            Historicism: prophesies fulfilled over time and still in process of being fulfilled.

            I realize that this is a gross simplification, but it is the gist of it.

            And here’s something else you might find interesting… Google “Jesuit Preterism Dispensationalism” and you will find several articles that claim that both eschatological perspectives were fabrications of Jesuits during the Reformation to deflect accusations against the Pope of being the Beast of Revelation. In effect, they argued that the Pope could not be the antichrist since the antichrist was Nero (Preterism) or some future dude (Dispensationalism).

            And yes, both past and futurist perspectives were refined over time. In particular we can give credit to John Darby for developing Dispensationalism in the 18th century and to Scofield for propagating throughout his Scofield Reference Bible.

          • And then there are “Peterists” who say that since 1,000 years is as a day and vice-versa, even this 1900-year-long delay of the Lord’s return is acceptable. 😉

    • EricW, one of the things that Evangelicals too often forget is that the coming of Christ isn’t limited by Scripture to two instances. There are really four comings of Christ. The first is the OT Christophanies. The second is the Incarnation. The Apocalypse is the fourth, because we believe that between the ascension and final return, Christ still comes to us, literally, through His word and sacraments. Our churches (LCMS) teach that through these things Christ is actually, not metaphorically, present, coming to us to bring His kingdom.

      Just to say: when the “soon coming of Christ” is viewed through that angle, it may make a bit more sense.

      • Still doesn’t work for me. I don’t think Christ coming “through His word and sacraments” is what the NT writers were referring to.

  17. I appreciate Mike’s eloquent post and the dilemma it outlines. However, I disagree on one point. This isn’t about “being right.”. It’s about being true to yourself. It’s about whether or not to circumvent stating your true opinions. The persons cited in the post are professional clergy, and their livelihood depended in part on adhering to “company policy.” But what about the rest of us?

    I don’t have an answer to Mike’s dilemma, especially as applied to lay people. But I don’t think continuing to mask your true thoughts on matters that mean a lot to you can be good for your soul.

    • I am not sure that separating myself from people I care about would be good for my soul either!

      • Mike B,

        I’m thinking the test would be if you asked your small group if they’d be willing to continue meeting together totally apart from the structural framework of the specific religious institution you and they are part of.

        (Sorry about the dangling participle…”the up with which I will not put.”)

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          Tom, Lutherans call this kind of thing a ‘conventicle’ basically a small group that ends up sowing division in the home congregation. In my days as an Evangelical, we called it sheep stealing. Generally bad form all around. Lacks integrity also, because it undermines the pastoral ministry in whichever church it happens in. You may disagree with their doctrine, but to pull away followers is sowing division. The honorable thing to do is to tell the leadership, then your group, what your disagreements are and leave on amicable terms. Or you can decide that your relationships are worth more than your disagreements and remain silent about them.

  18. Thank you for posting this, Mike. Thank you, also, for giving some direction to my own reading. After having lead Precept (Kay Arthur) studies for a number of years I started feeling like part of a cult. The leaders had to clear everything through headquarters and couldn’t study a book without a series put out by the leader. I quit advertising my studies through the church and invited the remaining members of the group (now smaller) to go with me on my journey. We did the survey of the first and second testaments, making charts ala Irving Jensen. Very freeing. We did a couple of book studies using the same method (Romans and Matthew). Then I wanted to take a break to study Sailhamer’s Meaning of the Pentateuch. All six of the others wanted to follow along and keep meeting. In the mean time I kept reading; Wright, Boyd, Breuggemann, etc. Went back to my old Foursquare church to sit in the back row and listen. Sailhamer was being recommended with his “Books of the Bible” for sale in the lobby. Last week I heard NT Wright quoted in the sermon. Our last small group study was Mark for Everyone.
    I’m still keeping a very low profile and have possibly lost two people from my small group. But still, if not for that group I would be pretty isolated, except here. I keep thinking I should talk to the pastor but… not yet.

  19. From farther up the discussion thread comes this quote. It is nested deep enough that it is better to make a new comment out of it:

    A community also has the positive effect of making one articulate, concretely, what one means; and it [hopefully] creates a hedge against spinning off in some odd arc [which people, all alone, may do; our fallen nature expressing itself in OCD kinds of ways].

    Ah, yes, I always love it when people finally make a statement that explains very nicely from where Holy Tradition comes. I am very tired of the meme that always explains Holy Tradition as somehow being men’s traditions that take away from Scripture. But, as the quote above points out, in practice, if there is no tradition, then people do spin out and away. The first tradition was the collection of the letters and memoirs of the apostles (for so were the Gospels first labeled). But “Scripture alone” never succesfully ordered a Church.

    • David Cornwell says:

      ” “Scripture alone” never succesfully ordered a Church.”

      As to scripture, reason, and tradition, in the past I always considered scripture as primary. But more and more it seems to me to be tradition. For without tradition, there would be no scripture. Or is it impossible to separate the the two?

      • David Cornwell says:

        I suppose more accurately it should be: there would be no canon without tradition.

      • You could argue that the Eucharist is a tradition, but it is clearly a tradition of divine origin. Some traditions are created directly by God, others by us, and of the ones created by us, many are in some way inferred or deduced from the ones given by God. It’s important to know which is which in order to put first things first. We must be careful not to put ALL tradition on an equal playing field and thereby put our own institution over that which Christ himself instituted.

        The vast majority of Christian traditions hold the Scriptures to be in some way inspired of God. Therefore, even IF you consider it 100% part of the church’s tradition, it holds a special place of primacy therein. The cognitive dissonance created by trusting a word as if it came from God and then building a system around it that ultimately subverts it at different points drives people from faith.

    • There is no Tradition or Church. There are only little traditions, and little churches.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      That quote is mine; to “But ‘Scripture alone’ never succesfully ordered a Church” I would add that at this point I simply do not believe you can in any way that means anything at all have “Scripture alone”. It is written and read, at least, in a human language – language itself being a kind of tradition. The perfect separation of the Scripture from tradition leaves you with nothing but unintelligible symbols scrawled on a page.

      > The first tradition was the collection of the letters and memoirs of the apostles

      Mmmmm, I want to disagree on a technicality: The first tradition was meeting together and the sacrament of communion.

  20. Hi, I replied to Steve’s post (wonderful post, thnkx…) and it appeared somewhere else, what did I do wrong?

  21. I’ll be short. I (would?) prefer a pastor that I know is fully engaged (heart and mind) with a topic rather than regurgitating dogma. Even if I in the end disagree with them, I respect them for knowing why they believe what they believe. I guess that’s why I seem to get more out of this blog than pew sitting most Sundays. This post made me appreciate you more than I already did CM.

  22. I would have responded, “Yes, I am a strong believer in errancy.”

    • I love it! Probably would work, too.

      Of course, I don’t believe in “Inerrancy,” nor do I believe in “Errancy.” Those categories just don’t accurately describe the biblical canon and are misleading at best. Even if I affirmed the whole Chicago statement I would never think a term “Inerrancy” applies to the definitions and qualifications it contains.

    • Adding that to my repertoire, Wexel.

  23. I got into this topic rather late and I don’t want to appear judgemental,but is it not somewhat hypocritical of you to carry on an appearance of consensus with your fellow church members when there is no consensus ?. Is that not disingenuous? ( I speak this to Mr. Bell).

    • Could not consensus also include the agreement to disagree on certain issues? Consensus is the agreement on how to handle a certain issue. Sometimes the consensus is to allow diversity.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        “Consensus” is defined as “general agreement”, notably it is not defined as “absolute agreement”.

  24. Yes but Mr Bell has admittedly stated that to reveal what he truly believes would mean his expulsion from the group .

  25. Good post, but in regards to Enns, I am a more concerned.

    At first, I thought he was going to be a wonderful voice for Evangelicals, but he has seem to become more a voice just for deconstruction (as other scholars have recently pointed out). It seems, at times, that his experience at Westminster is overly influencing his scholarship.

    Now he is commenting on those criticisms of his tone, and it is helpful. However, the pushback in the comments are worth listening to as well
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/01/is-pete-enns-a-marcionite/

  26. If you all would stop being so entertaining I could get some work done. It does seem to me that in the process of spitting out bones, many have forgotten to chew the meat. The original post was discussing dealing with an issue of integrity, putting his actions in line with where his heart is. Few have spent much time looking at that (to me) serious topic.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I think many of the comments have touched on this issue.

      Beyond that, I do not know that I am qualified to make any recommendations or offer any advice. These are tough issues – when to speak and when to be silent, and if to speak how so, in what tone, to whom; or to stay or to go. There are so many variables in such a decision; and for a teacher / pastor it is probaly doubly so.

      All I would offer is that anyone involved with any organization or advocacy of any cause or causes – this is an omnipresent decision. It is not limited to religious or church issues. When someone make a racist comment… do I speak or remain silent, … Again, there is *so much context*. Will it matter? What is potential yield? Is this statement honest, in temper, or is it bait? General purpose advice is of little value.

      • I am sure all you have mentioned is valid, carrying extra weight if one’s income is involved in some way. In my personal experience, I was living in two separate camps and found that I was not being true to myself. This caused a lot of tension. In order to have any integrity I had to cross the divide once and for all. It was then I came to peace within.

  27. Mike,

    I can empathize to a point. I started blogging when I realized the church couldn’t sufficiently answer my questions and when I started realizing that things it was teaching didn’t “line up with Scripture.” It was very similar to Spencer’s issues with evangelicalism. I was always urged to “check out what we believe with Scripture” and I took the advice. After a while most of the leadership in my then church and some others there had read or were regular readers of my blog. I had already stepped out of leadership for other non-related things. There was no issue that I ever heard about with my blogging. This was clearly not the case with my next church.

    An anonymous member of my SS class discovered my blog and “reported” me, and I had a handful of bible-wielding elders in my living room as fast as I could sneeze. It wasn’t pretty, and we left that church fairly soon after. I had no position or income that would be affected, but it was still a painful position to be in. I’ve been in the “wilderness” ever since, even while attending subsequent churches.

    Your situation is a matter of wisdom and not hard rules. Wise as serpents and harmless as doves. While I’ve decided to never formally subscribe to any church’s constitutions or by-laws ever again, this might not be the case for you. Dropping out may be easier than flunking out, to use an analogy, but if you have fight to fight, then you may have to stick it out until you are forced out. Wishing you well.

    • Steve, you have articulated for me why I am no longer an “official” member of any one church. I had been in one congregation for 19 years and another for 12 so you cannot say I am a church hopper. But when it came time to leave the last one, I could not join another for it seemed that each congregation begins to own you if you show up regularly, and then puts a whole string of expectations and assumptions on your back. I am not back-slidden as some would have it, but more solidly in Christ than ever before. Yet, the official membership deal is over for me. Thanks for your post.