Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Does it matter where you come from?

I've been wrestling with some theological stuff lately, and I would like to get some feedback on it. The stuff I've been wrestling with isn't the content of my theological thought, but is instead how to teach said theological thought, if it should be taught at all.

At some point in recent memory, my friend Amy - you can see her blog here - commented on the ways her fellow BSU-ers theology has changed over the years. I said something about how it would have been better if we would have known then what we know now. She replied by saying that that spiritual stage was good for us.

I'm torn on this. Was it really good for us to be borderline legalistic? Was it really good for us to be so foundationalist that we thought we grasped all the truth? Was it really good for us to be ignorant of the very complicated issues surrounding Biblical inerrancy?

Now, there were good things, too, about our faith back then. It was incorrigible in the sense that we would not abandon it despite the ambiguity life threw at us. It kept us safe and sane. It made us respectable. And it delivered us to the place we are today. It wasn't all bad.

But as I teach people in my church, especially the youth, I wonder how far to go. When they ask questions about the origin and interpretation of scripture, I wonder how far to go into textual criticism and hermeneutics. When they ask about the character of God, I wonder how far to go into theological concepts like Futurity, robust infinity, and God's relationship to evil. When they ask about Satan, I wonder if I should tell them that the Bible doesn't ever tell us that Satan is a fallen angel and that we really don't know what the heck he is or where he came from.

In short, I wonder if I tell them all the things I've learned through hard research and soul-searching if it would make them better Christians. In the Christian life, does it make a difference how you get to where you are? Does it matter where you come from?

In the now defunct Bonhoeffer book study, I came across an idea that stuck with me. Bonhoeffer says that a professor can assert after many years of work that knowledge is meaningless, but a freshman in college cannot make the same assertion. Is the same true for Christian spiritual maturity? If it is, why can't discipleship just be a workbook?

I don't know. I just don't know. On the one hand, part of me wants to teach all of the things that make me excited about Christianity. The scary part is that what makes me excited is seeing a new way of thinking about God that was different from what I was taught as a youth. On the other hand, another part of me wants to teach the same things I was taught - even though those things are borderline wrong and unscriptural - because that's where I came from.

So here's the question I wrestle with: Does it matter that I went from fundamentalist to post-conservative, or (with the proper teacher) could I have gone directly to post-conservative and saved myself 15 years?

What do you think?


Mike P said...

I'm about to go to bed, so I just have time for a small comment. If you were in high school and you were teaching 5th graders, would you debate whether to teach what you know as a high schooler or what you knew and understood as a 5th grader? Or say in another 10 years from now, you continue to mature in the faith and hold a completely different view of scripture. If you're teaching a bunch of 30 year olds, do you teach what you believe now, or what you believed as a 30 year old. (I hope this is making sense, I'm really sleepy) My point is, the 15 years you spent holding fundamentalist views weren't for nothing. Your views today would be different if you had skipped directly to them. And more than likely, your views are probably going to change in the future as you continue to grow in the faith. You make look back in 10 years and wonder, why couldn't I have skipped those years I spent as a post-conservative and jumped right to... (whatever comes next.) It's a journey - this life of working out our salvation. Good night.

Benjamin said...

You're absolutely right, we work out our salvation as we journey on the narrow way - with fear and trembling. Along the way, we change.

But here is where I start to wonder. What if you could teach that 5th grader or that 30 year old something that would accelerate their spiritual development? Would you do it? Should you do it?

What if a 17 year old tells you they are struggling with something about God, and you know that you have a good answer, but you also know that it will fire-bomb what they currently understand about God, sin, and salvation? Should you tell them your answer?

Is having a personal theology that is occassionally left in ashes part of the process of salvation? Is occasionally having what you know ripped away part of being born again?

Mike P said...

I totally agree. God is infinite, and the closer we grow to Him, the more we learn about Him. And the more we learn about Him, the more we see how our previous thoughts about Him were either wrong or inadequate. I love that about God!

I think you should totally share with the 17 year old or the 30 year old what you've learned in your journey of faith. After all, most of us are just standing on the backs of spiritual giants who came before us. The only reason we see things at the level we do is because of the lessons learned by previous seekers.

Amy said...

Wow, did I really say that? I guess, in a way, I might actually think that. Sometimes I think, when working with teenagers, it's so much easier to teach rules than grace. They get it better, BUT that doesn't make it right.

We've been wrestling with this lately too, in the area of child-raising. Do I want Sadie to go through those "spiritual" years? I don't think so, I'd much rather she somehow learned who God really is and never has to spend years of her life re-working the false theology she learned through *gulp* alot of Sunday School and VBS. You know my views on the whole "church-shopping" episode we're going through, but part of my dissatisfaction is with knowing that if we "settle" for a "good" church, Sadie and JP will grow up learning about God the same way I did. Now, granted, we will teach them ALOT at home, but what's the point of the church if I am saying at home "well kids, I know that's they way they taught you at church, but actually....." WOw, good questions. I know that the "spiritual stage" had alot to do with who I am now, but would I change it? Ummmm...........

Benjamin said...

I guess that's the question, Amy. Would I change that "spiritual stage" if I could? I don't know.

The larger part of me screams YES! But I fear that there are ulterior motivations for that reaction that aren't rational. The more reflective part of myself whispers that the first part of playing the game is knowing the rules.

Part of this ties into the effectiveness of our stories as Christians. Which, I must admit, is a good topic for my next post.

Stay tuned....

Anonymous said...

I know I am a year late but I just read this. Legalism is not bad. We have rules to guide us in our life in Christ but once we step out of the box of a Spirit lead life then they are thoughtless rules that become traditions and platform for some to hear themselves. Does that mean we throw out rules. No we set the foundation and grow the person in the Spirit. Your still the same person but now you just understand why you need to live by these guidelines and you understand the need of the work of the Spirit in the believers life along with the discipline. It is spiritual growth.

Benjamin said...

Welcome, Anonymous.

Thank you for your comment. I must say, however, I'm not entirely sure I agree with what you are saying.

Before I go any further, though, I'm curious as to who you are. Care to reveal yourself?

Chris Jeffus said...





Benjamin said...

Hi, Chris!

I do remember you, I think. If I remember correctly, you were majoring in graphic design?

In any case, my point with this post was a personal reflection on the value of what I'm calling "legalism". In fact, I probably fall more into the "anti-legalism" as you call it. Here's why.

Rules don't make you a Christian. I'm sure you know this. In fact, any group can make rules, which makes legalism a bit like a country club. You follow the rules, you're in. Break the rules, you're out. While we both know it's not so simple, a lot of the time we determine who is a Christian and who is not by the rules they follow. (You have a letter from your previous Church, you're in. Don't have a letter, then if you follow these steps, we'll accept you as a memeber). We say things like "Chistians do this" or "Christians don't do that" or, my favorite, "If you really loved Christ, you wouldn't do those things."

Yet what has changed in me is that I now believe that our faith should shape our rules rather than the rules shape our faith. For instance, if an unchurched person become a Christian, I would LOVE to give that person discipleship if they want it. But ultimately, I would rather the Spirit convict them of not doing "bad" things. I would rather the Spirit convict them TO do something good and loving. I would rather the love of Christ to so penetrate them, and wound them through their mistakes, that they become transformed in their very being. Not because of legalistic rules that I (or others) imposed, but because the Spirit taught this person the very way of Christ.

For most Christians, though, this process would be like heresy. I contend, however, that it has Biblical roots.

Galatians 5:6
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Colossians 2:20-23
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

These verses, to me, smack of Paul's anti-legalistic stance. It seems to me that Paul is teaching that a person shouldn't follow this rule or that rule (e.g., Get circumcised or not circumcised) in order to be a Christian. Instead, what matters is faith expressing itself through love. I don't get much of a feeling of boundaries from either of these verses.

Yet my frustration is how to do it. How does one do Church in such a way that rules don't shape faith, but that faith is free to express itself through love without boundaries? THAT is what I don't know how to do.

Chris said...

You have a point. Also Paul would say that the Law let me know that I was a sinner. Rules and regulations are good as tools of growth but not for replacing a relationship with God. When your kids get old enough to drive are
you going to tell them I want you to learn for yourself without any boundaries. No you are going to give guidelines and instruct. Teach them what road signs mean. Paul mentions how Timothy's grandma and mom was instrumental in
instructing him in the faith. If we lived in a perfect world with no sin then people could live 100% in the spirit but Satan is competing for our attention
and sometimes we need boundaries. Maybe the point to be argued is the
boundaries we set may not be beneficial. Does not Paul argued to watch out for false teachers. So there is a need to instruct and preserve what has already
been given to you. Can you do this with out rules that people must adhere to? When there was a problem with the church at Corinth did he not set boundaries for them. To argue that Paul is about legalism is wrong and at the same point to argue that he is on the opposite end of the issue is wrong to. Remember we worship in Spirit and in Truth. If you read through the book of Jeremiah then
you see a group of people who are hoping that their legalistic action will save them but their hearts are not chasing after God and they are condemned. Paul
addresses issues of legalism to obtain favor with God. He rebukes Peter for trying to make them follow Jewish law. Paul realizes it is the heart, but he never completely pushes rules and regulations away but puts them in
perspective. I feel you are touching on a different problem that needs to be addressed and you
are having trouble separating from you issues on legalism. The issues of rules and regulations with out the presence of the Holy Spirit. For so long people
have done church with guidelines but with the absence of God being present. The trend move to being Spirit lead with out the chains of rules. There need to be a marriage of the two. Ponder on the thought of legalism being a perversion of what God has set forth for us for healthy living. Do some of things that we expect people to do to be
part of our churches unhealthy? Yes, they are but their are some good things that are good for growth. We should not label people non-believers if we
don't see eye to eye. The main problem is that we have to many non-important rules that does not further the cause of Christ. I think I am with you on some of the things you said but I don't think I coming to the same conclusion.
We both see the same problem but see it with two different perspectives.

chris said...

Hey for future conversation, email me at pastor_chris@centurytel.net if you have trouble with that one then at cjjeffus@juno.com