As I left off in my last post, through reading a great/challenging book and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I came to turn around from cutting ties with Servant Church.
The Bible Made Impossible
My friend Ian introduced to me this book called “The Bible Made Impossible” by the Sociologist Christian Smith. In the book Smith, an evangelical Catholic (yeah I didn’t know they existed either :)), makes the case that biblical inerrancy and other ideas in the same constellation are not possible to uphold in practice and therefore should be replaced with different frameworks for considering how we view the Bible, what it claims, and how it should be applied in the 21st century (or in any century for that matter). Without watering scripture down to mushy relativism, Smith suggests that maybe we are asking cultural or moral questions of scripture that it was never meant to answer. Instead he argues that scripture exists solely to point to the person of Jesus, who He was, what He did, and how we can know Him.
Furthermore, Smith shows that there is no such thing as a truly objective reading of scripture since we all are want to interpret it in light of our own ideas we bring prior to reading it. This leads to a problem he calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (i.e. the Bible says a lot of differing things that can all be supported in scripture). And since scripture can be interpreted so many ways, we might want to slow down before we make hard claims about who is beyond the pale theologically speaking. The effect of this message on me was profound. Instead of driving me away from faith, it brought me to look at scripture more closely, to wrestle with it a bit more, and turn over rocks I’d left alone in the past. I found that if I wanted to take scripture more seriously, my interpretations needed to be challenged and I needed to become more conversant with those I disagreed with instead of shying away from conversation, which had unfortunately been my tendency at that time, especially in my running from Servant Church.
Coming Back Home
The week that I planned on cutting ties with Servant Church, I instead found myself worshiping there. Initially, I went because Eric, the Pastor, invited me to hear the sermon that week (which you can find here if you’d like to check it out), about the rhythms of arriving & saying goodbye. The previous week, with my mind made up, I’d told Eric I was planning on leaving Servant Church. However, also in that same week’s time, but after meeting with Eric, I was totally humbled by the ideas presented by Christian Smith and starting to have my thinking turned upside down again. It began to dawn on me how hurtful and judgmental I’d been to rush to judge the effectiveness and viability of a church based on its theology. Additionally, I was overcome with how presumptuous I’d been to assume such superiority of my theology over others. Despite all this emotion and confusion flowing through my veins, I drove to the church that Sunday and cautiously walked up the sidewalk, not sure of what welcome I’d receive. However once I got through the doors, I was reminded why I loved this church so much and was warmly welcomed back by my friends, some of whom didn’t expect to see me there again. By the end of that worship time, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I knew where I belonged and was glad that it was at Servant Church. Over the next few weeks, I began to resuscitate and rebuild the connections I had within the community and have not looked back since.
Indecisive? Thoughtful? Crazy? … Maybe a bit of all three
Like I’ve said before, I run with ideas until they reach their logical extreme, then run the other way. After running from an Arminian Theology to a Calvinist one, I have now been humbled back into seeing things a bit more generously theologically speaking. Today I’m not sure what I’d call myself if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to pick. Thankfully life doesn’t work that way, we don’t have to pick sides, instead we can follow Jesus wherever He leads without fear, we are safe with Him.
In Boy Scouts, one of the best exercises we did was something called “Lessons Learned”. After our campout each month, the Scoutmaster would write a short report of what we learned, the ideas we’d tried, the place we camped, or the type of activity we did that weekend. Then a few months or a year later, when planning a campout for that same place or activity, we would read the lessons learned aloud, so we would hopefully avoid making the same mistakes again, or try a good idea again. All that to say, here are my lessons learned from this experience with Servant Church & my theology:
- Don’t write off good relationships in exchange for good intentions. I was ready to cut ties with people who are now my closest friends because I intended to be the best “Missional” Calvinist I could be by only choosing to associate with a church where I agreed with the people 100%. There are quite a few issues with this way of thinking, the least of which are: a) That would be quite boring, b) This ignores the fact that the kingdom is and was meant to be diverse and instead tries to promote conformity in the minutiae, which sounds rather Pharisaic, & c) In the wise words of Forrest Gump about his closest friend “Bubba was my best good friend, and even I know that ain’t just something you can find around the corner”.
- If you have to disagree, only do so about things that actually matter. One of my big mistakes (and frankly a huge mistake in the American Church at large), is that we make minor disagreements out to be the linchpin of all theology. We would rather separate (something Jesus expressly asked us not to do) from those of a different opinion than have to wrestle with issues and be generous with one another (something Jesus expressly asked us to do). In short don’t “make a mountain out of a molehill” as my family likes to say. Don’t get me wrong, its fine to disagree with others, but don’t let those disagreements define or harm your relationships with them.**
- You can come home again. Above all these other lessons, I’ve learned you can come home again. I’ve rediscovered how much my community loves me, and how much God shows His love to me through these kind-hearted people. If there is someone or group you need to reconcile with, don’t wait any longer, swallow your pride and pick back up where you left off. That is certainly not always the easy thing to do, but it is better than wallowing and being consoled by the “rightness” of your opinions. We have a God who is in the business of redemption; you, your family, & your community are not beyond God’s love and repair.
Thanks again for coming along with me on the journey of this summer. I hope it has been edifying for you thus far. Please subscribe if you’d like to and stay tuned as there will be some new and exciting changes in my life and the blog coming soon!
** Note: In “The Bible Made Impossible” Smith makes this point quite well in a way that we in the American Church should take to heart.