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Owning up to ones faults is never an easy task. Identifying the qualities of oneself that are less than appealing or distasteful is an uncomfortable yet humbling experience. This has been my undertaking over the last few days. Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In this book, which I recommend highly, I have encountered a man who so passionately pursued God that every action that flowed from him encompassed grace, honesty and self-reflection. From my time spent reading this book I have come to realize that a characteristic that I have come to embrace about myself has been at the very same time counteracting an attribute that I wished to attain. In short, my cynical nature has been counterproductive to a life lived for grace.
My recognition of this came about from reading passages in “Bonhoeffer” that spoke of Bonhoeffer’s gracious treatment of the guards and wardens who held him captive during WWII even up to the point of his execution. Bonhoeffer knew that everything that he did was a reflection upon Christ and that he must live his life as a witness to the power of what Christ did on the cross and in his resurrection. I realized upon reflection of his actions that Bonhoeffer was embracing grace even before any action inflicted upon him constituted giving it. Grace was his way of life not, as he defined, cheap grace but true grace. The circumstances through which Bonhoeffer endured would have justly led to an attitude of cynicism and hostility but he remained hopeful, fervent in prayer and gracious.
I realized after reading this how I have often claimed to live a life of grace based solely on the assumption that grace was bound by cause and effect. An individuals particular actions would lead to a need for grace to be extended. (I am here merely referring to grace given between human counterparts, not divinely instituted prevenient grace.) This however has been a false assumption on my part. Grace does not rely on a cause but is a natural effect of one lived within Christ’s unbounded grace. It is a result of the outpouring of grace upon an individual that then flows out of response to a fully committed life to Christ. Given my incorrect assumption I operated by merely extending grace when the circumstance called for it rather than living a life that reflected the grace given to me.
By living this way I felt that I could still maintain my cynical nature and pessimistic (although I maintained it was a realistic) reaction to individuals and circumstances. My cynicism was a direct result of denying grace within my life. I now realize that I can maintain a life of critical reflection while embracing and living out grace but that I must be ever aware to not let myself slip into cynicism which would inhibit grace flowing through me. This is a fairly new revelation for me. Granted I grasped the concept intellectually some time ago it took reading an example of a godly man’s life for it to make the leap from head to heart.
Change is never easy and it’s an ongoing battle but if I desire to live a life of grace then I must be willing to tackle those things that would get in the way. In light of my own humbling encounter with the Spirit pointing out my weaknesses I would like to ask you: how are you neglecting grace in your life? How can we continue on this grace filled journey together where the Spirit is shown in our lives through the outpouring of grace and we can remove all hindrances from it?
I recently sent out a tweet regarding my reading in Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome.
Spent some time reading Romans tonight. A great letter. Funny how it affirms free will theology for me, yet not others.
This tweet was definitely influenced by my anti-Calvinist theology. Perhaps “anti” is too strong a word, rather my opposition to Calvinist theology. This tweet brought about a very healthy conversation on Facebook with a friend of mine. Our conversation revolved around the fact that our presuppositions play heavily into our interpretation of Scripture. My tweet is good example of this, being that I subscribe to Open Theology I read Romans in light of that theology and that influences my interpretation. The question that I want to pose is whether or not an individual can come to a reading of Scripture that isn’t tainted, even in the slightest way, by their preconceived ideas and presuppositions. If our reading is constantly marred by the lens through which we read how do we come to a point of finding Truth. I believe that, as with all problems, the first step to healing is admitting that the problem is there. It is my opinion that most people are not willing to recognize that they are reading Scripture through a lens which influences their interpretation. If we can admit that read through a particular lens then we can begin to see Scripture beyond our particular lens and come to a better outcome, although there are those, including my friend whom this conversation took place with, who maintain (and for the most part, rightly so) that it is nearly impossible to remove our lenses. These issues are not necessarily bad in and of themselves but left unchecked or held accountable they can lead down a path that is completely off-chart for accurate Biblical Interpretation.
An example of how lenses influence reading is looking at the Letter to the Romans. Luther viewed the letter as the definitive argument against a works based Christianity. The lens that he was viewing through was his reaction against practices in the Roman Catholic Church. N.T. Wright however reads the letter as being primarily about God’s righteousness. The two views are not necessarily incompatible but it is obvious that these two men read the Letter through different lenses with different presuppositions which ultimately influenced the outcome of their interpretations.
So here are my questions that I hope will stir some honest debate and conversation.
First, I want to know what lenses you have identified that influence your reading, whether that be Calvinism, Arminianism, or even secularism.
Second, what is the antecedent that you hold your interpretation against in order to preserve truth, allow for freedom in non-essentials, and to determine what the essentials are?
To give some other examples of how this has played out in theology here are a list of people who have influenced traditions of theology that would be contrary to other persons in theology.
Alexander Campbell, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, McLaren, Bell, Driscoll, Piper, Boyd, C.S. Lewis, etc…
Part of the purpose of this conversation will be to show that while we may have different interpretations and disagree that we can all appreciate each others pursuit for Truth and sincere devotion to Christ.
This is a mere academic/theological conversation all responses will be viewed with respect. I welcome differing opinions as long as they are open to constructive and polite criticism.
Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the different perspectives on theology that are within the Christian community and that are being expressed within the church. During this time of reflection a question has come to the forefront of my mind that I want to ask and hear some responses on.
Why is it that many conservative Christians are okay (and even support) those who advocate a prosperity gospel yet they condemn and judge those who raise questions about Christian theology and doctrine?
At the core of this question is another question, which is more wrong or damaging, those who use the gospel to gain profits or those who use questions to strive for a deeper understanding of faith, even when those questions may call into account traditionally held presuppositions? To me I find that those who advocate for questioning and even openly struggle with times of doubt are being honest and sincere in their desire to better understand Christ and following him, yet there are those who quickly condemn these people for preaching a false gospel. All the while, there are others who preach a gospel that tells us that if you are faithful to God he will bless you with health and wealth. These health and wealth advocates are accepted, quoted and supported by many Christians yet I find that their gospel is truly false. Granted, I can admit that many liberal theologians have gone too far in their pursuits for an empirical and completely rational Christianity but I do believe that pursuing to understand something better is far more honorable than manipulating the gospel to sell books. Some of the greatest thinkers of our time are guys like Hauerwas, Boyd, and (please contain your gasps) even Rob Bell; all of which have been labeled as heretics and false teachers for raising doubts and calling into question the status quo, yet guys like Casey Treat, Joseph Prince, and Joel Osteen are hailed as solid Christian teachers because they make people feel good. This is backwards to me.
So help me with this a bit, removing the extreme aspects of liberal theology, is it more noble and Christlike to pursue a deeper understanding of the Christian faith through questions and doubts or by preaching a gospel that advocates for riches, wellness, and happiness?
For anyone who knows me well they will affirm the fact that I am not the most patriotic person in the world. If I’m completely honest patriotism is not a part of my personality. I don’t hold my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and I don’t tend to like the phrase “God Bless America”. Now before I turn you off and get labeled as a “pinko-commie” let me say that I love the freedom that I have in the United States and feel fortunate to live in such a place. The core of why I am not overly patriotic is simply due to the fact that I believe that my citizenship and allegiance are to the Kingdom of God not any Kingdom of man. Also, just because I hold to this belief does not mean that I condemn those who are patriotic, it’s simply a difference of opinion and ideology. With that being said, I definitely struggle when July 4th rolls around and we have patriotic elements in our worship services.
Despite my reservations with patriotism mixing with Christianity I do believe that God has a sense of humor and so today I filled the role of Campus Pastor at our Graham Campus as we held our services and had patriotic elements. Now, our services weren’t overly mixed with patriotism. We sang God Bless America and had a short video of quotations from our founding Fathers. Beyond that there wasn’t much to it. I walked away not feeling bothered but with a lot still on my mind.
The thing that I love about the 4th of July and affirm in our worship services around this time of year is the celebration of freedom. It’s an amazing privilege to have the freedom of Religion that we have in the United States and I am thankful for that, it should be recognized. But let’s not stop there, let’s not have our celebration of freedom be in regard to the United States, rather let us celebrate freedom in Christ. Political freedom is one thing but it really is no match for freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom from this world. Perhaps a middle ground for us “pinko-commie Christians” and those “patriotic Christians” is the universal love for freedom that is brought in Christ and we can use the 4th as a recognition of that. In doing this it will not only serve as a reminder of how privileged we are to have our freedoms here in the US but also as a reminder to pray for those and take action for those who are in bondage both locally and abroad. Let the reminder of our freedom motivate us to act for those who are in bondage both spiritually and physically.
I hope that this post isn’t taken as a patriotism bash, or that I am negative towards the United States but rather as a few thoughts from a guy who wants to respect perspectives and find balance so that God is glorified more than anything else. Feel free to disagree and comment but any conversation should be done in love not in anger or frustration.