The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my Story of Christian Spirituality class. I figured I would share this portion because it informs the way I engage my Faith:
Raised in the churches of Christ, I definitely participated in LTC and Bible Bowl. That taught me to value proof-texting and taking things out of context. I believed, basically, that the churches of Christ had sprouted up out of the Bible with little or no history behind it. People one day just started reading their Bibles and, POOF, orthodoxy AND orthopraxy just sort of fell into place. We needed to make sure we got doctrine right (not theology—theology wasn’t a Biblical word—we needed doctrine). Particular beliefs included the five steps to salvation, baptismal regeneration (though regeneration isn’t actually a Biblical word, nor did they actually use the term), and Biblical innerancy (also not Biblical). We also needed to make sure we got practice right which, honestly, was probably even more important than doctrine. In particular, there were no instruments in worship, communion every Sunday, a small group of men as elders, autonomy of the local congregation, and others.
Actually, though, the church I grew up in didn’t seem to hold too tightly to any of those distinctives (as evidenced by the fact that they now use instruments and have women on staff), but the culture of getting things right certainly pervaded my growing up. At some point toward the end of high school I decided that I was a Calvinist. This was mostly because a group of vocal Reformed pastors (Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, and John Piper in particular) were the only people I heard taking the Faith seriously. I discovered toward the end of high school that most Christians I knew really didn’t want to live lives of radical surrender to Christ, and so when I first heard a Chandler sermon, I was instantly refreshed. Calvinism has the advantage of answering just about every question, and if Calvin himself didn’t get around to answering the question, then both Piper and Driscoll are more than willing to take a shot at it with their respective Q and A video sessions. This time period in my life had the advantage of curing me from thinking that I had a monopoly on Orthopraxy because, as Driscoll describes, we need a living orthodoxy that is, we need to hold fast to doctrine but we can change method according to culture and context. I stopped being a Calvinist after taking a few Bible classes at ACU.
As I transitioned away from knowing all of the contents of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, I realized that right belief isn’t really the point and doing the right things on Sunday morning isn’t really the point either. Mining the Bible for a list of doctrines or practices is silly. It forces the Bible to fulfill a set of expectations which it was never meant to fulfill. Treating the Bible like an answer book is also a silly thing to do. Imposing our 21st century expectations or questions or theological constructs on scripture is also problematic because we then assume the Bible parrots back to us everything we already believe. As I become less certain about a number of traditional teachings—Hell, the Trinity, Original Sin—and consider a number “heresies”—Universalism, Open-Theism, Biblical fallibility, Acceptance of Homosexuality, Evolution—I realize that the thing that truly matters is what Scot McKnight has called the Jesus Creed: Love God; love others.
I think right belief about scripture, about Jesus, about God, about the Church, etc is really important; I just happen to have a different set of beliefs about that than the Fundamentalists—and, more importantly, I am ok with those beliefs being fluid. For instance, I believe that the Bible is best understood narratively. It unfolds the Heilgeschichte. More than that, however, is the fact that we are invited to participate in the sacred story. Acts 28 is a clear invitation to join the Theo-drama.
I follow N.T. Wright’s characterization of the authority of scripture. Essentially, he argues that scripture functions much like a Shakespeare play. Suppose that we find the fist four acts of an uncompleted Shakespeare play. How might we complete it? We would, perhaps, get some Shakespeare scholars, some Renaissance historians, and some trained Shakespearean actors together and ask them to write and perform the fifth act. The fifth act couldn’t merely be a product of their imagination, nor could it merely be a replication of the fourth act or even a conglomeration of all of the first four acts. It would have to be something new but, at the same time, it would need to derive plot, characterization, cast, etc from the first four acts.
In this sense, then, I value right thinking because it leads to right action. Just like the fundamentalists who value right belief about the atonement so that individuals will live morally, I value right belief about the coming Kingdom so that people will act justly and call the world to act justly as well. I understand that the Kingdom is here and yet coming. When the Kingdom is fully realized—when the story is resolved (something else for the fifth act to do)—then there will be no more war, violence, hate, racism, poverty, lust, oppression, predation, etc. And, therefore, anything in this present age that helps bring the Kingdom of mercy, peace, and justice is good. The cries of the prophets resonate in my soul. God is on about restoring the whole earth—an earth that groans for redemption. Those who fight for social justice, who combat sex-trafficking, who hold the government responsible for passing a moral budget, who protest war—those who are controlled by Kingdom values and fight for Kingdom things—have my utmost respect.