Amanda and I left Abilene Friday afternoon and headed to Austin. We are staying with my grandparents in Liberty Hill until Wednesday. The picture to the left is from my grandparents’ property. The official reason for the visit is because I am visiting UT’s graduate school on Monday as I consider their graduate program in Rhetoric and Writing. But another reason for the visit is because Amanda will finally be able to meet the rest of my family! She had already met my dad and sister, but not yet my mother or brother or grandparents. The rest of my family won’t arrive until Tuesday evening, but Amanda and I are having plenty of adventures without them. We walked around downtown a lot yesterday and then we hung out with her extended family. We also visited Mount Bonnell, which is a giant hill/cliff from which one can glean a beautiful view of the sunset. Today we went to church with my grandparents, pigged out for lunch, and came home to do nothing. I am visiting UT tomorrow.
While on Mount Bonnell and afterwards during dinner, Amanda and I had an amazing conversation about a great many things. Being an external processor, I realized a few things about myself. I suppose I have known these things about myself for awhile, but this is the first time I have put them in sequence. I don’t think what follows has always been true of me, but only more recently as the Holy Spirit has continued to sanctify me.
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A fundamentalist—whatever she believes—holds her beliefs tightly. All the things she believes, or at least a lot of them, are given the same privileged status and are held with a tight fist.
Let us take, for example, this statement: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Anyone heard that? I have. A lot. And it drives me up a wall.
Guess what? The Bible says a lot of things, and we don’t privilege all of them equally. The Bible says that women should cover their heads in worship. It also says that men should raise their hands when they pray. Neither of those rules are strictly enforced. We privilege some commands over others. We say that some things are more important than others. We have even developed a rather sophisticated hermeneutical grid for dealing with the Old Testament as valuable for history and for ethics but invaluable for day to day practice.
But, you know what, a fundamentalist doesn’t limit herself to the Bible and, in fact, tends to hold tightly to a number of extra-biblical or unbiblical notions which, to complete the picture, tend to be apparently supported by the Bible. Examples abound, the best of which come from my own tradition in the Churches of Christ. Kitchens/fellowship halls are not mentioned in the New Testament. Therefore, if you must have one, it has to be in a building “separate and apart” from the sanctuary. Of course, church buildings are not mentioned in the New Testament, but I won’t quibble. Another example, and the most common, is that the New Testament only authorizes acappella worship, and that the use of instruments is out.
Hear me. The problem is not that these beliefs are held. I honestly don’t care what you believe about instruments or kitchens. The problem is that these beliefs are privileged right next to doctrines like the bodily resurrection. The argument being, of course, that if you give an inch, then they’ll take a mile. What I propose, and what many people have proposed before me, is having some sort of hierarchy of belief. My specific model is having concentric circles. The farther from the center, the less the belief ultimately matters. I do have a difference, however. In the past, this has tended to look like Christians trying to figure out what the lowest common denominator of shared belief is and, and that point, setting down the fences of “orthodoxy.” I, to my shame, have even participated in this “setting the borders thing” with a previous blog post long since deleted. My point, then, is that I don’t think what you believe is half as important as what you do. And what you do isn’t half as important as why you do it. And the why is because the Spirit is controlling your life.
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I hold tight and fast to the following three statements:
1. God is love and God is not in a box.
2. Jesus incarnated that love and made it effective through death on a cross and bodily resurrection.
3. I am a child of God—part of his family—and am called to live the way of the cross in this world.
Everything I think, do, and say I try to work outward from those three statements. Of course I hold beliefs on a wide range of issues, but I could be wrong about any of them, and I am, to varying degrees (depending on how close they are to my central beliefs) willing to concede or modify all of them, if I am given good reason to do so. At the end of the day though, when I put my head to pillow, I must confess that I could have been wrong about everything I did and said during the day. I must, daily, throw myself on grace and trust God to cover me. I believe I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that he guides my actions and thoughts and helps me conform to the cruciform life, but I concede that I make mistakes in what I believe, what I say, and, especially, what I do.
Jesus says after the sermon on the mount when he tells the parable of the wise and foolish builders that the wise man is he who “hears the commands of my father and puts them into practice.” Love covers a multitude of sins (and heresy). Paul says it is more important to love than to know everything, which I have blogged about here.
Of course, God isn’t standing there with a ruler measuring you on the “love ‘o meter.” He wants hearts. What you believe matters only insofar as it colors your actions. Your actions matter only insofar as they reflect the nature of your heart. The prophets are clear that God prefers mercy to sacrifice. He prefers love of the poor to praise songs in the temple. But Psalm 50 indicates that God wants your heart. He does not say “Repleace your ritualized temple actions with your do-gooder actions towards the poor” even though he prefers the latter to the former. He says “Do your actions in the temple and your actions towards the poor from a heart of perfect contrition and gratitude toward God.” God isn’t interested so much in the result—though it will follow. He is interested in renewed spirits and minds which will, by nature, manifest themselves in right action. You see, he’s on about making us new creations. New creations which, I suspect, care far more about loving God and loving neighbor than about being right.