I have lurked in the shadows of “commenter” obscurity here at theophiliacs for a while. As a contributor, I hope to create more of a baseline for those who wish to interact with me. Consequently, I offer the following as an introduction to my general worldview for the benefit of those who really feel better about a person when they know where they are “coming from.” Read it, love it, love me – or not, not’s good too.
I think living as a human being entails a few non-negotiable experiences like those deaths and taxes we keep hearing about. There has to be at least one other as well, labels. Human beings, Christians included, are looking for labels in order to categorize other people. I’d love to wax academic here and give you some wonderful commentary on the work of folks like Miroslav Volf. Alas, I think it will suffice to say that we all attach labels to people. Sometimes it is in order to identify friends, and sometimes it is in order to know which direction to throw the Molotov cocktail. I say this, not with accusation, but with disappointment because I certainly do it as much as the next person. I simply deplore the act of people trying to pigeonhole someone into a label that way conclusions can be drawn about them with minimal effort. I hate it even worse when I do it. However, these labels also function as important signposts for folks. So, even though I wish the only label that mattered to anyone was “Christian,” healthy doses of reality have taught me otherwise. However, before you rub your hands together in delight, I am not going into that night so quietly. I am still going to do my best, in true Episcopal fashion, to ferry across the River Styx of polarized Christian culture without splashing any viscera on my vestments.
Playing devil’s advocate is such a regular pastime of mine that it has become part of my internal composition. I find myself toying with people I don’t know, without any apparent reason. Even if I am convinced something is truth, I will explore and argue opposing viewpoints with fervor. So, I think a baseline reading on my worldview is a gesture of good will toward my friends, family, and the readers of my posts. I want this first post to function like a “safe word,” as I take the whips and chains of theological rhetoric to you. If you’re ever uncertain of where I stand, come back here – this stuff isn’t likely to change (though, I suppose anything is possible).
“When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.”
– William Blake
First, I offer a word about Truth. The untrained eye may miss that I not only capitalized the word, but also abandoned the indicative article with which those so fond of pontificating often reinforce Truth – obviously, because it is so much more ominous. Just say it to yourself, “the truth.” It sends shutters down the spine of small children the likes of which we haven’t seen since “MUFASA!” It is merely a symbolic trick to say that I think Truth only exists in the reality of God. I find that within my own regular parlance I never say that something is “the truth” when referring to statements of fact. I prefer that my facts be accurate or inaccurate; a fact could never reflect the beauty of what it means to be Truth. Those trained philosophers out there are going to immediately wish I had just enumerated the difference between something being true and something being truth. However, the whole point is to demonstrate that truth as a philosophical axiom is still not the same to me as Truth. To whatever extent something we claim as truth directly correlates to the reality of God, then it is Truth. I firmly believe that there is Truth, though as someone who flirts with the post-modern (I know, I know, whatever that means) I do not know to what degree or extent our understanding of truth can ever be encapsulated in a single meta-narrative. Obviously, since I think our best chance of knowing Truth comes from knowing God, I believe that theological endeavors offer us the greatest hope of knowing Truth. Here’s the caveat, I also think that Scripture itself acknowledges there is something of God to be known through creation (scientific observation?) that is independent of Scripture. Truth, consequently, as it is revealed in the nature of God, transcends any framework that seeks to explain it; be it theology or science.
A word on Creeds: I am a creedal Christian and not a confessional Christian. I like to imagine that means I do not define myself by what I oppose, rather I define myself by what I affirm. After reading most of the confessions of Evangelical Protestantism, studying the first 800 years of Ecumenical Councils, and attending both “free” and “liturgical” churches, this is genuinely the only difference I can discern between what it means to live as a confessional Christian or a creedal Christian. I understand the Protestant ideal behind confessions at the Reformation. Many have asserted that Confessions are descriptive and Creeds are prescriptive. I also understand, however, that this distinctive is a moot point 500 years after the fact. Perhaps the most theological difference I can come up with is the use of the creeds or confessions as the basis for doctrinal identity. In which case, I see creedal churches as puritans of a sort. They originate their understanding of theology historically through how the the early church creeds established biblical interpretation in the Ecumenical Councils. Confessional churches, then, open their theology to broader historical and cultural influences. As such creedal churches are more interested in how tradition influences the understanding of doctrine/theology, and confessional churches are more ad hoc in their approach. Consequently, the “real” difference between confessional and creedal churches seems to be experiential. My experience is that confessional churches tend to worry more about proving the people who disagree with them wrong, and creedal churches tend, instead, to look for common ground as a basis for maintaining fellowship. For those of you who are twitching, and already writing to let me in on the carefully guarded secret that there are people of all varieties in all churches if I look hard enough, allow me to reassure you that I am basing this statement purely on the basis of my own experiences thus far in life. This is not a point with which I am seeking to win arguments. It is merely part of how my thinking works. My theology comes from Scripture first, but the creeds are my framework for understanding Scripture.
“Theology stands and falls with the Word of God, for the Word of God preceeds all theological words by creating, arousing, and challenging them.”
– Karl Barth
Next, a word about being part of the Evangelical movement is needed. I spent ten years in the Assemblies of God after I figured out I did not belong any more. Why? I am not a quitter. I invested a lot into getting to college, and knew I was called into the ministry. The Assemblies of God happened to be where my life as a Christian really blossomed. Frankly, I am in debt to the Assemblies of God for the better part of my spirituality, my education, and my Christian formation. A lot of who I am now, for better or worse, belongs to the Assemblies of God pastors, professors, and constituents that came across my path – I would never change that. It would be wrong to just walk away. I was not going to be driven off. So, I spent a decade praying, preaching, studying, and searching for a way to find my place as one who could make change. I know, I know, you were wondering about how I began talking about Evangelicalism, but it has to start here, trust me. Then it happened, with no intention of leaving, God called me out. I left a wake of confused, frustrated, and hurt people, but all I could (all I can) say is that God is moving me. I was mediocre to good in a Pentecostal setting to which I felt I did not belong. To my surprise, I found out that I am good to very good in ecumenical/interdenominational settings. That is how I discovered that God had something different for me. I am not going to change the A/G, and it isn’t going to change me. I think this is an important plot dump in understanding why you are reading my contribution on a “post-evangelical” blog. I have no intent of leaving evangelicalism, but I seem to be very good at relating to people who call themselves emergent or post-evangelical. There is definitely a place in my heart that understands the disenchantment post-evangelicals feel after the fundamentalist fall out, which is outlined by folks like Elwell. However, I am still firmly in the evangelical camp with most of its accoutrements and trappings moderately in place. Though I may have some frustrations with evangelicalism, I identify myself as some who is tyring to make it better not as someone who is trying to dismantle it. I think understanding those who feel disenfranchised by evangelicalism is an important first step.
“To affirm ‘the authority of scripture’ is precisely not to say, ‘We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise any more questions’” (N.T. Wright, The Last Word [New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], 91).
“I take it as a method in my biblical studies that if I turn a corner and find myself saying, ‘Well, in that case, that verse is wrong’ that I must have turned a wrong corner somewhere. But this does not mean that I impose what I think is right on to that bit of the Bible. It means, instead, that I am forced to live with that text uncomfortably . . . until suddenly I come round a different corner and that verse makes a lot of sense” (N.T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” Vox Evangelica 21 : 30).
“When you get to be my age, you only have so many hormones left, and if you want to use yours to grow hair on the top of your head, that’s fine.” (N.T. Wright, on going bald).
Finally, I’ll give a word on becoming Episcopal. First, I am a fledgling Episcopalian. The liturgical, high church experience that I get to be part of at my church is one of the most gratifying experiences I am blessed to receive. I fit in at my parish, my children are well received and taken care of, my wife and I belong; what else does one need to say? Second, I do not yet feel ready to make academic level defenses of Episcopal practices, doctrine, or polity. I am definitely in tune with the notion of balancing Scripture, tradition, and reason, though I’ll admit that my stool is a little wobbly because the Scripture “leg” is a bit longer than the others. Since I am starting the journey here, this is also the shortest section. I close with the collect for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost. Blessings to you all, and happy blogging.
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whomyou have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with youand the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.