Monday, March 21, 2016

The Amphitheatre: Why Nobody Bats 1.000 in Christian Theology

Here's a picture that's been on my heart for a long time and I'm really sure that it's a good representation of our corporate attempt to adequately articulate and describe what we believe about the Christian faith. And if this inspires anyone to actually create it visually I'd welcome that. But at this time, as I can't really be doing that myself, I will try to put into words.

Start with a stage in a large semicircular format. The stage has two features. The rear of the stage, in a wide sweeping curve, is a series of pictures representing the history and writings of the Old Testament. In the centre of the stage is a large multi-faceted crystaline structure that represents, not the New Testament, but what some term the Christ Event. The Christ Event may be slowly turning, it may be not, but certainly the facets as you gaze on them from whatever side obscure what is visible from some other angle. And maybe as you gaze on the Christ event from a certain angle it obscures to the point of blotting out some of the Old Testament behind it. The visible panels of the Old Testament become part of the whole picture that you see so that wherever you are there is a whole and possibly satisfying picture that differs from what is seen from the other parts of the amphitheatre.

The other feature of the place is the seating. The seating is also semi-circular. In the front rows are the writers of the New Testament. They got first crack at articulating the meaning of what they experienced. But even they saw things from a slightly different angle from each other. And here I diverge somewhat from tradition and say that in this enterprise of discovering 'what it all means,' we are their equals. We are indebted to them for reporting on the Christ Event and starting the discussion, but the discussion goes on because the Holy Spirit is still with us and we are still exploring.

The rows in the seating have been gradually filling up: not as fast as the church grows, mind you; many Christians hardly ever visit this amphitheatre. Theology as such is just not a pursuit for most and that is worth remembering for those for whom it is a passion. It would have made sense for the place to fill up in a linear fashion with people filing in and filling it up row by row. But such is not the case. Camps have formed in different areas of the seating, populated by people of similar viewpoints who like the view best from this or that location. Because the seats also represent a spectrum of culture and experience and people of certain cultures and experiences will gravitate to what they are the most comfortable with.

And there is a ludicrous, though perhaps not unnatural, side effect to the camps. Those in the camps have started to be more aware of the other camps than of the star of the show, the Christ Event, and have started to focus on how different they are from the other camps, while if they really wanted to find out at a deeper level why they're so different, the answer is a short walk away.

The walk to another part of the seating would reveal a set of questions that your pet view does not address, and cultural forces and assumptions that make your answers seem irrelevant and yet these also are followers of the Messiah. So don't think that your view is the final, the real, the complete version. Not even if it's newly (re)discovered. It will only ever be complete in the context of your set of questions, forces, and assumptions. There will be a cultural shift in the future that will set it all on its ear again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Whole Food Theology II

I suppose that I could actually title this, "If you are a Christian you are this..." It was that sort of Facebook dialogue that is the catalyst for this.

My daughter says I should just clean up my friends list to avoid being embroiled in controversies. But some people are still friends though I haven't seen them for years and our opinions have diverged. Anyhow someone in my friend list was rah-rah-ing Ted Cruz for walking off the stage at a persecuted Christians gala because he was committed to supporting Israel and they saw Israel as part of the problem. I read the referenced article as well as a few others covering the event and suggested that there was more than one way to spin his exit. Well, some people, not the original poster, although she didn't like it either, were retorting with "You better be on Israel's side if you are on God's side!" style stuff at the merest suggestion that there was any other way to read the event.

There was a bit more back and forth and one of my rebuttals is the basis of this post. So, with the hubris required for me to actually quote myself:
[It's a question of ] "if you are Christian, you are this," [or] "if you are a Christian you diligently do your best to think all these issues through...
I'm thinking we have all encountered a lot of "if you are a Christian, you are this.." The aforementioned group that believes that the modern state of Israel (and it is a modern state in every way and not the restoration of the Davidic Monarchy) is the successor to the Israel and Judah of Bible times. The people who believe the opposite. The people who view the Atonement through a Neo-Calvinistic lens. The people who find that abhorrent. I've had all sorts of assumptions thrown at me about what bandwagons I had better be on from all of them. Okay, not directly, but in the writings, articles, blogposts. But you might have heard me say this before. What about not being sure yet?

Brad Jersak once wrote a book I really enjoyed called Her Gates Shall Never Be Shut about the many different options in scripture as to what happens to non-believers after death. He called it a polyphony. Truth is, about so much of this stuff, there is also the same: a polyphony. And here's where I go back to my earlier post about Whole Food Theology as opposed to Refined Theology. It's the polyphony that gives us not one but many pictures to enlighten, flesh out, and yes, even confuse our efforts to be sure of some theological fact. I could go through the list of different viewpoints plus many more and demonstrate why I can't be wholly satisfied by any one of them, but perhaps that would be too much. At any rate I return once more to my favourite theological statement, the one that really sums it up and is all I can be sure of these days: I have decided to follow Jesus...