Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Did We Get Here? (Part 1)

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you are driving your car on the highway and suddenly thing, "How did I get here?"  While driving safely for perhaps a mile or more, you realize you were daydreaming.  Has that ever happened to you?  Very unsettling feeling.

I have to be honest, and this may get me in trouble.  And it is not the first time I have expressed these concerns, I know.  I would describe myself as a conservative, Evangelical Fundamentalist (in the classic sense) Christian.  I am a supporter of street evangelism.  These categories tend to put me in a narrow group.  Those who fall into this category deeply desire to have the RIGHT theology, the RIGHT practice, and the RIGHT morals and preach the RIGHT Gospel.  Who wouldn't want such things?  But this leaves one question - why, then, are we the nastiest group in all of Christianity?

Now, we would deny this with every fiber of our being.  But will we really admit otherwise?  But what do I mean by nasty?  Well, for one, it seems that we are no longer FOR anything, but AGAINST everything.  And against everyone.

To review, here are the five original "fundamentals" of the Christian faith (not listed in order of importance):
1) the virgin birth of Christ
2) Jesus' deity and substitutionary atonement for sin
3) Christ's bodily resurrection
4) Christ's literal second coming
5) the authority and inerrancy of the Bible

However, these no longer seem to be the most important issues for Christians.  I heard a radio program recently that stated the new movement of Christians uniting under the banner of the Gospel needs to take a step back because we are arguing too destructively about other issues.  

I am not aware of any conservative Christian who would argue with the virgin birth or Christ's bodily resurrection.  However, it does appear that His deity and substitutionary atonement are coming under attack.  And with that, some have become over sensitive.  I spent many happy years following Jesus without ever knowing or caring about the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate.  Over the past couple of years, this has become one of the biggest debates I have seen rage within the Body of Christ.  So much so that, while two people may agree 100% on the 5 fundamentals, they are willing to charge each other with heresy because they differ on this theological sub-point.  The proof is that those engaged in the debate refuse to admit that it is a sub-point.  In reading both sides of the debate over time, I have realized that both sides gain fuel by being AGAINST the other position.

How about the issue of Christ's literal second coming?  Yep, we need to argue about that, too.  Is he returning before the Tribulation, in the middle of it, or at the end of it?  It would seem that where you fall on that secondary set of questions also defines whether you are a heretic or not.

And what about the authority and inerrancy of the Bible?  Well, we can't let that go without a fight, too.  Now we have to use the charge of heresy based on what translation of the Bible you use.  I was once charged with spreading a dangerous Gospel because I was giving away copies of the ESV at an outreach instead of the KJV.

But, oh, the fights don't stop there.  We feel the need to launch missiles at each other over speaking in tongues.  If we hear of another Christian who supports a political candidate that is not as conservative as our candidate, we feel the need to question the salvation of the person who would even think of supporting that candidate.

I wish I was taking this to an extreme to make a point.  The vast majority of my Facebook friends hold to the same fundamentals as I do.  Yet, I have had to drastically reduce my time there because I always leave depressed and heavy-hearted.  It would seem that we are looking for any little crack to jump down each others' throats.  And yet we are so proud of our loyalty to Jesus and our faithfulness to the Word of God.  We defend our arguments with the Biblical mandate to "test everything" and to "correct and rebuke."  However, we feel the liberty to completely ignore the commands to "love one another" and "build one another up."

Are these secondary theological issues unimportant?  No.  But, they are, indeed, secondary.  That means, they are not primary.  The problem is, every secondary issue is an implication of a primary issue.  Because of that, we tend to take the secondary issues and equate them with primary issues.

At the risk of making people mad, I would suggest that there are a couple of things causing the problem and playing into the nasty fights that take place.  One thing is a lack of education.  Ouch.  bear with me a moment.  I am not saying the people are not smart or have not done a lot of reading on the issue.  Let me explain what I mean.

I went to college and seminary at schools that would be defined as moderate and perhaps slightly liberal.  My time at those schools actually left me more conservative in my theology!  I came to that result because the professors, while coming out on the liberal side of many issues, actually did what they were supposed to do.  They presented both sides of the issue and, while giving their conclusion, challenged the students to examine both sides and come to their own conclusion.  That is the kind of education that I am suggesting is missing from many Christians.  And so, all we are left to do is argue and "yell" at each other.  The internet has opened up a whole new world to us when it comes to information.  While it has been a blessing in many ways, it has been ugly, as well.    

Let me illustrate.  Take the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate.  Many Calvinists will not soil their minds by reading anything from an Arminian.  So, they read John Calvin's works, listen to John MacArthur and read web sites that only point out the evils of Arminian thinking.  The result?  Attack any hints of Arminianism that you see.  And for the Arminians?  Read Charles Finney and don't soil your mind with the evil works of John Calvin and others.  Read only those sources that point out the dangers of predestination thinking.  The result? Attack the Calvinists.  Yet what I see over and over is that few people on either side can actually articulate what the other side actually believes.  We stick to stereotypes and generalizations put together by those who agree with us.  We do the same thing with speaking in tongues and pretty much every other issue.

What happened to the old debate club practice of learning how to defend any position?  It's not about agreeing with the position, it's about understanding the position.  If you are a Calvinist, can you DEFEND Arminianism better than an Arminian?  If you are an Arminian, can you DEFEND Calvinsim better than a Calvinist?  That is what educating yourself on the issue is all about.

As I said before, I left college and seminary more conservative than when I started.  So, many of my beliefs on things have changed.  When I was in college, I felt it was fine for a woman to be a pastor.  I wrote a paper defending the position which the head of the religion department (an advocate of women pastors and whose wife was a senior pastor) praised as one of the best he has read.  I now believe strongly that the Bible is clear that a woman should not be a pastor.  This issue is a secondary issue which is an implication of the primary issue - the fundamental of the authority and inerrancy of the Bible.  The problem is, when I wrote that paper in college, I wrote it believing in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible.  You see, when we "debate" with people who support women pastors, we attack them as being non-Christians because they deny the authority and inerrancy of the Bible.  And they are angered because they believe in the authority and (sometimes) the inerrancy of the Bible.  And the debate goes nowehere other than into the realm of personal attacks.  If you want to speak the truth in love and have a constructive conversation on the issue, learn how someone can support women pastors AND still feel that they are holding to the authority and inerrancy of the Bible.  The discussion will be a whole lot more productive and a lot less...ugly.

The same goes for speaking on tongues.  In 24 years as a Christian, I have both supported and condemned the practice.  The thing is, I can present both sides in such a way that you would never know where I stood on the issue.  And so, I know that opponents are not rebelling against the Holy Spirit and supporters are not all just emotionalists.

Before I start to wrap things up, I know there is one other issue that I hinted at but haven't addressed yet.  I will save that for Part 2, as this has gotten quite long.  So, I will push the pause button on the conversation for now.  

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