Christianity 201

February 4, 2011

Salad Bar Theology

Today, I want to continue the discussion I alluded to yesterday, which centers around the much longer item I blogged at Thinking Out Loud today, in reference to high profile ministers and musicians who don’t subscribe to key doctrines, and as to the question of whether or not they can be considered “Christian” in the sense the rest of us use that word.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  (Acts 17:11 NIV)

There is a general agreement today that younger generations of Christ-followers are not as attached to the name on the front door of the place they happen to worship.  Many churches have themselves gone out of their way to lose the denominational tag and have adopted generic names like “Community Church” or “Neighborhood Church” instead of wearing their affiliation more proudly.

Don’t get me wrong; there are things about this I like.  I also like the fact that many of our churches are singing out of the same songbook; there are common worship anthems and choruses with which we can all join together in one powerful voice.  Of course, there are also distinctives that each group has that we can learn from, just as there are some hymns and modern worship songs that remain somewhat unique to each group.

But in the process, we’ve become like consumers at the proverbial salad bar.   We take a bit of this and a bit of that, and we pass on chick peas because we don’t like the texture, but load up on the bacon bits because we love the flavor.   So we love grace and forgiveness, but we’re not so passionate about judgment or the wrath of God.   We’re quick to tell our relatives and c0-workers that we’re living in the end times, but don’t believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative in the 21st century.  There are over 100 references to gluttony in scripture, but we ignore the chronic obesity that dogs many believers but are quick to give our views on the question of homosexuality.

We pick and choose.

Many of us make the choices based on careful study of the scriptures, such as the above-mentioned Bereans in Acts 17.   Some choose on the basis of preferences; rejecting certain doctrinal elements that might actually affect the way we live, not unlike atheists who reject the stories of Noah or Jonah because if they are true, so are other parts of the Bible and that would having to engage and respond.

But many of us make our decisions based entirely on what (a) our friends, (b) a TV preacher, (c) a favorite author, or (d) our church or pastor tells us.  But what if a Berean study of scripture led you to a different conclusion?

So here’s the question:  Would you be willing to confront your friends or church and/or change churches if your study of scripture led you to something different from what you’ve heretofore believed.

Many of the people in the current crisis in Egypt have been heard to say, “For the first time ever, I am starting to think for myself.”  This is a breakthrough moment for them.

The problem in some churches is not strictly salad bar theology, but the numbers of people who have been eating a prepared salad.

It’s time to take your church’s statement of faith and examine it, and make sure that you have a personal statement of faith; time to take ownership of a personal theology.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… (I Peter 3:15 NIV)

May 2, 2010

The Sheer Arrogance of Doctrinal Certainty

I’m not talking about the core 7-12 doctrinal statements on which we all agree, but rather the peripherals, the distinctives, the non-essentials.

I got thinking about this after stumbling over this blog post at Free in Christ which in turn contained a quotation from Alexander Campbell.   Taken to extremes, this quote could render anyone powerless to know anything, and in my opening sentence here, I am thinking it should not be considered to apply to widely held, commonly practiced Christian theology.

I also think we need to leave some margin for mystery.

But I am beginning to get both Campbell’s intent, and the blog poster’s interpretation of it — adding a wee bit of overstatement in this post’s title just to keep things lively.

I’ve taken the liberty to break it up into smaller paragraphs:

“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe.

But as such knowledge is not within the grasp of feeble mortal man, whose horizon is a point of creation, and whose days are but a moment of time, it is superlatively incongruous for any son of science, or of religion, to affirm that this or that issue is absolutely irrational, unjust, or unfitting the schemes of eternal Providence, or the purposes of the supreme wisdom and benevolence, only as he is guided by the oracles of infallible wisdom, or the inspirations of the Almighty.

Who could pronounce upon the wisdom and utility of a single joint, without a knowledge of the limb to which it belongs; of that limb, without an understanding of the body to which it ministers; of that body, without a clear perception of the world in which it moves, and of the relations which it sustains; of that world, without some acquaintance with the solar system of which it is but a small part; of that particular solar system, without a general and even intimate knowledge of all the kindred systems; of all these kindred systems, without a thorough comprehension of the ultimate design of the whole creation; of that ultimate design, without a perfect intelligence of that incomprehensible Being by whom, and for whom all things were created and made?

How gracefully, then, sits unassuming modesty on all the reasonings of man. The true philosopher and the true Christian, therefore, delight always to appear in the unaffected costume of humility, candor, and docility.”

–Alexander Campbell in The Christian System