You have referred several times to evangelical Christianity in this exchange of emails. You’ve made it clear that, although evangelicalism was the context for your early Christian formation, you no longer share some of the movement’s foundational presuppositions. In your last letter, however, you said something I had not heard before, and it raised a question I’d like to pursue.
You wrote, “Despite my belief that evangelicalism has lost its way and is flailing around in a confused state of self-misperception, I pray for the movement’s recovery of the gospel of the kingdom.” Could you say a bit more about that?Continue reading →
Before I go further in defining the parameters and describing the particulars of the change in my thinking over the past few years, I want to address one other factor that contributes to the process and experience of change: the subjective dimension. Simply put, we never make a significant change in our beliefs or practices until we feel the need for change. We will never take the risks associated with change until we are convinced, rather more instinctually than intellectually, that change is desirable, possible, and maybe even necessary.
At least that has certainly been true for me. I am today open to the possibility of truth in ideas and concepts that, only a few years ago, I regarded with derision and dismissed with prejudice. My thinking began to change when my circumstances changed, and I was no longer bound emotionally to an earlier pattern of thought and behavior. Continue reading →
I read your recent Facebook post in which you indicated you were exploring several options for your Lenten discipline this year. I would like to make a suggestion in that regard. Would you be interested in devoting your blog, for the entire season of Lent, to responding to a series of questions from me (and maybe a few others) about the changes that many of us have observed in your life over the past few years?
This would not be an unpleasant inquisition for the purpose of challenging you to defend yourself. It would simply be an opportunity to ask some questions, mainly for clarity and better understanding, that have arisen in my mind as I have read your blog posts and Facebook updates, particularly in the past two or three years.
To save time, I’ll pose the first question now. If you would prefer to go another direction for your Lenten discipline this year, just ignore it. If you’d like to take me up on my suggestion, then we can begin that endeavor with your response to this question. In any event, here it is.
I think you would agree with me that you’ve changed a great deal in many ways since the time I was your student at Plumwood Bible College more than ten years ago. Before I ask you anything about the specific areas in which you’ve changed, I’d like to know what prompted those changes in the first place. In my own limited experience, I have to say that I’ve never met anyone else, whose life has been devoted to Christian ministry, who has changed, in outlook and belief and practice, to the extent you have. What was it that triggered that change in your life? Can you point to a particular factor—maybe an incident or a set of circumstances, maybe a book you read or a speaker you heard—that served as a catalyst for change as profound and fundamental as you have experienced? If you are willing to take me up on this suggestion for your Lenten discipline, then I look forward to reading your response in the next few days, perhaps as soon as Ash Wednesday.
For my final post of October, during which I have published a blog post each day of the month, I have decided to do one that blends kingdom theology, contemporary culture, and politics. By means of a “Top Ten List,” I will attempt a serious, if not comprehensive, response to the following question:
As a citizen of the kingdom of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ, what major points of interface to I observe between the kingdom and the contemporary culture around me? Continue reading →
During the month of October, I have taken up the challenge to publish a blog post every day. I have worked hard to avoid a negative or critical tone in what I have written. True, I did defend the role of the critic, especially when it is clear that the focus of criticism—as, for example, the church—is so clearly an object of the critic’s love and affection.
Still, knowing my tendency to embrace the critic’s task with excessive enthusiasm from time to time, I have tried to make my posts this month as positive and informative as possible. Only my readers can judge my success in that endeavor. Continue reading →
Almost every day, one or more of my Facebook friends will post a status update reporting that something good that has happened to them—they got the job, or the test results came back negative, or a family member escaped injury in a serious accident. In most cases, these reports of good fortune include a reference to the goodness of God and an expression of thanks for the blessing of God’s favor.
I have to admit I am troubled by those posts. Oh, I’m happy for their good fortune. God knows there is too much bad news in the world. It’s always heartening to hear of conditions that are improving and circumstances that are not as serious as had been supposed. Good news is always welcome. Continue reading →
Picking up where I left off yesterday, I want to consider further the first of three important truths I mentioned at the close of that post. There I noted that the older I get, the less certain I am about a lot of things, and I am not troubled by that. In fact, unwarranted certainty very often breeds arrogance, while honest doubt encourages humility and deepens faith.
I have a theory. It is not something I have read anywhere, at least not that I recall. It is the product of gut feeling and personal observation, not surveys or scientific testing of any kind. I may abandon it tomorrow, but for today, here it is. Continue reading →
I am sixty-five years old. I have to write that every once in a while just to remind myself that it’s true. I was baptized in a muddy river near Charleston, West Virginia, and became a member of Baptist church when I was eight years old. As a senior in high school, I sensed what I have always described as a call from God to devote my life to Christian ministry. I prepared for that role with diplomas from a Bible college, a Christian liberal arts college, and a theological seminary. Along the way, I have served as a pastor, a broadcaster, a writer, and a college instructor.
I grew up in fundamentalism, moved to a more inclusive evangelicalism as a young adult, served more than twenty-five years among Mennonites, and six years ago received the sacrament of confirmation in an Anglican church. In 1970, I was ordained a Baptist minister. In 1982, I was ordained in the Mennonite Church. In 2011, I was ordained an Anglican priest.
I mention all of that only to establish that I know a thing or two about Christian theology. I taught systematic theology for twelve years as a Bible college instructor. Until about seven years ago, I thought I had a handle on a belief system that I could explain in systematic, academic terms, in which I could find the answer to any question I might be asked about faith, religion, or metaphysics in general. I don’t think that anymore. Continue reading →
I grew up with great respect for the Bible. Even more than that, really. I regarded the Bible with reverence. My grandmother would not allow anything to be laid on top of the Bible, and although I didn’t go that far, I understood her sentiment. After all, the Bible was a sacred book. Even though humans had produced the written the text of the Bible, it was somehow a record of what God had said. It was the Word of God.
As a Bible college student and then as a minister for many years thereafter, I championed the cause of “Biblical inerrancy.” If God is perfect, I reasoned, and if the Bible was the Word of God, then the Bible must bear the character of the God whose word it was. In its relation to God, the Bible was the literary equivalent of Jesus. As Jesus was the Word of God in human flesh (cf. John 1), the Bible was the Word of God in written form. I could no more consider the possibility of an error in the text of the Bible than I could imagine Jesus, during his earthly life, snatching a woman’s purse to get money to buy beer. Continue reading →
I’ve recently begun to think of my life as a long train ride to a destination about which I know very little for certain, but my impression is that it is a good place to go. Arrival time is not announced, but the older we passengers get, the more the conductor encourages us to be ready to disembark at any time.
One thing I’ve noticed. For most of this journey so far, I could observe the passing countryside through the windows on one side of the train only. The windows on the other side were obscured in some way. I could see movement through them, but the images appeared blurred or distorted. Continue reading →