Wrestling with Ideas, and Maybe with God

My recent online encounters with Complementarians (God bless them) have brought into sharp relief for me a number of inter-related issues:

1) On what kind of matters in a public space can we unambiguously claim: "this is what Christians believe"?

2) On "disputable matters" among Christians, how do we nuance our language in a public space?

3) What's the difference between a public space and a private space in the new online world? Can I ever give my own opinion on my (Friends only) Facebook page, despite holding a position within Churches of Christ?

4) How can we convey Christian charity and respect to those with whom we disagree, while still engaging in robust dialogue?

And perhaps the most difficult question of all...


5) How do we do theology well? What does that look like?

Perhaps for today question 5 will suffice.

Anyone who believes in God is a working theologian of sorts, trying to make sense of who God is, how God works, and how God and I and other human beings all relate to one another.

Christian theologians use the Christian scriptures as a primary reference point. They also reference their own denominational traditions and church experiences.

Those who engage in formal theological education may learn the biblical languages, the conventions of biblical hermeneutics, and the ever-evolving history of theology.

And of course, we all reference our life experiences, the scripts planted in us through early (and later) socialisation, the books we have read, our formal and informal educational experiences. We are socialised into faith (and in some cases out of it).

When I deal with Christians who inhabit a different social world, and who reach different conclusions on important ("disputable") topics, I am somewhat bemused.

But this makes me wonder anew... what are my own blind spots? Are there important issues I get completely wrong... or important issues I'm oblivious to... because of my own social world?

When I deal with Christians with different opinions, sometimes I notice what I think are poor arguments:

* Proof texting (here's the ONE verse that proves my point! Or maybe TWO!)
* Slightly better... pulling together a disconnected series of verses / passages and claiming this "proves" something. (And ignoring counter-arguments that can be made with the same approach... yes, the bible is a complex book!)
* Translation bias (This is what I KNOW this verse means, because it says so in my English bible, and I'll ignore expert analysis that sheds a different light on this).
* The church has ALWAYS taught this. (This is a weak argument for Protestants who claim "the bible alone"... and often reflects a poor grasp of church history).

Underneath all this, I often sense something else going on... that people have prior prejudices and convictions, and collect evidence to support this. (Bible verses, books and articles by teachers that they like, a mental argument).

We all do this. It's exhausting to examine issues afresh. It involves a degree of pain to suspend judgment for long enough to REALLY hear a different point of view.

I feel I have been given one lingering gift from studying science. Engaging in scientific research ALWAYS means being willing to give up your most cherished idea when the evidence points another way. Statistics are harsh: they do not care how emotionally invested you are.

Theology is a more subjective discipline, but better Christian theology looks at the big picture of the biblical story; the grand narrative of the fall and redemption and restoration, and the love of God that transforms all things. Yet working through the big picture down to the details on which we must make decisions is hard. It's complex. There are often no simple proof texts to solve complex 21st century issues.

We are the descendants of Israel through Christ... the one whose name meant to "wrestle with God". Sometimes it is in our wrestling, more so than in our certainty. that we discover we have encountered God. (Genesis 32: 24 - 30)

So to everyone who disagrees with me on something... grace to you. It's hard for me to listen also... to understand your world, your thoughts, your feelings, and how you came to your views. Let's wrestle together... but be aware we might be standing on sacred ground.

And let's remember the solid, sacred ground beneath us is the love and grace of God.

Yes, and amen.


Comments

AbiSomeone said…
Yes, Janet! I finally have come to the place that says all are beloved siblings, but I must pick my battles with care and remember that family is forever. Some of them don't think much of my opinions, but that just means I have to not push them. And when they push me, I have to reply with love and grace and mercy.

I am a debater at heart. This has been a long lesson...as I approach 60!

Sometimes facts fail to convince because perspective doesn't allow clear sight and education doesn't support understanding. In those times I remember the grace of God, who does know all, as They smile and allow me to say and do foolish things in Their name. "Bless her heart. She will understand some day."
Janet Woodlock said…
Approaching 60! Surely it's only minutes ago we had babies under foot?

"All of life is grace" as Frederick Buechner puts it. Which is just as well when we imagine ourselves in some kind of historical perspective and think about how quaint some of our ideas will seem in a thousand years' time.

But the Trinity smiles upon us with love and grace all the same. :-)

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