Friday, May 17, 2013

On Second Thought

I just got through reading a few interesting articles. The premise of these articles is basically, “Who owns Dietrich Bonhoeffer?” There seems to be this raging debate between who Bonhoeffer would lend his sympathy toward, those ranting, raving far-right, Evangelical nut jobs, or those Godless, hell-bound expecting a handout, left-wing hacks. Yes. Apparently that is a real argument going on today. And though, I am in no way the same caliber of excellence of Bonhoeffer, I feel at times I have the opposite problem. My problem, is where do I belong in this hubbub.

Part of the problem lately has been my aversion to men such as Mark Driscoll and John Piper, while not being able to fully embrace the views of men like Tony Jones and Jay Bakker. Granted those are seemingly polar opposites, and whenever your comparison is “the fringe” of course you find yourself in a quandary. But, I think the problem is actually quite a bit larger than that. I think the problem lies within the “us and them” that has transcended culture and overtaken the Church. And that’s not a new problem.
When I was in, probably my second year of seminary, I was introduced to one Dr. James Cone. Cone scared (and still does to a certain extent) the crap out of me. Here was a man that said things like, “The time has come for white America to be silent and listen to black people...All white men are responsible for white oppression.” Now I’ll be frank for just a minute. A late-twenties, evangelical, white male, who has not been exposed to much liberal theology, can and was scared out of his wits reading this kind of language. BUT, Cone and I belong to each other. Not in an ownership kind of way, more like a tribal affiliation.

While at seminary I also took a course that studied Henri JM Nouwen. The entire course was just that, a study of his life, what was his theology, how did he minister, what were his psychological leanings and methods; these were the questions that we examined. I admired and still do admire Nouwen. However, there are a lot of people in the intellectual world who do not find Nouwen’s teachings palatable, either because he is A) Catholic, or B) spiritual and not academic. But just like Cone, Nouwen and I belong to one another.
Seminary also challenged me to read works by Marva Dawn and Nancey Murphy. In a field over wrought with Caucasian, gray-headed, white dudes, I could see the struggle of women trying to break through barriers long since placed before them. And like Nouwen and Cone there is this unity that draws Murphy and Dawn into the “us” that was forming in my mind.

Now backtrack to around the end of college or so. I was reading John Eldredge. I loved Wild at Heart. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Sure some things were over-simplified and generalized, but there was something that resonated with me. The same could be said for Neil T. Anderson and Richard Foster who were also influential during those formative years.
Finally, there was this influence of John Wimber, BennyHinn and Mike Bickle, etc. That was really my bread and butter. The experiential nature of God manifesting Himself to the Church; the love of God transcending into our lives like the Song of Solomon on display; tongues of fire, prophetic words, people slain in the Spirit: these mystical experiences I knew to be real. They were not conjured up in a moment of emotional hysteria. These men and women were the closest to family I felt in the Church, but something was missing.

The problem for a growing cohort within Christianity is simply this: for the Charismatic/Pentecostal intellectual there is either a vacuum with no legitimate presence, or there is this borderless realm with no limit as to who influences you. I have lived for so long in the odd loneliness of not being a typical conservative Evangelical, but finding no place within the larger liberal community because my views of Scripture/theology were far and away too conservative.
Bill Jackson and Todd Hunter coined a book called The Quest for the Radical Middle. I haven’t read it. I should read it. I probably will read it soon. But as the title suggests, for many there is this odd defiance that does not want to succumb to being defined as right wing, left wing, liberal, conservative, etc. We are different. And because our views do not line-up explicitly with someone like Eugene Cho or Shane Claiborne, and because people need to give others a label in order to know how to deal with them, we come across as non-committal and wishy-washy.

When I say I don’t know fully how to respond to homosexuality yet, even though I have been having conversations with others about it for nearly twenty years, that is a true statement. It is not me trying to appease you and your idea of full inclusion or saying homosexuals should be nowhere near a church’s doors. When I say that yes, I believe people are faking spiritual gifts and at times the charismatic church is full of emotionalism, it doesn’t mean that I want those same churches to stop seeking the spiritual gifts. Actually, it’s just the opposite. I want to see those same churches continue to seek out the power of the Holy Spirit and bridle it aside the truth of Jesus Christ so that lives will be changed.
I think back to the Shema in Deuteronomy and how it is repeated (in part) in the New Testament: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. There is a definite complexity to loving the Lord with your heart, soul, mind and strength. And without the various streams of the Church I don’t think I could love the Lord fully. Without men such as Thomas Merton and Yonggi Cho and women such as Mother Teresa and Heidi Baker, the Church would not be who She is…and I cannot be who I am created to be, which is not this definable “white, evangelical 30+ year old with Charismatic and Catholic leanings,” but instead is simply as the Fleet Foxes sing “a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me.”

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