Monday, November 4, 2013

Thoughts on Orthodoxy

So, as has been a frequent occurrence of late, I was thinking about John MacArthur. And two things pretty foreign to my normal disposition began to occur. First, I want to hug Mark Driscoll and buy him a beer, and second, I kind of, maybe, a little bit, possibly, in the slightest regard, but probably not actually, understand where MacArthur is coming from.* So, let’s first turn our attention to Mr. Driscoll.
No, Driscoll's not punching MacArthur...that's Piper.
So, apparently Marky Mark and his fresh bunch showed up at the Strangefire Conference. Rumor had it he was kicked out. That made me reconsider my thoughts on Driscoll for a brief moment. So, if there is a "-10 to +10" chart of friendship, I’m now a full point closer to bff-hood with Markus! But, as often happens, truth was exaggerated; Driscoll wasn’t really kicked out. He was asked and then physically forced by security not to hand out free copies of his book to attendees, because it wasn’t on the “approved book list.” Apparently John thinks 1984 and Animal Farm should be more strictly adhered to than is current practice.
I kept reading and found that Driscoll went so far as to invite MacArthur to his conference. He offered to pay for travel, cover his honorarium, the whole shebang. And on top of that he said (in the James Love translation), “I understand you think I’m an idiot, and probably feel like this is some sort of trap, so I invited Wayne Grudem to have the conversation with you instead of me, because you say you respect him.” All-in-all a generous proposal by Driscoll, so if I happen to run into him somehow in the month of November I shall high five him, offer a Vanillaphant to him and maybe part as partial bros, or to borrow a term from the Catholics, separated brethren.
Now that my little love fest for Driscoll is solidified in writing, let me talk about the one thing that I think I get about JM. To do that I need to introduce (maybe reintroduce, or just define what I mean to some of you) a couple of terms that inform this discussion: orthodoxy and heterodoxy.
To use a food metaphor – orthodoxy is like butter, gravy or jelly on a biscuit. It is how things are supposed to be. It is accepted as the standard or norm. It is, in theological terms, the approved version of how we believe things to be. Heterodoxy is kind of like the color gray on the wheel. It, in varying shades and luminosity, separates black from white. It has varying degrees of acceptability and accuracy, but as a general rule, it’s not out-and-out wrong. To go back to food, it’s like seeing someone but nutella, chocolate spread or vegemite on a biscuit. Well, maybe not vegemite. That might cross the line into heresy…unless you come from the land down under…then I’d cut you some grace.
So, thinking about heterodoxy today made me feel a little bit like I understood JM. Do I still think the dude is incorrect, harsh and kind of a jerk? Most certainly, but I can understand his hesitation. I can understand if this thought crossed his mind at some point: “When I look at them (Charismatics, Pentecostals and Catholics) I don’t see my faith. I’m searching through their beliefs and I just don’t see anything that looks like what I have been taught.”
I get that. The first day or so in the Abbey of Gethsemani I thought some similar thoughts. I thought, “I just don’t recognize this. Therefore I don’t understand how it fits into my understanding of God and the Church.” But here is what separates myself from JM…I recognize that heterodoxy is reality. I don’t jump and say “That’s Orthodox. That’s blasphemy.” In other words, I recognize gray. It reminds me of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. That chapter is great on love, but also reminds us that now we see through a glass rather dimly. It’s kind of like those of you, who like myself, wear glasses. Suppose you are at work and you take your glasses off and someone chooses that moment to come into your office. You have roughly a good idea of whose blurry outline that is. If they speak, your auditory memory confirms it, but you see no details. And here is the point where I get in trouble with a lot of people…so of course, I am going to set it apart as its own paragraph to emphasize it, and knock off Rob Bell a bit:
When we see and think about God…we see the blur, we don’t see the details.
Part of our life’s work is working toward that blur, becoming more in focus through relationship with Jesus and others. I caught myself typing “others in the Church,” but then deleted it as there is a modicum (yes…I am going to cash in on that word today folks) of understanding and revelation of God found in all people and all things. My relationships with atheists guide my understanding of God. My interactions with Hindus inform the way I see God. Now, those within the Church may provide more reliable information, but any religious tradition that becomes so internal that they exclude general revelation is already at risk of some serious craziness.
I have probably said this before, but will say it again. I am comfortable understanding that when I stand before God at the end of my days I may say something like, “God. I really didn’t understand that,” or “Wow, I can’t believe I missed that and got it totally wrong.” The reason I’m comfortable is I can say with complete sincerity, “But I tried. I devoted my life to seeking after the truth. And I think that pleases you more than being right.”
And that is my thought of the day folks. To steal a phrase, we need to be “lifelong learners.” We need to be humble enough to allow firmly entrenched beliefs to be challenged. Because sometimes those firmly entrenched beliefs are actually shaky pillars that are more about covering some fear or inadequacy than building a firm foundation.
I end with this illustration: My friend Allen Corben is a cool dude. We share a common faith, and I believe a common seminary degree. However, he and I do not line up a lot theologically. Allen is way more open and liberal than I will ever be. But the deal is, at the end of the day he and I can go sit down and break bread with one another because we allow room for the gray. He understands my conservative upbringing in Texas influenced me more than four years in SoCal. He also understands that the issues we are divided on are things fine under heterodoxy. They aren’t the essential matters…and there are essential matters. But if there ever came a time where Allen needed to be corrected because he wandered outside the line of even heterodoxy into heresy, or vice versa, the way we would handle the situation is more like Driscoll than MacArthur. We would invite conversation and not say, “You’re a bunch of idiots and going to hell.” The reason why? We’re actually about our brother and his salvation, and not being right.
* Probably, not actually, but I just kind of want, a modicum of understanding and an excuse to use the word modicum appropriately in my blog. Modicum. Also, Marky Mark, consider that your invitation for a free beer if you travel to Alabama to share it with me. Valid only through the month of November unless you do something else amazing soon.

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