This is one of those thoughts that I thought a good while ago and then when I went to write it out I totally lost my train of thought. So, it’s sat as an idea for over 7 months.
Then I began to have a conversation with my brother about his disdain for the cult of personality around Mark Driscoll and the theology being taught in a local Acts29 church plant. Maybe disdain is too strong a word, but he does have an aversion to it if only out of frustration. I’ll admit I agree with him on a lot of his frustrations, but that’s not the point of this post.
The point is the “counter-cultureness” or “otherness” of Scripture.
The only reason I bring up my brother’s frustrations is because they reignited the idea. What I felt like my brother wanted me to do, essentially, was provide Scripture for him to put down the theology held by his friends that subscribe to and are a part of the Driscoll/Acts 29 sphere of influence. Like I said I have similar frustrations, but I really didn’t want to give him ammo to be argumentative. Because, like me, he is argumentative and intelligent enough to be dangerous in a debate (if only dangerously abrasive, also like myself). Further, I do not think the purpose of discussing theology is to “win”. When “winning” a debate over theology is the goal, one is missing out on a greater good that could be attained. In fact, the purpose of winning is ultimately losing in this case. Engaging Scripture and developing a theology should be about growing into, growing nearer and growing more fully within one’s self the kingdom of God. As my brother was pressing me for information, I began to see two things in him (whether he would agree with these or not): 1) he does not like conservative, baptist influenced “New Calvinist” theology and is seeking to develop his own, which will probably have a more Methodist flavor and 2) he needs to grow into a tension filled theology.
Furthering goal 1 would have been accomplished, but that does not necessarily mean furthering goal 2 would have been accomplished, at least in my opinion. My thinking was that by giving him ammo to “win” the debate, he would have been able to move further along establishing a more Wesleyan/Methodist theology in spite of a New Calvinist one. However, I also thought that he would miss out on the other theology’s “rightness” while accepting Methodism’s own, specifically in terms of predestination. The Scriptures would have been used to support himself and bash others.
That is not how Scripture should be wielded, it’s purpose is to open our eyes to the counter culture: the kingdom of God. What I am taking that to mean is counter to our own culture, whatever that may be. If we believe in culture A and not B, Scripture supports culture B as much as we don’t want it to. Yet, for those who prescribe to culture B and not A, Scripture likewise supports culture A in spite of what those pro-B might desire. Scripture is counter to both kinds of culture as opposed to counter to only one culture and wholly in support of another.
What I want for my brother, as much as for myself and for anyone else, is to be challenged by Scripture to not accept any one culture or sub-culture, or way to view Scripture, as being true. All are reflections of humans, because they are created by humans and are therefore incomplete and fallible. All cultures seek to set up some sort of kingdom, with some sort of human agenda. It can’t not occur, it’s a human creation being propagated by humans; the agenda will not be solely God’s, although in numerous circles people often claim that that is what occurs.
However, the multifaceted claims of what is and is not God’s agenda makes the counter-cultureness of Scripture a burden. It creates a tension filled theology and tension. Having a Scripture that can always counter you and having a theology that is tension filled is frustrating. It is far easier to come down on an issue in one way and dismiss contradictions or potential paradoxes. Which is why I think many let God or themselves off the hook in certain situations. In my brother’s case one of the tensions is the logic of predestination and experiential reality of free-will. In support of predestination one can dismiss experience and some of Scripture for logic, or vice versa in support of free-will.
Trying to live into this counter cultural ideal of the Scriptures and having a tension filled theology is even more of a burden.
Often times I feel as if I am striking out on my own, because I can’t agree with most people on everything. Although, I do agree with a lot of people on somethings. This lack of total common ground is frustrating because I see so much I agree with and yet so much I disagree with, so I feel very isolated. I suppose that’s one of the issues with understanding the humanness of all culture(s). It prevents me from fully throwing myself into just one, or two, or three, etc.
But there is beauty in this, because the kingdom of God is, ideally, beyond culture and not bounded to or constrained by it. I don’t have to settle for this view or that way, or this group or that subset. I can fully engage myself as I feel led, by the Spirit I suppose. Knowing that I am able to go in the Spirit is freeing. For one it allows me to engage the world in a way that I feel is good and true, regardless of the views of others. Second, it frees me from a sense of guilt or a desire to hide what I do. By knowing that not everyone is correct all the time, I am free to consider their views incorrect and thus free from the weight of whatever judgments or opinions they give. Further, I am free to live knowing I have the support of kingdom of God behind and before me. How could I feel fear and guilt in that?
However, this beauty is also a confusing tension to hold.
I do not think that the kingdom of God is merely an individualistic endeavor. It is just counter to the sum of human culture, so I must navigate my way by the Spirit. It does result in individualism as opposed to the tribalism of culture, but, as counter cultural as that is, I am still a creature and one of culture. Logically then, I should, and often do, find myself living out my humanness. Just as I measure all of human culture with Scripture and reason, I must also measure myself, and my ideal of the kingdom of God and be willing to find myself in the wrong.
The tension then lies not merely between holding and living by paradoxical views, I must hold the tension that for my own pursuit within myself. Though I am free to strike my own path living into the kingdom of God, I need to know that my own path and understanding of the kingdom needs to be countered. I must hold the tension between the paradox of who and what I am and who and what I am not.
According to my ideal the Bible should be able to be the “who and what I am not”. However, it takes a humble person to be able to allow something that has shaped them to show them that they are misshapen and need to be reformed. I hope that I can become that humble.