Monday, July 31, 2006

Hearing the voice of God, refracted, and the conflict with those who don't

In his 21st Century Reformation blog post on July 24 called The Meek Politician -- The Christian in Politics Pt 1, Brad Hightower laid out a blueprint for what it means to be meek in the Biblical sense in the context of politics. The meekness that Jesus calls us to is not the worldly idea of one who is a doormat or who waffles in conviction. Rather, being meek in the Gospel sense in the realm of politics means factoring the whole of God's moral beauty into one's actions. Being meek in the realm of politics means not using dirty tricks to advance one's political goal. It means not attempting to advance one form of goodness at the expense of another. One fails to be meek in this way when one thrusts one's political agenda forward at the expense of other moral and ethical considerations that are part of the full scope of moral beauty. (Note: this Church on the Liminal Fringe post borrows from Brad Hightower's idea of "moral beauty" and from quotes and ideas that are presented in Habits for the Journey With Jesus, written by me, Greg Wertime and Steve Blackwelder)

In tandem with Brad's discussion of meekness in the realm of politics, I want to lay out a blueprint for meekness of the intellect in what I call the "intellectual journey of faith". As in the realm of politics, being intellectually meek does not mean waffling and it does not mean being a doormat, always deferring and acquiescing to the opinions of others. Rather, it means being conservative in the simple essence of the Gospel and being true to the convictions that God has placed on one's heart while also being intellectually honest about details, nuances, exceptions, gray areas and other areas of the unknown. Being meek in this way means applying one's conviction in the world in a way that takes details, nuances, exceptions and gray areas into account. Being intellectually meek means not thrusting one's conviction forward in a way that disregards this realm of mystery and the unknown. This practice of intellectual meekness both under girds and complements the political meekness that Brad discusses.

As a Christian, being meek in the intellectual sense is the act of being humble in the face of complexity while at the same time being confident in the truths of Scripture. Being intellectually meek in this way demands that one approach one's inquiry into the unknown in direct relationship with the living God. Specifically, this means approaching God as the God of Scripture who is bigger than the paradox, in that God bestrides the truth that lies in Scripture and the ambiguity that is presenting itself in the present moment.

It is the glory of God to hide a mystery and the glory of kings to uncover it (Prov. 25:2). It is the joy of a life of wonder and seeking to invite God to reveal his mysteries. It is the beauty of a friendship and partnership with God to confront these mysteries with God while in submission to His revealed truth in the Gospel. This intellectual journey of faith is a morally beautiful way of relating to God and it leads to a morally beautiful way of relating to others.

The Gospel in simple in essence and often complex in execution. God did not drop it down as a handbook from heaven, but had Jesus administer it to each person he met, custom tailoring it to confront the specific needs of each person. Intellectual meekness is based on the principle that God has allowed needs, confusion and mystery to happen so that unique aspects of His love -- as both His untouchable glory and His intimate warmth--can be revealed through them. It is in response to the complexity of life that Jesus, in his ministry, walked with God in liminality, doing only what he saw the Father doing moment by moment.

Intellectual meekness is based on the principle that Jesus was modeling this walk with God for us to follow as His disciples. This walk in liminality is the essence of His commandments to us to engage God daily as an act of faith in the midst of risk and is the essence of His great commission in Matthew to make disciples, and not merely doctrine believers, of all nations. It is in this liminality that the Holy Spirit custom tailors the truth of the Gospel to meet different people where they are in the midst of needs, confusion and mystery and leads them forward. It is in intellectual meekness that one understands this, and does not claim false mastery over confusing circumstances and mystery, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to reveal his specific executive direction in each situation.

It is in this understanding of liminality with God that the truth that lies in mysteries can be discovered, wherein the Gospel is the map and the guide to truth in the midst of mystery. Here, Scripture and doctrines that are derived from Scripture represent a map and a guide. Scripture and the doctrines that are derived from it is not the city itself. Not every detail of the city is revealed in the map. Rather, it is these details that God is still revealing to us. With this understanding, there is a role for both intellectual exploration and for intuition and mystical experience of God, as some part of the city of God is being continually revealed to us through a glass, darkly.

To paraphrase and amplify C.S. Lewis, as a Christian, one does not need to believe that the many beliefs that are out in the world are wrong all the way through. Rather, as a Christian, one must simply believe that the beliefs are wrong only to the extent that they contradict the revealed truth of Scripture. So what do we do with these sundry beliefs, ideas and trends -- look at these as glasses half empty to be completely disregarded or smashed? Being intellectually meek means looking at them as glasses half full, though dangerous. Being intellectually meek means recognizing that many of these beliefs, ideas and trends have arrisen to try to deal with aspects of life's complexity and confusing circumstances. Being intellectually meek means recognizing what is true within these sundry beliefs, trends and ideas and seeking clarity on how the Gospel deals with the truth and how the Gosepl contrasts with the untruth.

Based in this principle, being intellectually meek on an intellectual journey of faith means asserting the truth of Scripture with the humility that something of God often speaks through funky trends and ideas. Being intellectually meek means examining movements and trends, whether they appear specifically in the church or in the world at large, to see whether they contain attempts to handle valid questions and issues about life. If, upon taking an idea captive, an idea is found to have a valid question at its core but arrives at a means of answering that question in a way that deviates from the doctrinal purity of the Gospel, the task for the intellectually meek is threefold -- a) to recognize the validity of the issue, b) to spit out the bones--the untruth-- and c) to reconcile the validity of the issue with the truth of the Gospel. Being intellectually meek means holding the trend or idea carefully against the prism of the Gospel truth to hear the voice of God in the trend as it is exposed by the prism, as it is refracted out via the prism and made separate from the untruth, even as there may be great gobs of untruth.

It is this ongoing task of taking trends and ideas captive, neither eschewing them out of hand nor accepting them blindly, that is an act of intellectual meekness. It is in taking trends captive in an intellectual journey of faith that one is capable of ministering the Gospel to those who are under the sway of those trends and ideas. It is in operating in intellectual meekness that one is capable of navigating the landmines connected to the untruth that is contained in these trends and ideas. In intellectual meekness, the Gospel is presented in a way that acknowledges the valid needs that an idea is trying, on some level, to address. Here, the Gospel is presented in a way that confronts the untruth in the idea in way that shows the Gospel as the better alternative. In confronting the untruth, the Gospel is presented in a way that reveals to people their needs before God that only the Gospel can reveal to them. In this context, being intellectually meek does not preclude the use of harsh words. Rather, harsh words must be used with exceeding care.

It is this approach to confronting confusing circumstances and to confronting the ideas that have arrisen to deal with them that avails us of the ability to do the ministry of discipleship in the face of life's complexity, walking with God to custom tailor the simple essence of God's truth to meet the complex nuances of each situation. It is this walk with God that Jesus calls us to as an intellectual journey of faith wherein we are able to walk with God into this ministry as an act of improvisation with God, bringing the Gospel to each person with regard to their specific needs. It is here that one arrives at the moral beauty of a ministry that presents the Gospel in a way that is conservative in truth but liberal in understanding.

It is in intellectual meekness that we have the moral beauty of a life with God and the moral beauty of a ministry that ministers the warmth and glory of God to others. It is in being intellectually meek that we call people to the God that the doctrine points to and not merely to the doctrine about God.

The Righteous Chosen

The intellectual meekness being defined here stands in stark contrast to the approach to the Gospel taken by the righteous chosen. I discussed the "frozen chosen" in last week's post. The frozen chosen have their doctrine about God but do not put themselves out into the realms of daily liminality and risk to encounter the God that their doctrine points to. Rather the frozen chosen are content to re-affirm their doctrine every week and go home. The righteous chosen, on the other hand, prosecute their doctrine with greater zeal and jealously guard it against any and all potential threats.

The intellectually meek are capable of listening to and learning from the content and from the ideas that the righteous chosen put forth, while of course, spitting out the bones. With that acknowledged, there is a stark difference in the approach to the Gospel and to life in general that exists between the intellectually meek and the righteous chosen. Dealing with all of the practical and doctrinal conflicts with the righteous chosen would require many essays. Here is an outline. In this outline, I must unveil some harsh words.

The righteous chosen are not a position to cultivate any intellectual meekness because they are not interested in hearing the refracted voice of God. The idea that God's voice could even be "heard" beyond the direct chapter-verse of Scripture is anathema to them. The righteous chosen are hyper-cessationist. They prosecute the idea that one can hear the voice of God refracted through funky trends and ideas and they prosecute the idea that the Holy Spirit is still working and speaking to people. If there is any hint of anything remotely mystical or philosophical, the proverbial glass is always half emtpy -- redundant to Scripture at best, contradictory at worst. This is why they are suspicious of spiritual "gifts" and personal encounters with God and the idea of God's movement in any form. Scripture says that these must be tested. The righteous chosen say that these must be held in supreme suspicion. This is because the righteous chosen believe that the written word of God has replaced the movement of God.

The righteous chosen are active defenders and advancers of their doctrine in the face of anyone who might defile its purity. While protecting the purity and integrity of God's revealed truth in the Gospel is a necessary thing, the righteous chosen go way too far. They believe that the idea of God as One who operates in liminality in the present day is threatening to this purity. This is because Scripture and their doctrine about the Scripture is not just a map to the city of God. Rather, Scripture and their doctrine about the Scripture is the full and complete picture of the city down to the last detail, so anyone who claims that they have glimpsed a part of the city that is not in the details in the map must be wrong.

In making the defense of their doctrine the primary task, they do not encounter God in the liminality of risk or lead others to do the same. In failing to do so, they fail to encounter the God that the doctrine points to. This is why the content of what the righteous chosen have to say does not revolve around the joy of God's power transforming them. Rather, the content of what they have to say reflects their primary task of extinguishing threats to their doctrine, not of inviting others into the joy of experiencing God along a journey. In their zeal to prosecute their doctrine and their canon and to present Scripture as "self-sufficient", they actually add a coda to the Gospel that isn't there in the Bible.

To the righteous chosen, the Gospel is not about God in the present tense and His movement operating in the present mystery within the truth as it is revealed in Scripture. Rather, the Gospel is about God in the past tense, as it about something that God did 2000 years ago. Here, the righteous chosen treat the Gospel as a "Christ formula" that boils down to this: "Accept Christ's blood for the forgiveness of your sins and you will be saved." Based on this Christ formula, Christian discipleship is understood as an act of gratitude for what Christ has done, not a journey into what Christ is doing. Their doctrine is, essentially, an elaboration on this essential Christ formula, and is not a guide to relating daily to the living God in the midst of risk and liminality. That is why the truth that is contained in this Christ formula and the truth contained in the idea of being grateful for Christ's death and ressurection is not wedded to a robust discipleship with the living God.

The righteous chosen do not read the Great Commission in Matthew in regard to making disciples of all nations with idea of discipleship as a daily walk in liminality with the living God. Rather, they believe that Jesus walked in liminality with God, doing as he a saw the Father doing, only to get us to the Christ formula. In this understanding, any walking in liminality with God on our part here in the present day is no longer necessary and is likely a path only to doctrinal impurity. The righteous chosen believe that the Holy Spirit does not minister to people's needs in the here and now; that Christ only did so 2000 years ago as a special dispensation to announce the coming Christ formula to the world.

It is for this reason that the righteous chosen do not seek to bring the Gospel into the complexity of life, custom tailoring the simple essence of God's truth to meet the complex nuances of each situation that confronts people. The righteous chosen are not interested in this sort of journey with God. That is why the righteous chosen are not interested in a Gospel that meets people in their needs, intellectual or otherwise. Rather, they assert the simplicity of the Gospel as a Christ formula accross all of the complexity of life without any regard to the complexity of people's needs. People must rise to the Gospel as the righteous chosen have narrowly presented it. It is this rejection of complexity that profanes the elgance of the Gospel and makes a tyranny out of its simple essence.

The joy that was set before Jesus on the cross was not the coming Christ formula. It was the joy that the power of the Holy Spirit would be unleashed from the bounds of the temple mount to enter the hearts of men to draw them back into vibrant relationship with God. It is the righteous chosen's act of reducing the Gospel to a Christ formula that makes the Gospel offensive in a way that is not the Gospel's own offensiveness in the way that Paul's message of "Christ and Him crucified" confounded the Jews' and the Greeks' idolatry of worldly power and worldly wisdom. Rather, this offensiveness is a human offensiveness that is due to the righteous chosen's use of simplicity as sharp elbows to bully complexity out of the way. This is the righteous chosen's unique method of power aggrandizing.

The righteous chosen claim to be "nothing" because God get's all the glory. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that that the righteous chosen believe they are earnestly trying to give God the glory. The problem is that they don't confront their own desire for glory as something to openly at God's feet because they don't believe in a Gospel that meets humans in their needs. Rather, their unexamined and unpruned desire for glory oozes through them, as they are the custodians of the simplicity that they reign over as they use that simplicity to elbow complexity out of the way. It is these elbows of their self-aggrandizing that are manifested in an endless supply of snarky remarks and an inability to ever consider another point of view. Here, unlike the intellectually meek, the righteous chosen do not "spit out the bones" or see the half full side of a half empty glass.

That is why the righteous chosen are really big on the wrath of God to prosecute their doctrinal policing. Yes, God does have wrath. God's wrath is His wrath at things that stand in the way of people knowing Him as Abba Father in all of His awesome glory, intimate love, joy and affection. It is this affection that is the warmth of a relationship. It is the warmth of God felt in the hearts of his disciples that is the emotional component of what Jesus describes when he says that his sheep will recognize his voice.

It is in zealously guarding their doctrinal purity and prosecuting emotional and intellectual discovery and encounter that the righteous chosen end up prosecuting the warmth of a vital relationship with God. If the righteous chosen do happen to encounter God as the I AM, as the God of the now who is calling them to him in the liminality of relationship, it is only due to the overwhelming love and mercy of God that breaks through their blinders. As an ongoing approach to discipleship though, the moral beauty of God in ongoing relationship with Him is found only in a journey that embraces intellectual meekness.

No comments: