Follow by Email

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Shall We Dance?

In my last post I wrote about the fact that healthy belief formation often involves holding two truths in tension with each other. To over-emphasise one at the expense of the other will mean we end up in a ditch. But I was also keen to point out that this does not mean that we live life on a tightrope, afraid of falling on either side; or with our hands tightly gripping the handlebars so that we don't swerve too far one way or the other. That's no way to live. I think we should be able to dance together along this road as we go on our journey, not huddle together in the middle, afraid of the ditches. (To be aware and alert is not the same as being afraid). Perhaps it's the dance that holds the key.

Because although we need to learn to live with and 'feel the tension', I remember finding it really helpful when someone suggested that we learn to deal with the tension of truth not primarily by trying to strike the right balance but by learning to walk (or dance!) according to the appropriate rhythm. You see, even just to walk means putting your weight on one foot and then on the other. Even more so, with dancing we have to learn where and when to place our weight on one foot, and when to shift it to the other, in order to get the right balance and equipoise - not as tightrope walkers but as those dancing together to create a beautiful work of art. In the journey of a community, different things will need to be emphasised at different times, the weight placed on some aspects of truth only for it then to shift to another aspect. Equally, different people bring different emphases of truth and insight at different times for different purposes. Learning to make room for one another is what enables us to dance. Insisting that only our particular emphasis be accepted is not dancing. It's not even walking. It's hopping! To change the metaphor, to just play one note all of the time is not to create music; it is just to make a noise. 

There is more on the dance here, here and here

I am feeling prompted to take an internet fast for the next three weeks, as God wants me to focus on other things in my own personal journey during that time. This means no blogging for three weeks but I hope you will join me again after that as I continue with reflections on the different aspects of our journey. Thank you for reading my blog. Blessings!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Truth in Tension

Here's another dynamic that I think affects the shaping of our beliefs and practices on the theological journey. It is that grasping truth often means living with a challenging but creative tension of truth(s). I have often used an illustration when talking about this which I discovered from my friend Mark Lawrence originally came from Ern Baxter (though he may well have got it from someone else also). It's like a road with two ditches on either side; if we over-emphasise one aspect of truth at the expense of the other, then we end up in one of the ditches. In my last post I suggested that we don't let go of the need to listen to and honour apostolic and prophetic revelation; but it is also true that it is together that we have the mind of Christ and so we all get to take part in the conversation of pilgrims. It is not either/or, it is both/and. If we over-emphasise one at the expense of the other, then we end up in a ditch. And Ern Baxter apparently used to say that if you don't 'feel the tension' you are probably missing the truth; you may even be in one of the ditches.

I am not talking about some grey, boring, middle-of-the-road balanced position. It is about holding together two truths with equal force. I remember, as a teenager, cycling down a hill at quite a speed when I became aware of a wasp on my chest and desperately tried to brush it off with one hand while holding one side of the handle bar with the other hand. With my imbalanced grip, I ended up swerving to one side and fell off the bike into the path of on-coming bus - which thankfully stopped! I wasn't trying to ride in the middle of the road (I would get knocked down then) but I did need to get the equal pressure on each end of the handle bar to avoid swerving. Let me give you another example. I hear a lot about grace teaching at the moment (and enjoy most of it) and I reckon you can never be too extreme about grace - our faith is not about what we do for God but about what he has done/does for us. I don't in anyway try to qualify that. But I hold it together with the equal truth that for spiritual formation and growth, grace enables me to 'make every effort' and to 'train myself' (Phil.2:12-13; 1 Cor.9:23-27; 15:10; 1 Tim.4:7-8; 2 Pet.1:5 ) - otherwise I end up in the ditch of passivity. Awareness of the ditches does not mean that it is like walking a tight rope, constantly afraid of falling. Definitely not. The road between the ditches is broad and one on which we can hop, skip, jump, cycle(!) and dance (more on this in next post). It is not about tightrope walking but about holding truths together so that we can enjoy the road without falling into either ditch.

Kevin Gerald preaches a great message on what he calls dumb dichotomies, the tendency among many Christians to insist on either/or, rather than both/and. This refusal to hold two truths in tension, to insist on dumb dichotomies, is perhaps the most common reason for unnecessary and unhelpful dispute and division between Christians. We have to learn to live with these tough but productive tensions.

Remember: if you are not feeling the tension, then you are probably missing the truth.

Monday, 4 November 2013

'Revelation' and Conversation

Although I am moving my more overtly theological reflections to my new blog at Pentecostal Pilgrim, I want to still make a few general points about what I have called the theological journey, before moving on to other aspects. There are some dynamics that really affect the forming and shaping of our beliefs, and thereby influence the steps we take on the journey. This post is about one of them.

For many of us, influenced by the pentecostal-charismatic and Word of Faith movements, the idea of getting 'a revelation' about something is a key concept. There is certainly some value in it. Beyond the general theological concept of revelation (that God has revealed himself e.g. in nature, history, Christ and Scripture), there is the vital spiritual idea that truth needs to be grasped inwardly, that 'the eyes of our heart' need to be opened (Eph.1:18), that we apprehend truth not just in our minds but in our spirits (1 Cor.2:9-16), and even that sometimes our 'hearts take us where our heads can't go' (Bill Johnson, I think - surely!)

I also think that there are men and women of revelation, apostles and prophets who have a measure of grace-gifting to help make sure that the church stays founded on and aligned with a revelation of Christ (Eph. 2:19-20; 3:4-6; 4:11-13; 1 Cor.3:10-11; 4:1-2, 15). Honour releases such gifting and in our present journey and cultural shift, I urge that we be careful not to let go of this treasure. The church is founded not on a collection of opinions but on a heavenly revelation (Matt.16:13-19).

Having said that, I have also seen this concept of revelation be used, or abused, to bolster a particular position on an issue and to close down conversation with others who disagree with us, often on issues on which there are legitimate diverse perspectives (pretty sure I have done this myself in the past). Revelation relates to the heart of the gospel. In other words, to Christ - his incarnation, life, teaching, mission, death, resurrection, ascension, present rule and future return. I have come to realise that when I get 'a revelation', I am not seeing something new or novel or that no-one else sees, I am just getting a fresher and deeper grasp of 'the open secret' of the gospel. On many other things that need to be considered on a church's journey, there is much room for openness, diversity, dialogue and even disagreement. And the way forward will be found often not with the revelation of one person. That may happen occasionally, but more usually it is through the genuine conversation of fellow pilgrims. In writing about these things. Paul did not say 'I have the mind of Christ' but that 'we have the mind of Christ' (1 Cor.2:16). We need each other to see the way forward.