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Perspective and Humility, Please…

April 26, 2007

These are some thoughts that I originally was going to write as an article in my school paper as there is a small problem there with this type of language and outlook, but more pressing matters required my attention (like passing) so I give it to you.

There seems to me to be a variation on a theme I have heard and read many times that I would like to make a suggestion on. The general idea of this theme goes something like this: “Christians today have forgotten the power of prayer” or “The Church today isn’t preaching/teaching [insert present soap-box issue here].” After making such a generalizing statement the speaker will usually go on a bitter tirade about what the “Church” or “Christians” need to do to get their act together as a collective whole.

Now, the first thing I want to make clear is that I do not want to argue whether these statements are correct or not. I do not have the resources or the desire to pursue whether such truth claims can be sustained or not. However, what I have a very difficult time with is the assumption, generalization, and gross overstatement contained in such a declaration. In my mind there is an a priori impossibility against such a statement that makes the truth or non-truth of it superfluous at best.

Here comes suggestion number 1: Your experiences within your Church body is not representative of ALL Christianity. Just because there were five people in your small group that viewed a certain aspect of Christianity as irrelevant or relevant (or more likely you) it is in no way indicative of all Christianity or most Christians. You cannot take your limited experience (and trust me it IS limited) and superimpose that on the church and most Christians. Even if you had your finger on the pulse of every single church in your city it would not be enough statistically to generalize over all Christianity, and it flat out denies the creativity and awesomeness of a God that has created all of us differently with unique gifts, and even further past that it does not recognize our distinctive life experiences and geographical placings.

Secondly, the church and most Christians includes Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Lutherans, Non-denominational, etc. the list goes on, is very long, and encompasses a wide range of theological beliefs. You have to come to the understanding eventually that the exclusive beliefs of your denomination do not represent Christianity. Here comes my dirty little secret: I grew up charismatic; I prostrate myself before you and beg your further indulgence. There was a time in my life that I supposed that “most Christians” understood the Bible as we did, and lived it out basically the same–except, of course, for the godless Catholics 😉

Lastly, it seems to me that often the expression of such sentiments has an esoteric almost Gnostic element to them. Only I see the truth of what is going on; only I and this small group of friends understand the true nature of Christianity and what Christians should really be doing. This type of exclusive thought has reared its head often throughout the history of Christianity and has always been ugly. There is nothing new under the sun. If you believe that you have suddenly come to some new understanding of Christianity that no one but Jesus ever thought of, and no one has understood and articulated before you let me be the first to assure you that you are quite mistaken and quite deluded.

There are some positives to recognizing and changing this sort of worldview; I’ll leave you with one that I think is the most important. There is a trend in Christianity to take the programs of large urban centers in California and Chicago and try to superimpose them on other locales around the world as if they are the infallible programs of truth for all Christians regardless of creed and location. We can learn from each other, but a small rural church in Kansas imitating a large urban church in California seems to me to be blind to the complexity of our existence in time and space, and the influence that our experiences and our locations have on us.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2007 7:29 pm

    I do agree. As a Presbyterian minister, who grew up in a holiness church, attended a fundamentalist Bible college and pastors an ecumenical church I can tell you that my perspective of the church is constantly being challenged and changed. My new favorite quote is from the poet Delmore Schwartz. “Every point of view, every kind of knowledge and every kind of experience is limited and ignorant…”

  2. WhoreChurch permalink
    April 26, 2007 10:31 pm

    Yeah PoD & Agathos, but you two (plus Painting of course) are actually able to think. Not sure everyone does that very well.

    Overgeneralization? Sure. I tend to think the common elements I often point to are, well, pretty common. There are various forms of church governance, but in virtually every case it creates by necessity certain problems.

    My experiences may be limited, but they are common. Does my experience justify painting the entire system with the wide brush? I’ll have to think on that just a little—my knee jerk says yes, but that is my knee jerk.

    Agathos, I’ll review your piece more and put some thought into it. Good piece.

  3. April 27, 2007 6:00 pm

    PoD, I like that quote I may have to plagiarize it… errr, I mean borrow it.

    Pope, perhaps I should clarify that I am talking more in terms of theology, philosophy, and worldview than church government in this post. Especially to the annoying know-it-alls that I sometimes experience that know what every church person in the world does and should believe.

    Two examples of what I am talking about are Karl Barth and Reinhold Neibuhr. Both these theologians when they actually became pastors realized that what they had experienced and been taught their whole lives was inadequate for their actual churches. Barth’s was a rural church and Neibuhr’s was an inner city church and they found out very quickly that they were different than what they had experienced prior.

  4. WhoreChurch permalink
    April 27, 2007 6:39 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, though I’m still considering your post as it refers to issues I deal with so I will likely do a post one day soon about it. Today my brain has bigger fish to fry. (“This is your brain frying a fish…”)

    I think we put too much stock in theologians anyway. I have a love-hate relationship: There are certainly questions begging for answers, but too many theologians seem to think everything must be worked out with mathematical precision. Almost like they can’t admit they don’t have it all figured out.

    But that’s also your point: The theology wasn’t equipped for real life use. Your mileage may vary.

    That’s one of the reasons I like Grudem–at least he is willing to say “I may be wrong, here are the ways others see it…”

    Once I figure out my life I will post more on this over the weekend.

  5. April 27, 2007 8:20 pm

    Mr. Whore,
    I guess from my perspective too often in these blogging realms I hear global statements about Christianity which are fairly limited in their perspective to the experiences of their authors. Their resentments, denial, hope and inner transformations are what they want everyone to see as normative. A good percentage of those perspectives that I read are a reaction to or apologetic for some brand of Evangelicalism. Whether it is an advocacy for leaving “the church,” a spirit filled service, bringing about an emerging church or creating an alternative fellowship which they believe is more authentic experience of Christ following it all sound suspiciously laced with similar rhetoric and lingo. Even some of the atheists seem to employ similar ways of evangelizing. Evangelicalism is simply not the totality of the church (it is not even a simple majority). Nor do I believe that it is the “right” belief system. I celebrate some of its positive achievements and reject those which I find offensive to my conscience. Yet, I know that because I am from it I will always have its lenses by which I view the church. So, even my view of the church will probably sound strangly similar to those with a limited Evangelical worldview. I know this is kind of a ramble, but I think about it often when I am reading various blogs, including my own.
    You can not steal from me what I do not own.

  6. WhoreChurch permalink
    April 27, 2007 8:52 pm

    Great comment PoD,

    I agree that similar thoughts seem to come to many people at similar times–I think it’s the nature of progressive thought.

    But I agree that you, me and everyone has evangelical/catholic/fundy/liberal/emergent glasses and them lenses is mighty thick. 2,000 years thick. Adding in science and what we know of the natural universe today complicates things even further.

    Which takes me to where I am. I have had experiences which cause me to know there is *something* beyond what we normally experience in our 3-D+Time space. But the more I learn the less I feel I know about the God-being and certainty becomes less and less, well, certain.

    I know that God exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Got that one down. But God, like Lewis’ Aslan, is not a tame lion. I can’t put him in a box; I can’t make him a cartoonish old man.

    Don’t know if this makes sense, but it’s the thing I can only write about in fits and starts. I don’t want to create a theology, but I do want to respond to the “God Delusion” idea with rational thought.

    If God exists and we observe some natural phenomena attributed to God, can we test those observations? What do those observations tell us?

    The delusion advocates say obviously Jesus is the tooth fairy. If all I had was the Bible; if all I had was subjective measure; then I would likely fall for that argument. The Bible, after all, has no more claim to infallibility than many other ancient texts.

    Fortunately I have seen the healings. I have heard the prophetic words. I have been fed by Ravens. So I continue to look to those things I know were not subjective for me, things witnessed by those who lived with me at the time, and know there is more.

  7. April 29, 2007 9:31 am

    Agathos (aka – “my son Scott”)… I can’t believe that you would characterize growing up “charismatic” as a dirty little secret. I’m crushed…

    Good thing you didn’t tell anyone about that little “Word/Faith” era! (lol)

    Dad… er, Bishop D

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