If pressed to define the nature of today, I would have to say that it was “one of those days.” I think I have mentioned before that Mondays and Tuesdays are crunch days for me. One of my sources of income is writing for a small town newspaper, which is published each Wednesday. The paper goes to press late of Tuesday afternoon so as to be on the newsstands early Wednesday morning. This week is doubly stressed as we are putting our annual graduation edition, which means I have more to write than usual. Overall, though, things are not so harried that I am pulling what few remaining hairs I have out of my head. I still have much to do, but I wanted to get a post up on the blog today about a subject I have been stewing over a bit lately.
On several occasions I have received either comments or emails from readers of this site, stating in one way or another that they cannot “figure me out.” Most of these readers are cordial and genuine in writing to me, but for some reason or another, I don’t seem to fit well into whatever box they might be trying to squeeze my thought into. My advice to these friends is this: “Better get a shoe horn.”
The fact is, I guess, I am just a bit of a theological maverick. I have found over the years that labels are, at least for the most part, meaningless. Some folks consider themselves to be conservative believers, while others take pride in being called liberal. Others are fundamentalists and yet others are emergent. I suspect that some of my readers’ confusion stems from the fact that I have beliefs that bridge these many Christian camps and, as I said, I can’t be pigeon holed. And guess what? I think that’s a positive thing.
Let me explain.
Emerson once said that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” One of the things I think he meant by this statement was that, if you allow an external source to define your beliefs, you are often forced compromise the integrity of your mind in order to remain consistent with whatever the school of thought you might be identified with. For example, if you consider yourself to be a fundamentalist you readily understand that fundamentalists believe in the Virgin Birth. As a self-identified fundamentalist, you realize that you, too, should believe in the Virgin Birth. This state of affairs is no real problem unless you find that you don’t really believe in the Virgin Birth. Now you have a dilemma on you hands. The way many folks solve this conundrum is to either say that they do, in fact, believe in the Virgin Birth when they really don’t or they convince themselves they believe in it, even if they don’t. The result is the person in question has compromised the integrity of his or her mind. In order to be consistent with a pre-defined worldview, the person claims to or pretends to believe in something he or she does not believe in.
The other end of the theological perspective has equal problems. Let’s say you are a very liberal Christian. You have read Spong, Borg, Crossan, Tillich, and all the right authors. Of course, liberals don’t believe in the deity of Jesus, at least most of them don’t. But what happens if you discover that you do believe in the deity of Jesus. Well, now you have the same problem as the fundamentalist discussed in the previous paragraph. In order to be consistent with what a liberal is supposed to believe, you compromise and even convince yourself that Jesus was just another “great moral teacher” and your problem is solved. Unfortunately, now you have a bigger problem. Your integrity is gone.
I can speak of these issues with a certain amount of certainty and at least a modicum of clarity because I have, as they say, been there – done that. By the grace of God, there came a time when I got fed up with having others determine the content of my worldview and went on a quest to figure out just what it was that I really did believe. I won’t bore you with the details of my search except to say that as things progressed, I felt more at ease because I understood what I actually thought was true, rather than trying to force myself into a pair of theological shoes that were designed for someone else.
And I guess it is for this reason many readers may find themselves asking, “Where is this guy coming from?” “Is he a liberal or is he a conservative?” The fact is, I am neither and both. I am just who I am and, like Popeye, that’s who I am.
I would also say that it is important to know that I full well understand that I am really quite limited in the scope of my knowledge. William Barclay, the great biblical scholar, once said he had, at best, a “second-rate mind.” I have read extensively in Barclay’s works and can say without reservation that if his mind is second-rate, then mine is surely way on down the scale in double-digits. I have come to understand that I can, in fact, be wrong. That is one reason why I don’t involve myself in theological arguments or nitpick over the finer points of doctrine. What do I know? Further, for me to strongly insist that someone else has a view that is erroneous smells of arrogance when you get right down to it.
Some Christians feel they have been called to be “Watchmen on the Walls,” beating the bushes in search of heretics and other misfits and nomads within the Body of Christ. Perhaps this is, indeed, a genuine calling and, if it is, I pray they live according to that lofty purpose. I am not one of them, however. I don’t think I have ever labeled anyone a heretic and doubt that I ever will. Why not, you ask? The fact is, when you get down to the honest truth of the matter, I don’t have enough knowledge to make that judgment. I am not giving you a false humility here. I am speaking from my heart. I, like many others, see through a glass darkly and have far too many doctrinal logs in my eye to start picking at the theological specks in someone else’s.
One other thing needs to be mentioned as well. Doctrinal and religious debates, as I mentioned in another article posted this week, tend to get a bit testy. Rarely have I seen one of these discussions go on for long before folks start launching verbal grenades that have little to do with the point they were originally trying to make.
I avoid these discussions and debates like poison ivy for the following reasons. First, as already mentioned, my knowledge is too small for me to be the final arbiter of any doctrinal dispute. Secondly, these kinds of conflicts promote discord rather than unity, and it is unity we are called to, not discord. Finally, I stay away from doctrinal fights because these sorts of disputes often put people in the position of having a choice to be “right” or to be “kind.” I’ll opt for kindness every time.
To address one other issue quickly, I am, as I said, a bit of a maverick. I read widely and study many different schools of thought when it comes to the faith. That’s why you might see me refer to many odd bedfellows in my writings. I have learned a great deal from, say, a raging liberal like Marcus Borg and I have equally benefited from the writings of Chuck Colson. Politically and theologically, I am about as close to Colson as Kansas is to Katmandu. Still, I find few writers who engage me as much as he does. Colson makes me think, just as Borg makes me think. So you see, if you are trying to find out a theological box to put me in, better get a shoe horn.
I’m a mutt!