On Comfort Zones and Thinking Out of the Box (Part Three)

Mary Writing the Magnificat
Mary Writing the Magnificat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

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.

Before traveling any farther down this road, let me say a few words on why I believe the development of a biblical worldview is essential. Further, once we have formulated such a worldview, it is even more effective to apply it to our daily living. A biblical worldview is vital for the effective Christian life. As believers, our worldview is to serve the foundational purpose of providing a matrix through which we can filter our life experiences and, perhaps even more important, provide a framework for our decision making. Just from these few facts it is obvious that a biblical worldview is to be much more than a pile of theological clutter that we stuff into the corner of the mind and forget about. On the contrary, a biblical worldview gives meaning and purpose to the events of our lives.

I have come to look at the simplest yet most complete definition of a worldview as follows: A biblical worldview is one in which we think like Jesus. Having a biblical worldview, in a sense, makes life easier and harder at the same time. Easier because we have sound scriptural guidelines that help us make everyday decisions; harder in that we often resist putting what we know to be correct into action. Further, I firmly believe that in order to implement a biblical worldview we have to not only think like Jesus, but act like Jesus as well. In order to do this, we have to engage in the types of practices that he engaged in. Namely, we have to make a consecrated effort to practice spiritual disciplines, especially prayer, on a regular basis. If Jesus needed to do this, we certainly do. George Barna describes his decision to discern and formulate his worldview:

 

For years I was scared off by the term “biblical worldview.” It had connotations of breadth and depth that were overwhelming. But the more I realized that my own Christian life was a haphazard series of disjointed choices only marginally and inconsistently influenced by my faith, the more determined I became to get serious about worldview development.

I concur with what Barna is saying here. In my own case, I came to realize that my daily thoughts, actions, and decisions were only marginally influenced by my faith. I also sensed that this is true for the vast majority of professing Christians and this may be one of the main reasons the modern church is so weak in the demonstration of its faith. Ultimately, this lack of worldview development and a concurrent walk of faith that is consistent with that worldview take us into the realm of personal integrity and evangelism. If we do not walk in a manner consistent with our faith, then we are not being true to who we really are. We lack personal integrity. Second, when others see us walking in ways contrary to what we profess to believe, it gives Christianity a bad name. It is even easier for non-Christians to use the time worn excuse of “not wanting to associate with hypocrites.”

Most non-Christian expect a lot more from us than God does. It is quite easy for those outside the faith to point to our failures, our scandals, and our myriad shortcomings. What many of these folks fail to understand is that Christians are still all too human.

As stated at the beginning of this essay, many readers 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 a few months back, 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.

The fact is I have a potential placed in me by God Himself and it is God’s desire that I find my mission and get moving. You, too, have a mission – a divinely ordained purpose and it is God’s great wish that you take up the challenge of finding that purpose, manifesting your potential and talents, and achieving your dreams. Let’s listen now as popular pastor Joel Osteen, in his fine book Become a Better You, speaks about the importance God places on your dreams:

Scripture teaches that we have a valuable treasure on the inside. You have a gift. You have something to offer that nobody else has. You didn’t just show up on planet earth by accident. You were handpicked by Almighty God. He saw you before you were formed in your mother’s womb and placed you here for a reason. You have an assignment. There’s something that God wants you to accomplish. Somebody needs your touch. Somebody needs what you have.

 It is a cardinal truth of the spiritual life, my friend. Somewhere right this minute someone you don’t yet know needs you. Someone needs exactly what you are equipped to offer. Just as God has organized all of creation with a finely-tuned balance that is so incredible that it is beyond comprehension, He has also organized the great dance of spiritual life in such a way that we each have a part that only we can contribute. If we don’t realize our potential and live out our deepest dreams, we rob the world of something of immense value. We rob the world of the optimal version of who we are and when we do that, everyone loses and the Holy Spirit is grieved.

Be careful that you don’t take your talent to your grave. Leave your legacy, your gift here so that others can prosper from the simple fact that you lived and cared enough to live rightly.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2012/All Rights Reserved

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