This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back. And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own. At times I suspect radically different. (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences) Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different. But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive. Something I wanted…
For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?
The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether. Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving. It is my heart!
Please don’t misunderstand me. Doctrine matters! Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life. Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.
If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?
I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know. We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge. Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush. And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.
What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive? Faith. They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation. So much so that they actually act on it. They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus. Faith.
It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living. It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you! Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet? Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources? Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?
Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth. I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.
Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel. Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us. We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.