Archive - October, 2009

Why I Drink From a Wide Stream

-The two preachers I listen to most frequently (pretty much every week) have views about the gifting of women for ministry that are, in my opinion, unbiblical. I have books on my shelf from several pastors and authors who share their view.

-Getting one of my favorite authors to plainly state what he believes about substitutionary atonement, a foundational Christian doctrine, is not unlike nailing Jell-o to a wall.

-One of my favorite preachers has stated publicly stated that he believes one of my other favorite preachers is a heretic.

-There are several books on my bookshelf that have influenced me greatly and that I would never give to a young Christian.

-I read blogs from all over the theological map, from conservative to liberal and simple to technical.

-A few of my favorite books are not listed it the “Favorite Books” section of my Facebook page because I do not want a potential employer to see those titles and assume I agree with everything the particular author has to say, because I don’t.

-I read books from people who have pastored megachurches, and from people who think a healthy church shouldn’t grow beyond a couple hundred before it plants a new church.

-For those familiar with the debate about justification, I read John Piper and N.T. Wright. And I like it.

All of this to say, I read and listen to a lot of different voices from a lot of different perspectives. That does not make me especially unique at Fuller, but it is something that has generated a bit of push back from friends and acquaintances in other arenas of my life. In my life as a pastor I had a few instances where friends and acquaintances would draw incorrect conclusions about my theological beliefs that they often based on their knowledge of the books that I read.

A big reason why I feel like I can safely consume and digest thinking that comes from a variety of perspectives is that I have rooted myself in Scripture. In a sense I have trained myself for the task of discernment. I am obviously continuing to grow in my understanding of Scripture, but I have grown to the point where I feel I am able to accurately take teaching that I read or hear, hold it up to Scripture, and allow Scripture to judge the worth of that teaching. If I weren’t able to do this, my practice of listening to such a wide variety of ideas would be potentially dangerous, just as it is dangerous for an untrained river rafter to attempt to negotiate class-5 rapids. A properly trained rafter, however, benefits greatly from the challenge of a class-5 run, and in the same way I benefit from consuming a broad spectrum of theological ideas.

There are some important reasons why I believe it is important to “drink from a wide stream” when it comes to theological influences.

First of all, it helps us remember that nobody is infallible, and no one is completely depraved. In our often-polarized culture it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that a pastor or leader is either pure good or pure evil. Or, it is easy to latch on to one particular belief that a teacher espouses, and based on that belief proceed to uncritically accept or reject the rest of their teaching. This is not good. I like to think that my broad range of influences is my own little rebellion against the polarization and sectarianism that exists in so many arenas in society.

Second, it helps me develop a more nuanced understanding of what the Christian life looks like. Some authors do a great job of helping me understand what the Scriptures say. Others do a better job of showing how to live out what the Scriptures say. Some focus more on personal holiness, others focus more on the public and social implications of our faith.

Third, it challenges me to constantly re-evaluate my own thinking, and it helps me sharpen my own discernment. If I’m only reading books by people who agree with me, then I’m probably not going to grow, and I will forget that not everyone shares my perspectives. Sometimes, reading opposing views reinforces my own beliefs, sometimes they cause me to question them. Often times reading the opinions of those who deny or attack the Gospel cause me to love it that much more.

Fourth, it keeps me humble. Left to our own devices I believe we are all heretics on some level. I know my own theological beliefs aren’t perfect, and I want to hear voices that will guide my thinking such that it will wind up being more in line with Scripture. No one voice will do that perfectly.

I’m not necessarily saying that every voice is valuable and every opinion is worth considering, and there are plenty of voices that I generally ignore because they are destructive, or ignorant, or bigoted, or something along those lines. My point is that I believe there is value in learning from a variety of different perspectives.

So then, when I quote someone on here, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything they’ve ever said or done. Similarly, if I critique someone, it doesn’t mean I think they have nothing of value to say. Nobody is perfect, and God can communicate his truth through a wide variety of sources, which is why I drink from a wide stream with the Scriptures as my guide.

How Do I Know It's God? Part 2

Back in March I wrote a blog post entitled, “How Do I Know It’s God?”, in which I addressed the following issue:

When it seems that God is “speaking” to us (inaudibly), how do we know it is God and not our own pride, the influence of our culture, or the burrito we had for lunch? How do we know that the “god” we are hearing is not our own selves rather than the God of the Bible?  These are critically important questions, because much damage has been done by those acting with authority that was allegedly from God but in fact was fueled by their own thirst for power and influence.  Similarly, on a more personal level, an inability to distinguish between the voice of God and other “voices” in our head can lead to poor decision making, arrogance, and often alienation.

I feel inclined to revisit that topic today in light of a post I read over on the Desiring God blog written by Dr. John Piper. Piper was answering the following question:

What would you say to someone who feels like the Spirit’s leading has authority over Scripture?

This, I believe, is a critically important question. Several times during my life as I Christian I have had all sorts of people tell me all sorts of things about the ways that “God was speaking” to them. In many instances, I have been inclined to believe that those telling me these stories earnestly believe that in fact the Spirit’s leading has authority over the Scriptures in their lives. I even once had someone tell me that they had made an error in their thinking in that they had, and this is direct quote, “started to put the Bible over the Holy Spirit as my authority.”

It’s possible that I have misinterpreted that statement, but if it means what I think it does, that kind of thinking is incredibly dangerous, and in Piper’s answer to the question he references the reality that outrageous harm has been done by those who believed they were led by the Spirit to behave in a way that is contrary to Scripture. I believe the quote above is indicative of the great spiritual confusion of our age. While we may claim allegiance to Christ (or some other deity), many of us in fact worship ourselves, as shown by our insistence that we ourselves are the chief authority in our lives. This is a very personal struggle for me, as I am prone to go this direction in my own thinking.

The fact is, those of us who call ourselves Christians must be both extremely cautious and humble about claiming the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit does lead, to be sure, but claiming the leading of the Holy Spirit is also a sort of trump card that can be misused to justify virtually any behavior. We can use the Holy Spirit as an excuse to avoid accountability, avoid immersing ourselves in Scripture, and begin to live lives where we call ourselves Christians but in fact worship ourselves.

We must recognize that the Holy Spirit will always lead us into thoughts and behaviors that are Scriptural. If we sense the Holy Spirit leading us to act in a way that is not affirmed by Scripture, it is not the Holy Spirit. We also must recognize that the primary way in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us is through the inspired words of the Bible, thus, I would go so far as to argue that we cannot claim to be led by the Holy Spirit if we are not at the same time students of Scripture (unless we are claiming to be led by the Spirit in a way comparable to what Paul experienced in Acts 9). It is the Scriptures that train us to be men and women who, in response to the gospel, are able to proficiently live lives of good works, and it is the Scriptures through which we can be completely confident that the Holy Spirit speaks.

I’d encourage you to read John Piper’s response to the question by clicking on the link above. More than that, I would encourage you- as others have thankfully encouraged me- to know your Bible, that you might be more able to detect the still small voice of God, and you might be able to follow its leading.