Thinking Out Loud

March 7, 2013

The Edge, Shock Value and Shifting Standards

There are going to be people who think me a little too conservative for not posting the cover of the book referred to in today’s earlier post. Sigh.

no-godIt seems that we live in a time when standards are shifting, and even if your values are less progressive, it never hurts to go for shock value, as in Peter Enns’ article Why I Don’t Believe in God Anymore. Perhaps it’s just that people who blog on the Patheos platform are expected to be more controversial, but the word “God” with the red circle and red slash through it seems a bit over the top.

Peter Enns actually does believe in God, at least in the way most of you think. His article is saying that for him it’s really about trust.

…“Belief” in God connotes–at least as I see it–a set of ideas about God that may, if time allows, eventually make their way to other parts of my being…

…I see a huge difference between “I believe in a God who cares for me” and “I trust God at this particular moment.” The first is a bit safer, an article of faith. The latter is unnerving, risky–because I have let go…

In a way, Enns’ view is at the heart of Christian living. As people approach crossing the line of faith, our great desire is to see them reach that point of belief; but once the line has been crossed, the center of the Lordship of Christ is trusting Him with every area, every department of our lives.

I know someone who hasn’t crossed that line yet, but I know the ‘gay’ question is going to come up at some point and when it does I’m going to say, “Look, I want to let you in our playbook. Right now our concern for you is about believing, but for those of us on the inside, the fundamental question is: Can God be trusted? Can we see that out of good, better and best, He does indeed have a best for each of us, an ideal which represents His highest intentions?”

Trusting God has having our ultimate highest good in mind is a better way of framing difficult questions. It’s possible to look at people in an adulterous relationship and say, “I know you expect me to say what’s wrong with what you’re doing, but I want to ask you, ‘What’s right about what you’re doing? What do you derive from this that makes it worth the various inconveniences?’” I believe you could equally ask, “What’s right about your incestuous relationship that makes it worth the effort of keeping the secret?” or “What’s right about your gay relationship that makes it worth the separation from your family?”

It’s not rhetorical.  You’re going to get some answers in most cases. What makes it good. And then it’s easy to say, “I believe God’s intention was beyond good, beyond better. I believe God had a best, but we’re afraid of fully trusting Him.”

However, it’s important not to let this much more compassionate, much more sympathetic approach not undermine the idea of trusting God for the best. It’s vital that in the process, we don’t take scissors to scripture and excise the passages we think don’t fit.

Which brings us to United Methodist pastor Dave Barnhart’s article How Being a Pastor Changed My Thinking on Homosexuality. This piece has received a lot of attention online and is emblematic of what happens when theological convictions are transferred to real people engaged in real living in a real world.

Most people who have wrestled with this issue have come to recognize the personal disconnect that takes place when the convictions we would write on a list shatter in the face of people who have been damaged by dogma. No one reading scripture thoroughly can help but be caught in the middle of God’s holiness and judgment versus God’s compassion toward those who ‘miss the mark’ of His greatest standards.

The article says,

Being a pastor is more about being willing to be led by God and changed by the people I meet than issuing infallible decrees from a pulpit, more about admitting I’m wrong and sharing my frailty than pretending I know God’s will on a given subject. One friend describes preaching as a “homiletical wager,” and I’ve come to believe that pastoring, presuming to be a spiritual leader, is bit like gambling with God, where the stakes are very high but I’m betting the game is rigged toward grace.

So again, the title is edgy, it certainly goes for shock value, but has the writer really changed his view on the standards that God holds up for us, or has he simply come to see those standards in the light of mercy, come to a desire to confront the way The Church attempts to mete out its version of upholding God’s best?

Conservatives and traditionalists may feel the spiritual sky is falling, but I prefer to think of the present spiritual climate more in terms of a shaking. Too many people wrote things in ink that they should have written in pencil, or even chalk. But a massive rethink of terminology or approach doesn’t mean that we’ve completely tossed all our formerly held convictions.

As pendula swing wildly, the place of balance, the place of rest, is ultimately somewhere in the middle.

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