Thinking Out Loud

August 6, 2018

Theologians Who are All Knowledge and Little Experience

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:40 am

Over eight years ago, I used a phrase which may or may not exist (probably doesn’t) from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind to make a point about secular journalists who try to cover stories about religion in general and Christianity in particular.  At the time, I wrote,

There’s a scene near the end where the French scientist — his name is Lacombe — turns to lead character Roy Neary and says, “I envy you, Mr. Neary.”

But the next line, the line that has been stored in my memory since the picture released was not heard next. Here’s exactly how I remember the line, “I envy you, Mr. Neary; I study the phenomenon, but you have had the experience.”

After the movie, for 30 minutes, no searching the internet would reveal the phrase the way I am recalling it. Did I invent this? Or do I have two movies confused? Arrrrgh! I am so sure that line is accurate!

I then pressed into the application:

…We are studied and examined by all manner of journalists, academics and those who simply find us to be a psychological curiosity. But ultimately, their reports are lacking because they don’t have the necessary experiences to fully empathize with the Christian spiritual condition. (In a previous generation, that sentence would simply read, ‘They don’t have the Holy Spirit.’)

You can also turn this around.

The next time you’re in discussion with someone who you don’t feel is totally on the same wavelength, ask them, “Are you a student of the phenomena or have you also had the experience?”

Or how about, “Would you like to have the experience?”

This summer, I realized that this also applies to those of us who are Christians, but are trying to make sense of a denomination with which we have no familiarity. We have a sort of textbook knowledge of what they believe, but it’s missing all the fine tuning and nuances which would be gained by greater intimacy. We would never consider darkening the door of their churches even though ostensibly, we’re Christians and they’re Christians. 

You can take this another direction.

There are people whose preoccupation with Christianity is largely academic; scholarly; historical; theological. While they are busy analyzing and dissecting the doctrinal systems to death, there are others out there who are simply enjoying; living; experiencing. They’ve reduced to academic terms what other people are living out abundantly. They’re writing blog posts, articles, books; all trying to classify and clarify what is for others simply the reality of following Jesus.

I concluded,

I maintain that many of the people we come into contact with on a daily basis are simply observers, many watching from the outside. I often compare it to someone who encounters a log cabin filled with people on a cold, snowy day. Inside people are standing by the fireplace, laughing and drinking hot cocoa. The person outside watches with their face pressed against the window while the ice, snow and drizzle piles up on their winter coat and hat. 

Even if the line isn’t exactly in the movie as I remember it, it’s an appropriate metaphor to contrast those who are immersed at an academic level from those who are immersed in a life of faith.

Are you part of this family, or are you observing, as though from outside, with your face pressed against the window?

Why not come inside?

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February 16, 2016

So What?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:32 am

I had a weird flashback a few days ago to a brief period in my childhood when the phrase, “So what?” was considered the height of rudeness, especially in a child and parent context.

It came to mind for an entirely different reason however. I was thinking about the great host of scriptural teaching that we are now afforded through websites, blogs, podcasts, streaming and video-on-demand; not to mention traditional media such as books, radio and television.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I'd toss this graphic in to today's discussion salad.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I’d toss this graphic in to today’s discussion salad.

On Sunday I heard three sermons. One I was sitting in church. Two I was sitting at my computer. I actually had the option of watching full services; but chose just to track with the teaching portion. Otherwise, I could have technically been to three church services.

But for all the teaching I’m getting — and I am fairly stuffed most days — there are times when I observe a disconnect between scriptural truth and what is going on in the real world. When I look away from the pages in the book, or glance away from the computer screen, I see a Christianity that is totally messed up, at least in places, including my own.

I hear the reading, jot down the three points, but there’s a part of me that says, “So what?” This time though it’s not in the defiant tone that got me in trouble as a child, but it’s more of a cry of, “Why isn’t this making more of a difference in my life?” Or, “Why am I not seeing this lived out in my life and the lives of my acquaintances?”

A year ago, in a different context, I shared this analogy:

Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

That’s why I would never give up my listening/reading habits. But I do wish I could find more of a synergy between the idealized Christian life described by those authors, pastors and Bible teachers versus my everyday life in the trenches.

Am I looking for a sign? Longing to see a miracle? Wishing for a better batting average on answered prayers? Simply needing a vacation? Maybe that’s part of it.

Or perhaps my spiritual confidence is just becoming shaky. Not fragile to the point of nearing extinction, but just shaky in terms of where it ought to be proportionate to the years I’ve been on this faith journey, the people with whom I’ve interacted, and the material I have been privileged to have heard or read.

I don’t want to be SuperChristian, but I just want there to be more of a one-to-one correspondence between the spiritual ideals I can so easily espouse, and my usually stressed-out, burned-out daily experience.

Just being transparent, that’s all.


Related: September, 2011 – Faith Under Pressure

 

 

April 3, 2014

Gaining Platform; Rites of Passage

Platform

I frequently look at Christian leadership blogs which seem obsessed about helping pastors and authors build their platform on social media. If that in itself is a stated goal, then I think the type of advice offered may serve some practical good.

But I also keep wondering if true respect is not also built in what might be called ‘the crucible of affliction;’ that is to say, that various people in various types of ministry endeavors have earned the right to be heard because they faced a great test, or championed a great cause.

The challenge is that not everybody gets to climb Mount Everest, nor does everyone want to. The type of platform that some people want to see built is gained only through some newsworthy accomplishment.

The other side of the challenge is that those who want to enjoy a healthy following and a strong platform are concerned only with what can be measured statistically, and stats alone seem to be a rather hollow way of measuring the worth of an individual.

I think platform is good only if leads you to another objective beyond selling your book or gaining social media followers. Utimately, however, it’s who you are that counts. That’s not something you can engineer. It’s not something you can quantize statistically, either.

Mission Trips

It’s true that short-term mission tourism has become an industry onto itself, and there have been various articles posted online, including some here, that have engaged the sport of mission trip bashing.

But lately I’ve been wondering if it isn’t really some necessary rite of passage; the third point of a three pronged initiation into Christian service: Salvation, baptism, short term mission. Or, “When did you become a Christian?” and “When you were baptized?” followed by “Where did you go for your mission trip?”

It almost seems that to lack this quintessential experience — as I freely admit I do — is to have a personal story that is somehow more shallow. When people ask me to document my ministry experience I find myself sometimes apologetically saying, “Everything you can imagine except third-world missions exposure.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe I’ve had some rich experiences; maybe it’s reflective of a greater spiritual inferiority complex. I’m just thinking that maybe we’ve been too harsh when it comes to mission trip bashing, provided the trip has been designed to be more than a tourist visit.

Although I’ve never done it, my ideal for you, your son, or your daughter would be to connect with the six month Discipleship Training School at Youth With A Mission bases around the world; each one of which has both a training and a field experience component.

Read more:
Short Term Mission Trips: Yea or Nay?, November 2008
Short Term Mission Trippers as Seen by Full-Time Missionaries, April 2012
Another Critique of the Short Term Missions Movement, June 2012

April 2, 2012

Refreshment When the Well Runs Dry

This weekend I had the pleasure of reading Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose by Mark O. Wilson (Wesleyan Publishing House, March 2012), pastor of Hayward Wesleyan Church in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.   Although the endorsement on the book’s cover by Mark Batterson indicates this as a book for pastors and church leaders, it is so much more than that.

Wilson has put everything in this book except the kitchen sink. It’s an encouragement collection of stories, quips, analogies, adages, and many scripture references. I hesitate to introduce comparisons, but I would think of this as a large glass of water for someone engaged in Christian service who finds themselves running dry; or an energy bar for the person whose strength feels depleted.

He arranges the 190 pages into three sections: Vacuus, Repleo and Fluo.  The first section sets the stage  indicating the nature of the problem: 45.5% of pastors surveyed said they have experienced depression and burnout (p. 19) a stat which resonates with Mark’s own experience;

“I realized I had been depending on yesterday’s grace; failing to keep my spiritual life fresh and up to date. My soul was empty and needed to be replenished.” (p. 16, italics added)

The second section talks about the process of filling up, but he contends we need to be emptied before we can be refilled; which begins with confession and repentance.  I quoted a section of this on the weekend at C201. I also loved this quotation:

Our job is to seek His way instead of demanding our own. Instead of me writing the check and asking God to sign it, I need to sign a blank check and ask God to write it.  (p. 50; US-check = cheque-UK)

And several other insights for which I didn’t note page numbers; like this one, the response of a young boy who is given a fully grown St. Bernard for his birthday:

“Wow. That’s great. But is he mine or am I his?”

And this prayer:

“God. Your will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.”

The last section deals with the resulting overflow that results from being filled, and how that reflects in the life of the individual and the life of the church as a whole, in compassion ministries, holiness, and influencing both the local community and the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; and I want to share the entire first chapter with you. This link will take you to a .pdf file sample of the introduction and chapter one.

We all face desert times in ministry and in our personal Christian pilgrimage. But times of refreshing are available even when the road is rough and the well runs dry.

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