Monday, October 17, 2011

Theological Debates:How Do We Handle Differences?

As you survey the world of Evangelicalism today, you will find a vast array of different theological and philosophical views. In fact if you take a look at our own movement, the Vineyard, you will see the same diversity. The thing is, theology matters. But not every theological debate is of equal worth. I wanted to look at four key points to keep in mind when dealing with issues of diversity, a bit of a priority checklist.

1) Differences Matter

The reason a person, or group, resonates so deeply with a theological or philosophical view is that it means something to them. In fact we know these particular beliefs go deep when we see, or experience in ourselves, the instant need to defend the belief. The reason is that beliefs, at a theological and philosophical level, are often tied to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the things that matter - God, family, church, community, etc. Knowing that differences matter does not mean that all differences are helpful, but it does mean we need to respect differing views as being important to those who hold them and understand why there is often resistance to alternate views.

2) People Matter More

Following on this, I think it is important that as a church movement our priority is pastoral not dogmatic. By that I mean that it is about people, loving people, providing space for people to encounter and fall more in love with God, equipping people - it is about the people. So while it seems logical that we should guard the dogmatic core, by which I mean the central theological understandings on which our movement is built, we need to recognize that if dogma gets in the way of fulfilling our calling to people - then we have a problem. Again, it is very important that we not lose our foundational theologies. In fact I am often concerned with the lack of understanding our churches have about the Kingdom teachings that so animated John Wimber. But the bottom line is that without people, the ones God so loved, it doesn't matter if your theology is top notch - you will only be a clanging gong.

3) The Main and the Plain

John Wimber often called us back to the main and the plain of the gospel. The Kingdom teachings and other foundational theologies are great. The experiential spirituality that engenders an expectation of God's Kingdom manifestation is awesome. But all that is meant to serve the church, to equip her and prepare her to partner with God in proclaiming the good news to all the world. We must never lose sight of the main and the plain.

4) There is Always Room to Grow

And finally we need to be prepared to have God (often through others) blow our grids! To open up our minds to new possibilities. To challenge even the very things we thought were fundamental to our faith. After all this is God's show, not ours. So our stance before difference should always be twofold: First we are confident in the God who holds our lives, our real trust lies there not in our theologies. And second, we should always be prepared to be changed by others, always open to the idea that they might have a different view of things that can be helpful, even crucial. In other words, we need always be prepared to grow. One day we will know completely, as we are already completely known, but this is not that day. That does not mean we stand on shaky ground or lose everything if we discover a central flaw in our understanding - what it means is that God cares enough to grace us with growth.

Let us rest in God, because in God's perfect love there is no fear.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

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