Saturday, July 29, 2006

Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and (Circular) Reason: The New Quadrilateral?

Here’s what I’m talking about. Today in our Kansas City paper, a prominent mega-church pastor wrote a little column answering the question, “How far should Christian tolerance of other faiths go?” Of course, he was set up, really. Using the red-flag-raising word “tolerance” isn’t really fair, since the word begs definition and clarifying before anyone can talk about it. Plus they only have him a few inches of newspaper space to answer, and I’m sure that if had been given sufficient room, he would have said more.


He first makes a helpful if unnecessary distinction between “tolerance” and “love” – meaning that while we love everyone, we don’t necessarily need to tolerate them. With this distinction, we can already see where he is headed. He writes, “We know that the God’s Word is true [sic]. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Anything more, anything less, any alternative religious system cannot also be true.”

(Wait, “anything more?” Huh?)

He goes on to say that although we Christians love everyone, “it is not our place” to “choose which things are true or false.” And that (here it comes … are you ready?) since “Jesus himself” says he is the truth (quoting John 14:6), “who are we to say differently?”

Here is a strictly hypothetical conversation:
Me: You are a Christian, huh?
Mega-Church Pastor: Yes, sir!
Me: Hey, me too! That’s great. So that means you believe Jesus is the truth, right?
MCP: Yes, absolutely.
Me: Hey that’s cool. Can I ask how you know that?
MCP: Because he says he is.
Me: (awkward pause to consider the logical flow of the conversation) But how do you KNOW that what he is saying is true?
MCP: Because he is the truth.
Me: And … let’s see…how do you know he’s the truth? Oh yeah, you know that because he says he is, right?
MCP: That’s what I wrote in my column, and I’m sticking to it!

My point is not so much that this one pastor might have said more about Jesus-as-truth had he been given sufficient time and space to do so. (Not to mention what exactly he meant by “anything more” than the Gospel – like, God?) My point is that people read this column and think, “What in the world? Why would I ever want to be a part of something so irrelevant to my life? I am seeking purpose, meaning, I want something to live for, I want something that will make sense! I had better look somewhere other than the church to find that, I guess.”

And thus there is all the more work to do for people of faith who want to share the Gospel of Christ with our neighbors in a way that doesn’t resort to self-referential jargon to accomplish that mission.

In the meantime, I found this while preparing tomorrow’s sermon:
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19, emphasis added)

There we go! Maybe Christian epistemology is a worthless endeavor after all, Tim Sisk! That which we are seeking to know surpasses knowledge itself. Reminds me of something Brian McClaren wrote, “One doesn’t learn what God is like in a library or pew and then begin to love God in real life. One begins to love God and others in real life. In the process one learns what God is like – and one might be driven to the library and pew to learn more. Anyone who doesn’t embark on the adventure of love doesn’t know God at all, whatever he can say or define or delineate, for God is love” (Generous Orthodoxy, 207). I marked that one in my margin!

Or something Linus said to Charlie Brown once, "To know me is to love me!" But maybe when God says it it is, "To love me is to know me."
Hmm ...


David said...

You know, one of my favorite scriptures is 1 Cor 2:9-10. It's one of those that gets mucked about a little when we try to get it from Greek to English, but here's my (rough) translation:

"No eye sees, and no ear hears, and no heart is given an advance on the things God is preparing for God's beloved. But God gives us revelation through the Spirit--for the Spirit questions everything, even the depths of God."

And I don't mean to proof-text, but if the Spirit of God itself questions everything, public statements of (allegedly) absolute certainty from human eyes and ears make me nervous....

"The Bible tells me" nothing unless I've subjected its texts to prayerful, accountable examination. Anyone who pretends otherwise is either naîve or deceitful.

(He said, self-righteously.) ;)

Michael said...

I would even go one step further and suggest that the biblical texts we believe in are those texts that were "approved" by man not so long ago as in deciding on a "common bible" that would not include the books of the Apochrypha. Some have tried to suggest that the Lord Himself ordained that these hidden books remain hidden, but that's a pretty tough sell.

We are reading what early writers and church leaders want us to read. Whether it is of the Lord Himself is, as David says, a matter of prayerful examination. The Lord will reveal truth to us as we are able to handle it.

Kansas Bob said...

I read the column in the Star and didn't come away with your conclusions. I didn't see huge differences between the two responses.

The mega-church pastor said:

As Christians, we should have a deep abiding love for all people. We need to respect everyone.

The other pastor said:

To practice tolerance is not to engage in acceptance, but rather respect, to offer the same respect toward others that one yearns for oneself.

I agree with you Andy that if he had more column space the pastor could have developed the reasons why he believes that Jesus is the truth without entering into circular logic. I guess that is a problem that some of us bloggers don't seem to have :)

Blessings to you, KB

Tim Sisk said...

What is your reason for including the label, "mega-church pastor" in your analysis of his comments? Which I wish you had linked to online or quoted directly if the column wasn't available online. We don't have the ability to check what you are saying as you condemn (mock?) his remarks.

I thought at first you were mentioning it because you were surprised that a prominent religious leader would be so simplistic. But in your hypothetical conversation, it becomes an identifier. I really wish you would get out of the habit of labelling, thereby coding your remarks through the use of labels. The more I read you, the more I suspect that this is the way that you talk with your friends, which would suggest that you need to get out a bit more beyond the echo chamber of people who see things just like you.

Is there some hostility you have toward mega-church types? Do your friends share this perspective?

I met a lot of people like that at Emory and I was always surprised at how homogenous the thinking of people were who ostensibly open to other viewpoints. I say this as a kindness to you, hoping I'm wrong and willing to apoligize if I am. I'm sure it is coming across rather harsh. But Church School starts in 30 minutes, so I'll leave it as it is for the time being.

Larry B said...

My 2 cents:

The mega church pastor is representing a school of thought that is both comfortable and sufficient for a lot of people, and that is that the Word of God can be taken at it's face value and the truth is "nothing more" and "nothing less". What that understanding leads to in terms of action towards others can vary all over the map. In defense of some mega churches there are some of these churches that do a tremendous job of reaching out to the community in all forms to serve the community in the way Christ instructed us to. If that is a result of a "superficial" faith, what does it really matter?

I'm not particularly afraid of their stance, because in part, they at least point to an unchanging central truth. How one derives knowledge from that truth is really what I think is being questioned here. And most mega churches because of their construct as a mega church really can't delve that deeply into the question. The mega-churches I have attended/visited, even though I agree with most of what they teach, they usually leave me fairly bored quite frankly.

Meaningful dialogue and deeper discussions can probably occur more readily in smaller churches and in the case of Methodism, pluralism opens up the possiblity of exploring faith more deeply. I rather like encountering differing viewpoints even as I think some of them are dead wrong.

C.S. Lewis is a fine example of having found deep thought and consideration as a means to faith. He recounts things as just slowly falling in to place and making sense. For those who either bristle at the "mega church" approach or are left wanting for more, there's always us other guys out there waiting for them to come and join the conversation. Just keep the conversation going so there's somewhere for them to join in.

Andy B. said...

Tim, I used the term "mega-church pastor" to describe this guy like I would use the term "blogger" to describe you. Any hostility was inferred, not implied
Here is the link (I think sign-in is required):

Andy B. said...

Maybe this time?

Andy B. said...

Link Here

Andy B. said...

Hooray! I did it!
I just love knew knowledge, don't you? ;)

Tim Sisk said...

Then my apologies for any imputation against you. I'll tell you how it read to me. It's like one white man is talking to another white man (I'll call him Bobby) about a third person (Tommy, who is black) and Bobby consistently identifies him as a "black man" even when he is saying nice things about him.

It can happen naturally, but it really should be discouraged.

I still think your post didn't need it, but I think I'm projecting some of my bad experience on you.


Thanks for the links to the article. I'll follow up if I have anything to add.

But, I'm reading to much into

Tim Sisk said...

I'm back. I read the article. I was annoyed. ("Liberal pastors"!) Stick to the question and stop looking to bash fellow Christians!

Here's where I agree with him: There is a difference between love and respect and tolerance. And within the Christian faith, Christ is all we need.

Here's where I have questions for him: What does he mean exactly by the "Word of God?" (I'm sure he means the Bible, but it should be pretty easy to press him on this question to show that Jesus is the Word of God and Scripture is scriptural as it reveals God.)

He says "nothing more or nothing less?" I'll go along with him in the sense, Andy, that through the teachings of the apostles and the prophets and through the life of Jesus Christ, nothing more is required to "know God". Paul, in particular, combatted false teachers who came saying that the gospel as presented by Paul and others was incomplete.

"Nothing less" is a bit more shakey. Inscrutible are the ways of God. We really don't know how God works well enough to make the kind of claims that he did.

I had a class in seminary on Howard Thurman. During class discussion, the professor talked about God and heaven being like a house. And while Jesus is the door to the house, there are certainly other ways to get into the house, say through the window or chimminy. And while I don't presume to speak for God, (there may be indeed other ways into the house) it seems to me that the preferred way for anyone's house is that you come through the front door. It would be rude (and dangerous) to come through the window.

My guess is the pastor is trying to say something like that. Or he would completely reject the idea of there being any other way in but the door. I'm kind of agnostic about that aspect (see the don't presume to speak for God comment) but I do believe that Jesus told us to bring people in through the front door and that true love and respect on my part would encourage them to do so.

To be fair, he is only allowed a few inches of space as you said.

Tim Sisk said...

*LOL* chimminy! Ha! I meant chimney! HAHAHAHA