Many of our so-called beliefs are really just positions we’ve chosen in a debate, reactions to other beliefs. For example:
New parents decide not to spank their children because they were over-spanked growing up. Or, on a more spiritual note, a generation or three ago, the church reacted to Pentecostalism by rejecting the Holy Spirit (at first. More on that later). Another example: Just because speaking in tongues isn’t the only sign of the filling of the Spirit and can be abused doesn’t mean it’s always of the devil and should be avoided at all costs.
Some others I have found lurking throughout the church scene:
As we react to the “feminizing of God” movement (and rightly so), we ignore verses that clearly demonstrate that if women are created in the image of God, true femininity must somehow find its origin in God just as masculinity does.
As we react to the “works salvation” currents in Christendom, we reduce belief to something that goes on inside our heads, forgetting that James says, “Without action, faith is dead.”
When we react to the liberal agenda to reduce Jesus to a good, moral teacher, we forget that Jesus, in addition to being God in the flesh and more amazing than we can comprehend, was in fact a good, moral teacher as well.
When we react to the “name-it-and-claim-it” theology surging through North America, we deny that the Bible really does teach us to speak out the truth and declare things in faith.
When we react to fundamentalism and it’s propensity to reduce truth to a series of propositional statements with precise wording, we ignore the fact that truth really is absolute and often can be articulated.
And when we lean into the fundamentalist belief that our theology ought to be rock-solid and unchangeable, we arrogantly choose to forget how much we don’t know. Seeing our position as permanent is the same as rejecting learning and growth.
My conviction is that many of these differing views are like the extreme edges of a pendulum in full swing. A fully orbed theology includes the entire arc, including opposite extremes. For example, a healthy theology of prayer would include prayers all the way from one extreme: (They will be done), to the other extreme: (Sun, stand still). After being stuck on one end for a spell, God may nudge or even push our pendulum, encouraging us to swing back the other direction for a season. Why? To restore balance.
* The Bible does create bookends for our beliefs, defining healthy ranges, drawing lines beyond which cannot go. Our traditional creeds articulate these boundaries quite well, and I embrace them. In this post I’m referring to ranges within the Bible itself, where something is still ‘biblical’ but beyond my comfort zone. A healthy theology is growing and moving continually within the biblical range. A pastor, theologian, or Christian who can’t say, “I used to believe this, but now I believe that,” is dead in the water.
It’s difficult for us to embrace the full spectrum because it’s frighteningly broad. We don’t like wiggle room, so we pick a side, a zone, a range: right, left, middle, or another slice of the arc we feel most comfortable with. What we need to remember is, the Bible is bigger than our grasp of it’s concepts. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our “range” explains some Bible verses but not others. Beyond the credal range described by scripture, narrow is good, broad is bad. Within the credal range, however, narrow is bad while broad is good.
What this means: A profound opportunity for growth exists at the edges of our theological range. Personally, I’m learning about faith declarations right now (speaking your faith as a way of activating it). This is beyond my comfort zone because to me, it smacks of name-it-and-claim-it. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that there is some naming-and-claiming in the Bible. I’m asking Jesus to help me learn about that within a proper perspective.
What about you? Are you aware of your “theological range” and where God may be asking you to explore beyond the edges?