We have an expression in the south, “Chewing the fat”. Fat is often the source of the best flavor, and it generally sticks around for a while like bubble gum. However it really doesn’t have much (if any) nutritional value. So to chew the fat is to partake in something that is enjoyable, but ultimately contains no nutritional value.
Now some chewing of fat is a good thing. The problem comes in, however, when we think what we are chewing on is not fat.
Im most churches today I would wager that members are chewing the fat. They attend bible studies that have little to no nutritional value. But since they often have excellent spiritual flavor, emotional experiences, superficial intimacy among participants, etc. they are not generally known for what they are.
Not even milk. Just fat.
Recently a friend and fellow house church enthusiast alerted me to a division within the fellowship he is a member of. The division centered on doctrine, with one member apparently upset that the rest of the group did not appreciate the reformed doctrine he ascribed to.
Without addressing the doctrines in question, I wanted to encourage this group to seek to function like a family. Here is my letter to the group in question as well as our regular group.
I’ve yet to meet as child who holds nothing but right beliefs. I’ve yet to meet an adult who holds nothing but right beliefs for that matter either. In fact, I’m pretty sure, as Greg Koukl has said, that I hold wrong beliefs as well. The trouble is that we don’t know what those wrong beliefs are unless someone loves us enough to patiently expose them through persuasive arguments based on solid evidence (which includes the Bible).
Thankfully, the biblical standard for admittance into heaven is not our score on some sort of cosmic theology test.
It’s true that doctrine is important. And I would agree that many problems faced by the modern church are due to a severe lack of biblical training. However intellectual development only takes us so far. The other half of Biblical maturity is our actions, particularly our love for one another. Practically this means there is absolutely no Biblical justification for breaking fellowship with another member in the body of Christ outside of habitual participation in unconfessed sin.
Paul wrote Ephesians to a group of people far more divided than we could hope to be. In a city where rampant immorality was praised, and at a time when being Jewish still meant something. Yet Paul thought it was possible for them to live together in harmony. Not only that, but to build each other up (chapter 4) in preparation for the coming battle (chapter 6) with ungodly forces.
We need to prepare in every way for battle. We need to strengthen our minds through diligent study of doctrines like open theism and the tenants of Calvinism. But if we don’t, at the same time, have an equally forceful commitment to loving each other and seeking each other’s growth, being right doesn’t really matter, does it? (1 Cor 13)
I had a revelation the other day about the state of the Christian church. This revelation came while talking with a friend of mine who told me a story about a family member who recently “felt called” to go be a missionary (as if that werent possible where they were at). They lamented that their family member’s reasoning and plan was deeply flawed and largely based on emotion and not good solid reasoning and planning. He was thankful that their apparent call from God had been thwarted, however it was evident that he victory had taken a toll.
Now this friend came from a missionary family who have traversed the globe doing the work of evangelists. A more spiritually minded family would be hard to find to say the least.
My revelation is this.
Growing up we had looked to my friend’s family member as the prime example of what it meant to live a spirit-filled life. Thinking about it now its apparent that our measure of spiritual maturity centered on raw mysticism and behavior modification. Not, as the Bible indicates, a definitive growth in both behavior (orthopraxis) as well as wisdom and understanding (orthodoxy).
I believe that foundation has led my friend, who is very logically minded, to struggle with what it means to be a Christian. It not only places roadblocks in his walk of faith. But it exalts what amounts to spiritual infancy.
The sad part is that growing up we looked to my friend’s family member as a warrior. Because we thought they were mature (based on our flawed understanding of maturity) we thought they were also capable contenders for the faith (Jude 4).
It is now apparent, however, that what we did (and were allowed to do by our “elders” at he time) was put a sword in the hands of the most ridiculous and infantile among us and provoke the darkness with theirs and our own ignorance.
When my children get old enough to wrestle with these faith issues, one mistake I hope to avoid is providing them with both a false view of maturity and, from that, false heroes to look up to.
Posted in apologetics, doctrine, general, musings, philosophy, polemics, science, theology
Tagged faith, growth, knowledge, maturity, reason, wiliam lane craig
In my last post I discussed the problem of market saturation when it comes to churches, particularly in the south where it is easy to find a church on almost every corner. However in the north the market saturation is less obvious because the problem is not an abundance of church businesses but a lack of market interest in religion in general and Christianity in particular.
This is not to say that market conditions cannot change. However the way in which markets change is through educating the consumer. This is wholly different than simple advertising where the goal is simple brand awareness of a product being offered to solve a known and understood problem and/or need. When companies wanted to introduce the personal computer to the average consumer who has never seen one before, they had to first undertake a campaign of education about computers in general and simultaneously seeding the potential market with a clear vision of the promise of a digital future.
The same thing needs to happen if we want to turn spiritually barren plains into fruitful fields.
Practically, this means a deliberate emphasis on apologetic training and engagement with individuals in markets that have, for a variety of reasons, selected against Christianity.
Before any new businesses can be established, we need to undertake a campaign of educating people of the product (worldview) of Christianity and what it has to offer. In fact, I would argue that such an education campaign needs to be undertaken even in saturated markets like the bible belt. We need to combat false impressions people have developed regarding what church is, what Christianity is all about, and most importantly, who God is and how we can know he exists and sent His Son to come and die for our sins to set us free.
We need to till the soil.
I am often asked where I’ve gone to seminary. Usually after speaking with someone I’ve recently met, and especially when visiting a church.
I fully understand where this question comes from. It is, unfortunately rare to find someone who is well trained Biblically, theologically, philosophically, and apologetically. So when we run across someone who has such specialized training, it is easy to assume they pursued formal education in order to obtain it.
What I want to tell people who ask (and seldom have the chance to do so fully in the span of a few seconds) is that I am nobody special and encourage them by getting them to understand that they can learn and grow just as well as I can and have.
Stephen at “Chronological Bible Storying Journal – Rural Brazil”, in a post outlining lessons learned regarding discipleship [HT Alan Knox], observed:
Don’t be a Bible scholar. When I first arrived in Brazil, I loved to talk theology and apologetics. This was expected in many pastoral circles in America. Inadvertently, I began to create a dependency on me as the expert and not the Bible. People would not trust themselves to understand the Bible or apply it correctly. (Incidentally, this is an extreme problem in Brazil, even in evangelical churches. It creates a passive and shallow form of Christianity.) I had to change from teaching to asking questions, and guiding discovery. Huge difference.
I believe Stephen is dead-on, here. Which is why I take great joy in telling the people who ask me where I went to seminary: Nowhere, but I am Biblically trained.
If time permits, this answer leads gracefully into the obvious follow-up question of what resources I recommend to them to assist them in their walk.
We may not all have the resources or opportunity to attend seminary, but especially in the 21st century we do all have access to some excellent training material to make us all better biblical scholars.
For anyone interested, here is a list I wrote a while back where you can find some excellent training material.
Posted in apologetics, doctrine, general, musings, philosophy, theology
Tagged biblical training, growth, leadership, learning, maturity, seminary, training
Alan Knox recently posed the question on his blog:
I wonder, what do you see as being requirements for being an elder? By this, I mean, what absolutely must someone be, do, think, believe, etc. in order for you to recognize that person as an elder (pastor, if you prefer)?
Here’s my answer:
I suppose my simplified response would be this; There has to be something in that person that I recognize I could stand to learn. That would include spiritual disciplines such as prayer, giving, graciousness, hospitality, etc. And also intellectually in terms of mastery of various subjects.
This is a great question to consider.
If we consider the believers that surround us to truly be a family, then our ability to recognize our spiritual elders has a direct bearing on our spiritual growth and maturity.
We’ve recently undergone the task of teaching our daughter to ride her bike without training wheels. And through the tears we often hear the protest “you’re hurting my feelings” from our less than enthusiastic daughter. To her, riding a bike has gone from an enjoyable activity to a huge chore that her parents force her to undertake almost every evening.
While working with my daughter I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between learning how to ride and learning theology and apologetics.
Learning how to ride a bike is hard. Especially for children whose motor skills and sense of equilibrium are still developing. Learning how to ride a bike results in a lot of falls, tears, and anger. And worst of all, it is not over in a day.
The same could be said for learning theology and apologetics.
It takes hard work, time, and a willingness to risk making mistakes (sometimes very big mistakes) to learn theology and apologetics. Feelings are bound to get hurt along the way as we both develop and sharpen our beliefs and as we learn how to argue for our beliefs. Sometimes we get embarrassed when we go to argue for a newly formed belief we don’t quite fully understand and, due to our lack of experience, end up falling flat on our face when blindside by a rebuttal we hadn’t considered before.
And just like riding a bike. We don’t learn theology or apologetics because it makes us feel good or because the potential positive feelings later on will outweigh the pain experienced now. We learn how to ride a bike because it is a good thing to learn in and of itself. With theology and apologetics, we can add to this that we also study them because they help us grow closer to God.
No one said that learning theology and/or apologetics is easy.
It’s like riding a bike.