Monday, November 23, 2015

A Theological Mutt

I am a theological mutt.

I'm a doctrinal mixed-breed, a unique mashup of diverse orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I rarely find churches or theological systems where I completely fit.

I'm too conservative for the liberal and mainline denominations. I self-identify as evangelical, believe in the truth and authority of Scripture as God's inspired Word, have a strong push for personal evangelism and the salvation of the lost, still believe the locally-gathered Jesus-following church is God's primary method for saving and healing the world, lean towards historic premillenialism in my eschatology, and still think there's a real heaven and a real hell. I even once voted for George W. Bush.

I'm too progressive for the evangelicals and fundamentalists. I don't use or condone the term "inerrancy" in describing the Bible (because it doesn't describe itself this way, and the word's historical roots are politically charged and intentionally divisive), I don't use a wholly "literal" hermeneutic in my exegesis of Scripture, I believe women have an equal seat at table in both the church and family, I'm strongly leaning towards annihilationism regarding the doctrine of hell, and I believe social justice, serving the poor, and radical discipleship is essential to the gospel and ways of Jesus. I even once voted for Barack Obama.

I grew up in the Baptist church, attended a Catholic high school, went to a non-denominational evangelical Bible college (Multnomah University), pastored at Baptist, Evangelical Free, and Mennonite Brethren churches, briefly attended a Canadian non-denominational theological graduate school (Regent College), and now I'm a full-time student at a Wesleyan/Quaker seminary (George Fox Evangelical Seminary). I'm presently in an interim ministry role with a Presbyterian church, though I'm also very involved with the Christian & Missionary Alliance church we attend.

My favorite theologians and pastoral writers are Anglican (N.T. Wright), Lutheran (Dietrich Bonhoeffer), Catholic (Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton), Presbyterian (Eugene Peterson, Tim Keller), Methodist/Anabaptist (Stanley Hauerwas), Quaker (Richard Foster), Baptist (Dallas Willard), and Jewish (Martin Buber). I have wonderful friends in just about any denominational camp you can imagine--Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Mennonite, Nazarene, Episcopal, Free Methodist, non-denominational megachurch, etc.

Perhaps I'm a moderate. Maybe I'm just confused or unsettled about certain doctrinal issues. Or maybe the kingdom of God is vast enough for a sense of personal nuance, a unity blooming from diversity.

One of my theology professors made a passing comment about the variety of doctrinal beliefs and the multiplication of denominations over church history. It may look and feel disjointed and splintered, and we may long for The One True Denomination to unite them all. Yet we don't see this sort of uniformity within the Bible itself. From the beginning of Israel's origins, there were twelve tribes, not one (really, there were thirteen, but who's counting?). There were twelve apostles chosen by Jesus, as well as the variety of other disciples who followed in his footsteps--women and men, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, young and old, conservative and liberal. There are four Gospel accounts of the life of Christ, each with their unique flavor, perspective, emphases, and tone (and they often appear to contradict each other!). In the few images we have of the future kingdom of God, we see cultural and ethnic diversity retained.

We also see people progressing and changing in their personal beliefs. For example, look at the life of Peter and his transformation from an ordinary fisherman into the rock of the church. His own beliefs about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is challenged in the book of Acts, and later re-challenged by Paul in Galatians. To be a follower of Jesus is to live in a dynamic, ever-transforming reality, as opposed to static "this is how it is" rigidity. This doesn't mean one has zero actual convictions or wallows in postmodern whateverism. It simply means a mutt's leash is anchored to Christ, not a denominational perspective or theological system or a church's statement of faith.

I am learning to love and embrace my muttness. If you're a fellow theological mutt, fear not: you are not alone in the wide world of Christian beliefs. I recognize it's risky to even post something like this, as it could be misunderstood--Joel, you don't use the word "inerrancy"? Are you even still a Christian?--or somehow used against me. But I think there are more mutts out there, and I want y'all to know that it's okay to be in process and to not quite fit. I genuinely respect and appreciate the variety of tribes within the kingdom of God, and find I have a fuller relationship with Jesus when I can hold my theological beliefs with open hands, learning to embrace the tension within orthodoxy. I find I can navigate within the world of conservatives and liberals both with comfortability and a bit of the prophetic (i.e. I can help others see the value in the other side.) My anchor is in Christ rather than a particular system, and there is much to be learned when one chooses to listen beyond a theological echo chamber. Perhaps in an ever-polarizing purebred world of politics and religion, we need a few more mixed-breeds to shake things up.

Photo Credit: Bad Apple Photography (Creative Commons)

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent. Sums up so many of my thoughts and beliefs