Yet Another Place Where I Was Wrong

Dear Mr. Lough:

Okay, here’s a question I have wanted to ask you for some time, even before we decided to do this email series during Lent. I read something that you posted on Facebook, and it surprised me so much that I wrote it down and made a note to ask you about it. Today’s the day to pose that question, I guess.

The Facebook post I’m referring to appeared late last year on December 20. Here is what you wrote:

An odd post, I know, but prompted by several other posts I’ve read today, so it’s time to dispel any uncertainty. I now believe that every position or role of leadership ministry in the church, without exception, should be open to women as well as men.

Continue reading

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The Role of the Bible in the Church of the Future (On the Road to Easter, #7)

Dear Kathryn:

I know you are eager to explore some of the specific topics and issues where my current thinking shows marked change from the positions I held a few years ago. I am too. Before we go there, however, just a bit more about the change in my attitude toward the Bible.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is really the church’s book. The church produced it, in the sense that real human beings, presumably active in the life of the early church, wrote the documents that have been compiled into the form we have today. They each wrote at a particular moment in history, and their thinking was shaped by the political, religious, and cultural influences of their day. Continue reading

What Kind of a Book is the Bible? (On the Road to Easter, #6)

Dear Mr. Lough:

Monday’s note was extremely helpful. It explained a lot to me about the direction and content of your thought and writing these days. What Would Jesus Do? It’s simple, succinct, elegant, and yet comprehensive in its own way. But it also raises a follow-up question, if I may. How do we know for sure what Jesus would do?

I mean, he lived two thousand years ago in a culture far different from ours. Yes, we have the Gospels that tell us most of what we know about the life and teaching of Jesus. But if all we need to do is read what the Gospels tell us about what Jesus said and did, why is there so much disagreement, even among Christians, about what it means to follow the example of Jesus today. Continue reading

The Subjective Dimension in Change (On the Road to Easter, #4)

Dear Kathryn:

Before I go further in defining the parameters and describing the particulars of the change in my thinking over the past few years, I want to address one other factor that contributes to the process and experience of change: the subjective dimension. Simply put, we never make a significant change in our beliefs or practices until we feel the need for change. We will never take the risks associated with change until we are convinced, rather more instinctually than intellectually, that change is desirable, possible, and maybe even necessary.

At least that has certainly been true for me. I am today open to the possibility of truth in ideas and concepts that, only a few years ago, I regarded with derision and dismissed with prejudice. My thinking began to change when my circumstances changed, and I was no longer bound emotionally to an earlier pattern of thought and behavior. Continue reading

Some Thoughts About the Bible: Application

I am sixty-five years old. I have to write that every once in a while just to remind myself that it’s true. I was baptized in a muddy river near Charleston, West Virginia, and became a member of Baptist church when I was eight years old. As a senior in high school, I sensed what I have always described as a call from God to devote my life to Christian ministry. I prepared for that role with diplomas from a Bible college, a Christian liberal arts college, and a theological seminary. Along the way, I have served as a pastor, a broadcaster, a writer, and a college instructor.

I grew up in fundamentalism, moved to a more inclusive evangelicalism as a young adult, served more than twenty-five years among Mennonites, and six years ago received the sacrament of confirmation in an Anglican church. In 1970, I was ordained a Baptist minister. In 1982, I was ordained in the Mennonite Church. In 2011, I was ordained an Anglican priest.

I mention all of that only to establish that I know a thing or two about Christian theology. I taught systematic theology for twelve years as a Bible college instructor. Until about seven years ago, I thought I had a handle on a belief system that I could explain in systematic, academic terms, in which I could find the answer to any question I might be asked about faith, religion, or metaphysics in general. I don’t think that anymore. Continue reading

Some Thoughts About the Bible: Authority

I grew up with great respect for the Bible. Even more than that, really. I regarded the Bible with reverence. My grandmother would not allow anything to be laid on top of the Bible, and although I didn’t go that far, I understood her sentiment. After all, the Bible was a sacred book. Even though humans had produced the written the text of the Bible, it was somehow a record of what God had said. It was the Word of God.

As a Bible college student and then as a minister for many years thereafter, I championed the cause of “Biblical inerrancy.” If God is perfect, I reasoned, and if the Bible was the Word of God, then the Bible must bear the character of the God whose word it was. In its relation to God, the Bible was the literary equivalent of Jesus. As Jesus was the Word of God in human flesh (cf. John 1), the Bible was the Word of God in written form. I could no more consider the possibility of an error in the text of the Bible than I could imagine Jesus, during his earthly life, snatching a woman’s purse to get money to buy beer. Continue reading

Some Thoughts About the Bible: Interpretation

I have just read another article, this time a sermon, by a prominent American church leader in which he kindly and eloquently referred to his point of view on a matter, and that of his congregation, as “the biblical position.” In another place he defended his viewpoint as “simply standing for what the Bible teaches.”

Here is my earnest request. Please stop saying stuff like that. Continue reading