The Reply to Blow

Thank you so much for your faithful reflection and wrestling regarding the controversial Dallas Morning New column by Steve Blow we talked about in this space yesterday. I’ve received twice as many comments on email as I have in the “comments” section of this blog. And that’s fine. But, good gravy, people, your stuff is good! Really good! I urge you to consider putting some or all of what we’re sharing via email on the blog here so everybody can benefit and be blessed by your insights.

It appears that what most Christians are reading in this little controversy is the reply to Blow’s column penned by Ron Scates, the Senior Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas. You can read the response in its entirety by clicking here. I’m not endorsing the pastor or the Denison Forum website where this link sends you; it’s just the easiest place to find the response. Click on that link, read Scates’ reply, and then let’s discuss.

~~~Seriously, I’m not going to continue here until you jump over there and read Ron Scates. Do it! It’s really, really good!~~~

OK, he starts by naming a mentor of his at Union Theological Seminary — name dropping; not necessary — and his words of wisdom, “Bad theology always hurts people.” Good line. I like it. Scates expands on it:

“I guarantee you… anytime you and I develop our theology based on majority votes based on the surrounding culture — rather than by what God has revealed in his Word — inevitably, we wind up with bad theology.”

And people get hurt. Lost people get hurt. And Christians get hurt by bad theology that’s shaped by the prevailing culture of the times.

Limiting the role of women in our churches is bad theology formed in and by a male dominated culture; it goes completely against the commands and examples in our Holy Scriptures; and it’s not a very faithful expression of the Gospel of Jesus that claims we’re all equal at the cross of Calvary and at our Lord’s resurrection table. It hurts people. It hurts our women and our little girls. And it cripples our Christian witness to a lost world that can’t understand our petty rules and inconsistent laws. It’s OK for a woman to pray and read Scripture, to comment and exhort, in Bible class and in Small Group and at the church retreat, but our salvation is in jeopardy if she does it in the worship center between 10:00 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. Bad theology. Based on the surrounding culture. Hurts people.

Our traditional “sema-soma” views of body-soul in which our bodies and all of creation are burned up and destroyed on the Day of the Lord, but our disembodied souls float up to heaven where we spend all of eternity in a spiritual worship service, without sermons, I assume, is bad theology. It’s Gnostic, formed in and by a culture that was seeking secret knowledge and power. It’s Greek mythology, completely counter to what our Scriptures tell us about what God is really doing in redeeming all of creation. And it’s led to a lot of Christians not caring about our planet, not taking care of our own bodies, not caring what the church building looks like. People like that are said to be “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” Bad theology. Hurts people.

I could go on and on. Five steps of salvation. Five acts of worship — one at a time, of course! Marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Leadership structures. Power hungry bishops and abusive elders are a result of bad theology. Measuring faithfulness to Christ by church attendance and knowledge of Scripture instead of Christ-likeness is bad theology. Youth groups who only learn and worship and serve with people their own age, that’s bad theology. It’s theology that comes from our culture and not from our Bibles.

More on that from Scates, who says it so much better than I do:

“How you and I approach the Bible is key to forging a good theology. Is the Bible a spiritual cafeteria where we go through the line picking and choosing only what looks tasty and palatable to us? Or is the Bible a banquet to which we have been graciously invited, where the Author/Host sets before us a fare of his own choosing? At a banquet, guests don’t try to change the menu. That would be bad etiquette.”

But the theology of the culture is so much easier, right? Of course it is. It tempts me all the time. It would be much easier to just play chaplain to a bunch of church people who sit comfortably in their pews week after week. It would be much easier to believe God has no holy expectations of his people. It would be much easier to believe I need to take care of myself first and look out for my own needs first and then take care of others. I’m reminded of something G. K. Chesterton wrote years ago in Orthodoxy: “Christianity has not been tried and found lacking; it’s been found difficult and never tried.” Something like that.

Scates particularly addresses Blow’s attack on the traditional views of hell and of Jesus as the only way to salvation:

“Do I believe hell exists? Yes. Do I fear hell? No. I hold both those beliefs for the exact same reason that I believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life because he says so… and that if I be in Christ, hell is not my eternal destiny. In the Gospels, Jesus talks more about the reality of hell than he does about heaven. It is Jesus himself who makes the claim (as much a minority claim in the 1st as in the 21st century) that he alone is the way to the Father… and away from an eternity in hell (John 14:6). Good theology always takes Jesus at his Word… rather than extends a wet finger to the prevailing winds of culture.”

Here at Central, we’re learning in our Sunday morning Bible classes that our Church of Christ history and particular theologies have been shaped and formed almost as much by culture and popular opinion as by our Lord. Almost. And that’s not a knock against CofC. Good gravy, it’s a commentary on our fallen humanity. It’s a call to be on our constant guard against it. And it’s a challenge to be always ready to grow and change and restore.

Scates’ last lines are perhaps his best. I’ll close with them the way he did.

When all is said and done, good theology is a “revealed” theology… it comes from outside of ourselves… not something of our own making. Historically, the Church has always said that that source of revelation is God himself… revealing himself to us through is Living Word, Jesus Christ, and his written word, the Holy Scriptures. Good theology usually arises when you and I attend to, not contend with, the Bible.”

Peace,

Allan

7 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    Leonard,
    I’ve read both of your posts and re-read both of the columns and it seems like I am in the same place I was before.

    Blow’s line “I have certainly come to believe the world is just too wide to say that God cannot move and work in many ways” is true. I don’t take it that he is saying that Jesus isn’t the path to salvation. I take it that we shouldn’t try to limit God.

    Scate’s comments are also good. His point about not fearing Hell is something I understand however don’t agree with. Edgework is scary and having self-awareness about the results if you screw up is necessary. We can’t let it paralyze us into not stepping to the edge or making a bold move yet it needs to reminds us to “don’t be stupid”.

    This stuff gives me tiredhead so I’ll stay with the cup of cold water and ministry of presence approach.

  2. Allan

    Now you’ve gone and done it, Drake. You’re going to force me to post a whole ‘nother entry on fearing hell. Are you kidding me? You’re a Christian, brother! You’re a child of God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! Don’t get me to preaching now!

    So what if you jump into Christian ministry with both feet, brakes-off, no looking back, full-steam ahead, putting the needs of others ahead of your own in the name and manner of our Lord and you royally mess something up? So what? God honors that kind of ministry, that kind of effort, that kind of heart. He honors it, he doesn’t punish it. He’s your loving and merciful Father, remember?

  3. Rob's Dad

    Jump in with both feet – isn’t that similar to what Mr. Blow said?

  4. Sara R.

    I’m a little behind on your blog, but I’m getting caught up and I’m commenting… If limiting the roles of women in our church is bad theology and bad theology hurts people, what’s our plan to change it?

  5. Allan

    More teaching, more prayer, and more conviction.

    I believe raising our “spiritual historical consciousness” in our study together of our common Restoration Movement history is helping. Understanding why we do things the way we do them is a critical first step. Getting back to our roots as a unity movement that truly embraces an autonomous view of individual congregations and makes no distinctions regarding traditions and practices will go a long way toward aiding the conversation. And giving us a little more confidence in moving more in that direction. Seeing that there were women preachers in the Churches of Christ before the Civil War and reading their sermons together can’t hurt.

    A vital second step is in recognizing that our particular traditional view of women in God’s Church is just that — particular and traditional. Once we see that our practical applications of our tradition in this area are inconsistent at best and self-centered at worst, and are doing much more harm than good when it comes to expressing the Gospel of Christ to our own children and to God’s world at large, if we’ll ever really be convicted of that, we’ll be open to better and faster change.

    And prayer. Lots of prayer. Our God will be the one to move us. Not me. We are so incredibly blessed to serve our Lord under the leadership of godly shepherds who seek his will first and only when it comes to matters such as this. You can believe our elders are in constant prayer and practices of spiritual discernment regarding this and other issues of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It will happen when his Spirit tells us it should. And when God gives the OK, his shepherds here will act boldly in the best interests of the Kingdom in Amarillo.

  6. Matt R.

    Wow, that Sara R. had a good point…who is she?

    So, as we’re walking through our “little-c-church history”, I’ve been surprised by intentions vs. reality. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, because this is the nature of human sinners. Still, from your response above, I’m hearing that we agree that women’s roles are of particular tradition and not necessarily theology. However, to address it, we’re going to expect God to move us. Huh. I’m not sure how to discern when God gives the “OK”…has it already happened? Could it be that this is the studied conversation of saints that offers faithful discernment?

    See, the last sentence is interesting…when God gives the “OK”, the sheperds will act boldly in the best interests of the Kingdom. That language is vague to me theologically. It makes great sense politically, but I guess it seems a bit too fatalistic to me.

    Now, I’m not saying that change is required–I’m saying that the conversation is a good one. But, due to my own heritage, I remain uncomfortable with the corporate realization of the Spirit’s wishes and God’s approval. Or the corporate embrace of tradition and the deaf ear to the Spirit’s guidance. Today, as we live and worship and serve here, which is it?

    Good stuff, though! Aren’t you glad this came up?

  7. Allan

    My belief is that we do both: we embrace tradition here at Central, which is good; and we are wide open to the leading of God’s Sprit, which is also very good.

    Of course, our shared experience here at Central would remind us that the Spirit of God is moving and leading in this area and the leaders are certainly following. Our sisters here take active roles in leading in our singing and Scripture reading in all but one of our church contexts. They pray and lead discussions in all but one of our worship and study settings. Even in that one worship setting, our wives and daughters lead the singing with our praise team, make announcements, give testimonies, and read Scripture into a microphone. The women here serve communion during special occasions on special days. God is leading us; he is giving us his OK. More people are being blessed, fewer people are being hurt. The Gospel of Christ is being expressed more fully. Barriers are coming down. It’s good. It’s really good.

    And so is the conversation.

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