Experiences and theology

Thought of the day: it is often said that we need to let “our experiences rise to meet the word of God”. The premise being that our theology should define our experience and not the other way around.

It is often used when the experience in this life doesn’t meet the expectations set out in the bible – we need to look to the bible and believe the good stuff it says rather than the reality we are facing. Commonly used regarding healing and prosperity.

Question: when has this rung true for people in the bible and when has it not? Also, in our context, when has this statement been used to justify questionable/less robust theology?

What you save them with, you save them to

I remember James Boice often saying, “What you save them with, you save them to.” His point was that any evangelism that is not centered on Christ’s atoning work and its biblically-defined results, leaves our “converts” still alienated from God. People “saved” with sentimental appeals or therapeutic promises may join our church, joyfully regard themselves as Christians and embrace our evangelical sub-culture, and even have beneficial changes in their lives. But until they confess their sins and trust the cross of Christ, the wrath of God remains on them. There is but one way to God, and the one gospel He has provided for true evangelism is marked red with the shed blood of Christ.
Rick Phillips

As much as that is a skeptical view of contemporary approaches to evangelism (seeker-friendly methods), I think there is some truth in James Boice’s words. I read the same words on some lecture notes online saying “Theology determines methodology; worship determines witness.” We cannot dissect the methods from the goal. 

Anecdotally, this quote might not seem true but it is worth a thought. It is often the ones who quietly leave or get left behind that slip our minds.

Disney Theology

“The reason religious leaders seem so variously drawn to and repelled by Disney’s work may be the striking presence of Judeo-Christian values, juxtaposed with a complete absence of any call or need to submit to God’s will. Walt’s religion is at the same time selfless and selfish. ‘Providence’ at my disposal; the infinite obligated to make my dreams come true. Perhaps only the rampant optimism and ambition of turn-of-the-century frontier America could inspire a belief system simultaneously virtuous and self-absorbed, values Walt derived from that idyllic portion of his childhood spent in Marceline, Missouri.

Disney’s target market – and it has proved to be a large one – is an audience of people who want to believe in something that doesn’t require anything of them. Thats the religion that we’ve all been dying for. So it’s a powerful thing. It engages kids very deeply and it offends no one, except the intellectual elite. Amazingly, Christians were some of Disney’s biggest fans because he held on to the values that were important to them. So they forgave the fact that God had gone missing somehow along the way, but that everything that God set up was still there.”
Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales (Quoted in Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust)

Vischer has articulated perfectly my take on much (not all) of Christian culture in this day and age. These days we’re seeing less Jesus centered theology and more Disney theology – all the values of Christianity without Jesus.

Apparently, Jesus is offensive but Christian values are appealing. I can get into schools to talk about the value of community and friendships, but not to talk about Jesus. I can tell people how unique and special they are and how they should be just what they are, but not mention the God who created them or the Jesus through whom all things are created.

The challenge is that the value of Christian values lies in Jesus.

“But just what is this Disney gospel – this blend of “faith, trust, and pixie dust”? It’s American cultural religion: belief in the ability of the self to overcome adversity, faith in faith itself, adherence to the American ethic of morality and hard work.”
Religion journalist Marcia Ford on Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust

I think one of the most clichéd existential Disney motherhood statements has got to be:

Be yourself.

Be just who you’re meant to be.

Be your own special and unique person.

It features as the moral of the story in many children’s shows and movies. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have different gifts, preferences and quirks that make us exactly who we are (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12). It teaches us not to seek man’s approval (Galatians 1:10) and affirms the value of seeing one’s self as being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) – just without acknowledging the Creator. Essentially, it builds confidence in one’s self (self-esteem). The world sees self-esteem as the answer to the problem of approval addiction, timidity and position/status envy. The Christian version sounds like this: “be who God meant you to be”. Sounds like modern individualism? It isn’t. St Catherine of Siena wrote that in the 1300s.

“God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Max Lucado

Interestingly, the bible says little about loving ourselves but much about God’s love for us and our love for others. Self-esteem doesn’t feature much in the bible. It would seem that who we are just isn’t that important!

But really, that isn’t the case. What is important in the bible is God-esteem. There is much to be said about how God sees us and the place (present and future) that we have in Christ. Numerous verses speak of His love for us (Romans 8:31-39), his actions of affection towards us (John 3:16) and our privilaged position in His eyes (Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:2). Even Paul, who we can identify as incredibly special and unique refuses to esteem himself. He does so in 2 Corinthians 11:17-30 to show how ridiculous it is.

Our relentless pursuit then is not to be “who God has made you to be” (as Rob Bell’s counsellor puts it), but to pursue God Himself. The result of that pursuit is the person God has made me to be. He who makes you who you are, also makes you who you’re meant to be.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (See also Galatians 5:22-23)

Theological undercurrents

I was reading a friend’s blog recently and was suprised to read a brutally honest confession of the lonliness of life. Along with this confession came a little outburst to God, a spill over of the heart’s desire. The exasperation (and desperation) that one must feel from years of waiting for “the right one to come” is quite unbearable I imgaine.

There were 2 things that really caught my attention:
1. How much I feel for this friend of mine
2. How different my theological view point is

I cannot deny the pastoral heart I have. Nothing moves me like people in need. I desire nothing more than to lead them to a place of God given rest and providence. I want to cook them a meal, spend time talking to them – finding out what they’re feeling, where they’re coming from, what I can do to help, what they can do to help themselves. Pray with them and for them and have the church rally behind them.

Another friend of mine called me recently and we spoke for about an hour, updating each other on what has been happening in our lives. Times have been hard for him and he is jumping hurdles left and right. The coming hurdle being the biggest and most ambitious, but most necessary. All I want to do is to run with him and bless him. I want to see the obstances smashed into pieces and him matured in Christ.

If it’s money you need, have mine. If it’s a place to stay, take my bed. If it’s just a pat on the back you need, I’ll throw in a hug with that.

I only wish my arms are bigger, my bank is deeper, my influence is wider and my relationship with God is stronger, that I might lead some to victory in (and with) Christ.

This would be the main reason why I am writing this blog entry: I cannot ignore the theological undercurrents behind that little outburst to God. Although I cannot say what the outburst is or even what it might be about, I can sufficiently say that it revealed a different theological viewpoint. One that I am immensely interested in – decision-making.

I am close to saying that my friend’s viewpoint is wrong, and that is what has caused her grief. But I cannot say for certain that one viewpoint is entirely right, therefore, her view cannot be entirely wrong. I would just say it is different.

These days, the decision to act upon God given wisdom is played down by the church. What is perpetuated these days is the phrase “wait on the Lord”. When God doesn’t answer in a timely fashion, we are liable to put the blame on Him, only to feel guilty afterward. Or when we do hear from God and the decision doesn’t turn out to be the best, we console ourselves saying “God knows best” or “His ways are higher than ours”. While that might be true is some circumstances, I cannot say it is true for all (or even most). There is another view.

Our lives are the cumulated result of a gajillion decisions made. It might be our decisions or our parents / spouses / friends decisions that have made our lives. Ultimately, no decision has more effect on our lives than the ones we make. Nothing can change our lives more than changing our decisions.

Now, God has given us wisdom already. And this wisdom is more far reaching and powerful than we imagine. Why? Because it is in the person of Jesus Christ and indwelling in us. If we are in Christ, we have wisdom. See 1 Corinthians 2:6-13. This wisdom holds not only everything we need for the next life, but everything we need for this life because this life is the next life. Eternity has already began.

When we begin to make decisions using Godly wisdom in confidence, we can no longer put the blame on God for wrong decisions or untimely answers. God still is sovereign and the best decision can still turn out to be the worst, and that still requires trust in God. It is not fool proof and we will still make mistakes. But we relinquish the right to put the blame on God. We then pick up the responsibility to grow in wisdom and maturity.

A word to singles next.