For over 15 years I had been deeply involved in one particular faith based institution. I had given a great deal of time and energy to do everything I could to inspire people to follow Jesus more fully and completely with every aspect of their existence.
The last few years of my involvement in this church I had been doing some teaching at the many adult bible classes and it had been going quite well. Toward the end I started doing more teaching in the college group to fill a void that had been created.
As a part of this class it was my desire to teach the students that it’s ok to ask tough questions about the bible and that we shouldn’t fear these questions. One other desire was to teach the students that it’s ok to disagree theologically and that we shouldn’t let those issues divide the body, especially when they have nothing to do with salvation.
The way I decided to orient this lesson was to have a friendly debate with a fellow on the topic of open theism vs classical theism. I won’t go into all the details but to make a long story short because of my views on open theism I was told I could no longer teach at this particular faith based institution.
It was deemed that an open view is outside of the theological boundaries in this institutions statement of faith and is a major issue not a minor one. All though it was acknowledged that this point had nothing to do with salvation.
As I reflected on all that had happened it became clear that what led to this decision and the conversations with me prior were more about fear than they were faith. There was a fear of what would be said if an open view was being taught at this institution and it got back to the mother organization. There was a fear of what others would think if it got out that this view was being talked about. There was a fear that this view made God look less Sovereign, etc.
Ultimately when it got back around to the college kids, I found out that all the things I set out to teach actually back fired and we taught the opposite things. The actions of the leadership who made the decision taught dis-unity. They taught that it was not ok to ask tough questions and that church was not a safe place for genuine theological dialogue.
Emphasizing again that with most of the debates, when the opposition strikes so strongly it is more out of fear than faith. Consider much of the recent debate over Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. Things that were said, assumptions that were made, things taken out of context to falsly prove a point, all done out of fear not faith.
What it really boils down to is, those who strike back out of fear are afraid to be challenged. They are afraid of what may happen to their faith if the things they were brought up believing were true could potentially turn out different than they thought.
Perhaps a more pertinent observation is that those who are in the fear camp view theology as more important than people.
To which a marvelous quote from a Rabbi friend comes to mind:
“If a Christian wants to know what you believe he will examine your doctrine. If a Jew wants to know what you believe he will follow you around for three days.”
All this is tragic because we should strive to read the bible for all its worth. We should strive to seek after truth and not let dogma, tradition, agenda’s, culture etc get in the way.
Only genuine faith based dialogues can achieve this. Fear dialogues leave one person feeling attacked. Faith dialogues happen where there is a true sense of community among believers, where people are more important than theology (or right beliefs).
Unfortunately this is not very common.
As Kurt Willems points out in his blog post where he outlines how too often the church is not a safe place and how diving into theological waters is sometimes like jumping off the high dive for the first time.
May we jump without fear and engage in genuine and faithful dialogue.