Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Can Appreciate an Honest Doubter

I was privileged to spend time with a friend over coffee today, having great discussions about all sorts of things. We engaged in a fabulous discussion on God's word, tackling some difficult topics. I enjoy it when people have questions about God, when they question what they have heard, in attempts to understand the truth for themselves. Whenever I am trying to discern the validity of a biblical teaching I resort to prayer and Wesley's quadrilateral.  I test what I've heard against scripture first, then reason - looking at the logic, then my experience, followed by tradition.   While not perfect or the total answer in understanding God's word, it has served me well, keeping me from potential false prophets, or misguided teachings, while solidifying my faith in God's truth.  There is nothing wrong with asking questions, God is big enough to take it.  We want to get to a place where our faith is strong enough to handle it. If we have an open mind, a heart to receive the answers, and the desire to seek the truth, questions can go a long way to complimenting our personal experiences and drawing us closer to God.

I recall having read a book by Shirley Guthrie on Christian Doctrine for one of my courses.  It was a good book that held some wisdom when it comes to understanding God's word.

“Jesus Christ is the clearest revelation of who God is and what God promises and wills for faithful Christian life. Therefore all scripture is to be interpreted in light of “what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded”. A poignant principle not only for the study of theology and interpretation of scripture but also for the living out of our faith in practical terms, knowing that Jesus Christ is the example of what God wills for the life of the faithful Christian.

“Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) “Jesus Christ is to be served and obeyed: above nation, above generally accepted ethical and religious values, above family, above economic prosperity – above everything else” Simple concept, that all our Christian creeds and confessions are rooted in and yet we as Christians struggle in living out this truth. As I say this I am at the same time considering another powerful question Guthrie presented in her book, “When we criticize and disagree with the church’s teaching at this or that point, how can we be sure that we are really doing it in obedience to Christ or scripture and not just an expression of our own biases?”. I love this question because I personally struggle with exactly this, perhaps not with regards to specific teachings of the church, but in how those teachings are lived out, within the church, the “orthopraxis” of such teachings.

His follow up question though is also another one that I have had to personally reflect on in the past “When we hold tenaciously to what the church teaches, how can we be sure that we really are doing it because we respect the truth of God and not just because we are afraid or unwilling to subject our understanding of the truth to revision and correction.?” I believe Guthrie answers this question and I am in agreement when he says that “You will learn far more from genuine open debate than from total agreement” and that “An honest doubter is closer to the truth than a superficial or dishonest believer”. I can recall a similar illustration from when I was a youth pastor. I asked my youth how many of them were Free Methodists and they subsequently all raised their hands, then I asked them why they were Free Methodists, and what it meant to them. Most if not all stated they were FM because their parents were, even unsure of what it meant to be Free Methodist, to some extent their personal faith was determined by their parent’s view and the sentiments of their church, not yet having taken the time to discern if they were holding to these teachings out of respect of an understood truth or fear of the unfamiliar.

This morning I had a meeting at the college. During our conversation, I commented on how I think it is important that believers are taught how to think, and not just what to believe, so that their faith becomes their own, through their choosing and in turn, they are equipped and enabled to defend what they believe and why they believe it.

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