A dear friend recently referred to a theological maverick, who has held a number of varying positions and divergent views over the course of the last forty years, and wrote of him, “He is a prime example of the lures of theological curiosity: his curious mind too often takes precedence over Biblical fidelity.” I copied down that sentence for a reason. I need it to remind me that having a curious mind is a very good thing but using it to undermine fidelity to the Scripture is never a good thing.
Some will accuse me of doing exactly what this statement says. One notable Christian writer even uses the words of Jude 3 to say I am one who has, in effect, departed from the faith. My response to this charge might not matter to some who agree with him but it does to me and to those who really know me. Ultimately even my judgment does not matter since I will stand before God who will judge me, not human tribunals or popular authors. I know that I must give an account for my teaching and my actions, especially as a teacher who has been set apart by the church as a minister of Word and Sacrament. I openly admit, in my new book, Your Church Is Too Small, that I have changed my understanding of the catholicity of the Christian church. I moved from what I now see to be a sectarian stance to a more catholic and apostolic sense of the church. I moved from judging other Christians to embracing them when they offer a good faith witness to their reliance upon Christ and their commitment in Christian baptism. I do not see this move as a denial of the gospel but rather as an affirmation of it. I see it, simply put, as an expression of fidelity to what I discovered over many years of trial and repentance. The tricky thing here is to grow in one’s own understanding while at the same time you remain utterly faithful to the core doctrine of the Christian faith and the revealed teaching of the Holy Scriptures. None of us sees everything clearly since “we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12a) for the time being. But all of us who teach the Word will be “judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
We will continue to disagree about many things that Christians divide over. I believe many of these things should not divide us, at least not so easily. I also believe that the root of the matter must remain in all who teach the Word. Are your teachers loyal to “the faith which was once for all entrusted to the saints? (Jude 3)”
I wrote my friend, when I read his sentence, and thanked him. I also wrote that it is my life’s goal to be sure that the curiosity of my mind never overtakes my fidelity to the Holy Scriptures. There is tension here and it will never be solved this side of heaven but breaking that tension is a dangerous path to follow.
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John, you always amaze me with your deep theological insights and tremendous grace you show. I like the word “tension” even though existentially some of us can hardly stand it at times when the tension is crushing us in some way.
I will add two other words that may be related. The first word is “imagination.” The tension should be leading our theological imaginations to develop and grow spiritually and holistically. I find so much of our theological imaginations have either been put on hold for a long time or stunted in their growth hormones (it must be fed). Lastly, the last word is “haunted.” The theological tensions and imagination should leave us haunted at times. Haunted by the cross of Christ. Haunted by what is to what should be. Haunted by ‘more’ of what God has for us.
“The tricky thing here is to grow in one’s own understanding while at the same time you remain utterly faithful to the core doctrine of the Christian faith and the revealed teaching of the Holy Scriptures.”
A very succinct statement of mere Christianity. But not only is it a tricky thing, it can be a downright lonely thing. But I see no other choice. And frankly I prefer that kind of loneliness to an abundance of “fellowship” in which the connections remain superficial.