Heterodox Aftershocks 6: Meeting with my pastor
Our church has some very admirable goals for its membership. The council came up with a comprehensive plan for getting the body to grow in real ways. So we've got a spreadsheet that has all these classes, groups, lectures, etc. that we should be checking off as we go. They deal with the personal, church, and world levels. Well, one of these programs is called the 3-fold group. And it's just the idea of finding two other people to form a little group that meets once a week for prayer, accountability, etc. I tried to get into a group a couple months ago, and none of us had the interest to get past the planning stage, and I forgot about it. Then the other week I got an email from the church office asking if I was involved in a 3-fold, and if not, could they do anything to help. So I wrote back that I was in a failed attempt, but now that I think about it, I had probably not, since I'm getting into all this unorthodox theology and I want to be respectful of my church's doctrine. I don't want anyone to perceive that I'm trying to convince others that they should see things my way. And if I'm in a small group like that, it would be kind of impossible to share anything about my spiritual life without delving into these ideas. Well, they wrote back and asked if they could pass along my email to the pastor. I said that was fine.
I've been wondering for a while now if I would 'get into trouble' at my church because of these ideas. I have no desire to be subversive at it, I don't feel like I have anything to hide; but considering the way these beliefs turn a couple deeply held concepts on their head, I figured it could only be a matter of time before we are politely asked to leave.
Well, last night we were at a prayer group meeting at church and near the end the pastor, (Curt) pulled me aside and asked if I'd talk to him. So I went to the principal's office.
Let me start off by saying that Curt is an amazing man. He is so in love with God that these kinds of issues don't really phase him. He just wanted to get a reading of me and where I was at. He said He loves and respects me a lot, and there was no tone of inquisition at all. So I laid out my issues as best I could. I was trying to sum up everything I'd written in the past 200 pages on this blog in a couple minutes. He had somewhere he needed to be in a few minutes, but we ended up talking for about an hour and a half. (When I apologized for the time he told me I was worth it.) Obviously, I can't really recount the entirety of the conversation, but I'll layout a few parts that I remember.
Curt is an adamant free willer. He seemed to find my denial of free will even more appalling than my denial of eternal torment. Not appalling in the sense that he got upset or emotional about it. Just incredulous. That fact that there is a gigantic Reformed movement that's been going on several hundred years doesn't seem to phase his incredulity. But on the other hand, he says he absolutely believes in the utter sovereignty of God. He used the illustration again. (The one I was just complaining about in my last entry.) He holds his two fingers out and says "This finger is free will, and this one is predestination. I believe in both, fully. It's a mistake to tear down one side in order to make things consistent because they are both scriptural. You have to hang in the tension between them. That keeps you humble."
If there was a theme of our discussion it would be the need for humility. He said that he and I share a lot of the same strengths. And with those strengths come corresponding weaknesses. Namely, for intellectual believers like us, the weakness is pride. He says the reason seminaries are called cemeteries is that the whole thrust of intellectually distilling the truth of scripture into a consistent whole can lead to pride, and many fall away because of that.
I agreed that I care deeply about avoiding pride, and want to be as humble as I can, but that I don't see how seeking clarification and consistency is a prideful activity. I simply want to understand the love of my life as well as I possibly can. I pointed out how I don't believe finding a tension between free will and predestination is valid if free will is not taught in the Bible. He insists that it is. I say 'will' and choices are clearly taught. Not 'free' will. He disagrees. He goes back to the robot argument. I talk about how I felt loving God is an automatic reaction to His revelation, not a choice. Neither of us finds the other's arguments convincing.
I brought up what I wrote about in my last entry about accepting paradox in your beliefs leading inevitably to relativity. If we say our beliefs have contradictions, what measure do we then use to say our beliefs merit acceptance, but other's don’t? I don't remember his answer well enough to do it justice here. But it seemed to me that he was defending relativism a bit. And I suppose I agree that we are hopelessly lost without God's grace and guidance.
I asked why I wouldn't want to embrace a theology that made sense out of some of these contradictions that orthodox theology holds. Things like an all-powerful God making something more powerful than Him, and an all knowing God making creature He knew would spend eternity in torment. If there is a sensible answer to these things that uses the same epistemological source, (the Bible) why not believe it? Why choose answers with contradictions if there are answers without them? Here, he appealed to history, smarter people, etc. Just like I considered at the beginning of this whole thing. Though he did acknowledge that not all orthodoxy is right simply because it is orthodoxy. But he warned that when you knock down one pillar, you will find that others go along with it. I've been aware of this since the beginning and it's the reason I've been approaching the issue with the amount of restraint and care that I have. I have to see the ramifications. I have to see the fruit.
In the end I asked him to pray for me, my humility, and for protection for my family. Because if I'm blundering into foolishness, I'm not the only one who will suffer for it. He did so. And in that prayer he noted that God was reminding him about a need for a theological school at the church. Afterwards he told me he'd like me to get a degree from some seminary on line. (I can't remember the name now. I wrote it down. But it's Pat Robertson's school! He assured me Pat hardly has anything to do with it.) He told me to get that degree and then to come and teach at the school God wants him to start.
I told him I'd look into it.