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The Faith of Our Fathers

Written by Daniel Tidwell : April 22, 2008

I usually write out of the themes that swirl around my brain for a while. This time is no exception.

For some period in my life I have been wondering about where I fall in this thing called “The History of the Church.” Am I a heretic? I’ve been called that. Am I progressive? Conservative? Feminist? Liberal? Anabaptist? Open-Theist? I have been called all of these and called myself all of these at various stages along the way.

Most of these classifications have served to include or exclude me from some group of people that were either preferred or not–depending on the context. These words typically refer to specific views I articulate from time to time. Sadly, I am not often known for what I do.

When I wrestle with the feeling of being a theological bastard–wondering what congregation would ever openly accept me into their community–I am struck by how askew our perspective has become. most church folks I am around want to talk about church backgrounds: “What denomination did you grow up in?” seems to be the question that reigns supreme.

Whatever happened to “you will know a tree by its fruit”?

I think it is important to articulate what I believe about Jesus, the incarnation, God, Trinity, baptism, communion, the body of Christ, Justice/justification/righteousness, and the kingdom of God. I think this is important because in talking it out, I iron out the ethics that I hope to hold as a measure of the fruit of my life. I hope to read the scriptures, the culture, my experience, and the voices of my community with the intent of letting them shape me into a follower of Jesus. In reading all these things, I try to hold Jesus and his message about the kingdom of God at the center.

Too often, these things have been left up to only a few people in the church–most of them white men, with the exception of Augustine who was African (thus the title of the post’s lack of reference to mothers). This is another reason I think theology is important. It is important for us in our rising global context to continue to articulate our faith in shifting situations and with the inclusion of a diversity of voices (on this point I am keenly aware of my status as a white man in usamerica).

So, I hang on to the importance of theology.

At the same time, I am sick of doctrines determining communities of faith. What will it take for us to congregate based on geography instead of on socio-cultural, economic, ethnic, and doctrinal sub-groups? Maybe, once we have sucked the earth dry of oil and our cars are rusting in our driveways and we have to walk everywhere, we will be forced into rethinking our understanding of who our sisters and brothers are in “local” communities.

What if our faith was “articulated” in our actions, our artistic expressions; the fruit of the Spirit playing out in our relationships, economics, ecological impact, and our politics?

What if I don’t label people I don’t agree with theologically, and instead try to come alongside them to work with them in embodying the kingdom of God? What if they don’t believe in the kingdom of God that I articulate? Can I still love them and encourage the areas I see them participating (even unknowingly) in the kingdom life?

As I write this post I think about my own father and mother. These two folks have a very different picture of a lot of the doctrines that I hold as central to the Christian faith. We disagree, yet I see them loving people, living sacrificially, serving with humility, and finding their own ways of articulating their faith. While I don’t always like their articulation, I love the Jesus that shows through their lives.

What if our faith is less our words and more our actions? After all, I don’t think Jesus ever mentioned “wrong” doctrines as keeping anyone out of the life of God’s Kingdom (for that matter, right doctrines don’t seem to get anyone in–though they may help a little along the way).

A couple of days ago I was at an “emergent-ish” conference. I was disappointed when applause followed a clarification about the school I attend. A speaker made note that my school was certainly not affiliated with a more conservative evangelical church of the same name. I appreciated the clarification, as there is always a lot of confusion concerning this topic. But I was appalled that there was a sort of pride in the audience’s response to this declaration. Where was the humility and kindness that we had been articulating throughout the conference?

As we stumble toward different articulations and embodiments of God’s kingdom, I hope that we can maintain integrity between our words and actions. Without this integrity we are simply putting a different face on the same old song and dance that we say we are sick of. What will it mean for us to hold the same openness and humility toward those in the communities we have emerged from as we hold for those who sound a little more like the communities we want to become? Can we have the humility to see everyone, no matter the theological articulation, as siblings?

Aren’t we all, more or less, just messed up daughters and sons of the same God? When Jesus talks about the kingdom as here among us, I don’t think he means among the ones who “get it right theologically.” I think he means, it’s here for, in, around, and through us all. None of us is completely “in” the kingdom. We all need grace to come alive to the rebirth and redemption that God is working on behalf of the entire world. If this sounds a little too “universalist” for some, please don’t judge me by my articulation…

Peace.

Daniel lives with his wife Jocelyn in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. He is an occasional blogger, poet, artist, baker, and student. He hopes to have a few kids, plant a few gardens, teach a few students, live in a few countries, and learn how to live hospitably before he reaches his 75th birthday (a lot to do in the next 52 years).


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    Well said.

    I'm afraid that we as people and as christians will never get it right. We will take some steps forward followed by some steps backwards. It is simply part of the human condition. God knows this. But we are expected to keep trying. I suppose that if we were to finally begin to truly act as Christ would like us to, we would have little need for heaven.

    Heaven... yeah, I think that is when we will finally love everyone as we should.
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    I agree with Joel: well said. As an aside: it looks like it won't be long until those cars are "rusting in the driveways"....another record price of oil per barrel today. I wonder how long it will take for the developed world to realize our energy binge has to end, which has now grown so morbid that even our alternative energy sources are causing people to have to forgo food around the world. But I digress.

    I am an Episcopalian. My particular denomination is riven over doctrinal questions as we speak, so your post hits really close to home. This gnostic idea that we have to have the "right knowledge" of doctrine before we can access salvation, before we can even be in community together, breaks my heart. Michael Battle says it well: "Christians believe through our practices." Stop arguing about hypostasis or homosexuality or hermeneutics and go give the hungry person a loaf of bread, or care for a sick person, or visit a prisoner, or house a wanderer.

    The world doesn't need a philosophy club so desperately as it needs a body of Christ.
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    I'll be in the minority on JM on this one, but I can take it. :) Being a "theological studies" major in seminary, I obviously place a huge chunk of my time and energy into babbling about "hypostasis or homosexuality or hermeneutics..." but its' not because I think I have it all figured out or because I think we will all agree-- it's just that I think how we conceptualize God's character is the single most important factor in how we will relate to Him, and thereby the "missio dei." All of our "feeding the hungry person, caring for the sick person, visiting a prisoner, and housing a wanderer" is actually grounded in those crazy doctrines like the hypostasic union and kenosis. Sure, we don't have to talk about it everyday or have it all figured out to worship and serve together, but it's lurking behind the scenes even when we try to ignore it.

    With that said, this is why I'm such a huge fan of John Wesley and his early followers (and a few of his current followers as well). He was a theological thinker and had elaborate ideas about the order of salvation and entire sanctification, but at the end of the day, "if your heart is as my heart, give me your hand" was his battlecry. And his pietist focus on living theology is inspiring. The head/heart dichotomy is a false one, but if I had to fault, I'd go with the heart every time. GOOD POST DANIEL!
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    Nah, I'm right with you. An individual's worldview and philosophy will work itself out in actions, and changing the actions is actually a key component to changing belief, as one works to justify their actions and reconcile them with what they state.

    I'm kind of intrigued by the concept of 'baseline theology'; what is the bare minimum beliefs to be 'in the club', so to speak? Or does it even matter? That's a potential firestarter, so maybe don't answer that.
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    I find it hard to say whether praxis or doxis is more important, and tend, instead, to see them as mutually dependent (it is my thought that doxis produces the best kind of praxis and that praxis legitimizes and gives life to doxis). Perhaps this is where I have found fault with both "conservative fundamentalist" and "mainline liberal" churches, they tend to value one over the other. But enough name calling. Does anyone care to comment on whether they think the chicken (doxis) or the egg (praxis) came first?
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    My personal baseline theology, although it is popular to throw out any kind of line that makes one "in" or "out" is the Apostle's Creed (Or Nicene depending on which day I'm asked). I think the Orthodox church has given me motivation in the last few years to categorize less and less as "dogma" and more and more as "doctrine" or "opinion." But that's just me.
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    Having used the Apostles Creed on a weekly basis for a long time, I'm now not entirely convinced of its value. I don't believe that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. I don't believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church (at least not how others mean it) and I don't see there is any biblical justification for the claim that Christ is at the right hand of the Father - which I think has more to do with the Roman empire than the bible. God doesn't have a right hand does he? What on earth is that supposed to mean anyway?

    I'm not a professional theologian by any stretch of the imagination, but this continual attempt to classify who is or isn't in/out seems to me to miss the point. Who knows/care where the lines are? It strikes me that we are called to a Christocentric lifestyle in any case. Our objective is not to classify where we are in relation to anyone else, but whether we have Christ at our center and whether we are moving towards him or not.
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    I need about one more hour in my day to be able to respond adequately to this post. Sorry. Maybe sometime soon.
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    Sorry, the response below was to hewhocutsdown.

    To justagirl...

    Certainly praxis and doxis go hand in hand. It's impossible , IMO, to say one comes before the other. And orthodoxy won't always result in orthopraxy (or even orthopathy...the new rage of academic minded folk). I've tended to go orthodoxy first, but that is changing with time, as is everything else in my life. We gain knowledge when we act as much as we act on knowledge we have. Richard Rohr has some interesting thoughts on this topic. He founded the Center for Action and Contemplation...and in that order....in New Mexico awhile back. It's his opinion that contemplation that results after action is usually the way to go.
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    I toggle between camps. :P

    But I definitely say that reading Ellul's 'Propaganda' was an eye-opener: how one does not force beliefs onto someone, but pushes someone to act in a way outside of their stated beliefs and inside yours. From there, rather than recant the action, people are more likely to justify their actions by expanding or morphing their stated beliefs. Thus the gentle shift of dogma driven by actions.

    But I think it can (and does) work both directions.
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    This all reminds me of a scene from The Waking Life (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtuYWyjk4ZI). Anyway, what is this orthopathy you speak of?
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    Orthodoxy = "right beliefs" (getting your head straight)

    Orthopraxy = "right practice" (getting your actions straight)

    Orthopathy - "right affections" (getting your heart right)
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    Totally didn't mean to ding you on your major...Hans Kung's "Christianity: Essence, History, and Future" is one of my favorite books. :)

    I love theology. Love it. When I responded to the original post, though, I was thinking of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who wanted to define "who is a Christian" solely on the basis of believing the right formula about Christ. I just responded "I would rather have a world full of people who don't understand any teaching about him but who internalize and live his teachings than vice versa."

    I agree with most of your response. I had in mind an archetype of a certain kind of gnostic Christianity that doesn't translate into acts of love for fellow humans when i responded. Your points are well taken.
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    Thanks for all the comments everyone. Sorry I haven't been more involved conversationally. I have about thirty pages to write in the next week but then my term will be over and I shall return to JM with gusto!

    Grace and Peace

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