I had the strangest conversation with a guy at the grocery store yesterday. It made me think about something my friend Moyer said to me a few months ago. I have a theory that when someone studies the Bible, their personality is a huge part of determining their interpretation and theology. (Lets face it, we all have our biases)
Moyer said that he thought it was our FEARS that determine our biblical interpretation and theological points of view. I had never thought about that before. He may be right. I'll expand on that idea some other time, but let me tell you about the conversation because it plays into Moyer's theory.
Friday night I ran into a guy who used to work at the store when he was a teen. (He was quite the wild child back in those days too.) I had heard that he had become a Christian a few years ago. So when I saw him I asked him how his faith journey was going. He said that it was great! I was very happy to hear that, and we kept talking.
(I should say that I am always interested in hearing where other people are at spiritually, and what their thoughts are on the subject. I'm just very curious I guess. Plus, I like to learn from what they have to say. It is not whether I agree 100% with them or not. It is about the journey...for me at least.)
Well, as he and I kept talking he started using words and phrases that I didn't quite understand. I thought I would try and get a read on him by asking for his reaction to various writers, preachers & theologians that are prominent these days. So I dropped a long list of names for him. (The list included many of whom I really liked all the way to folks I would hold a cross up to and throw Holy Water on) He hadn't heard of ANY of them! That really caught me off guard. The only name he dropped for me was some guy named Jim Gabels. He said that Gabels was the guy who most influenced him. (I had not heard of him. But I will try to do some research.)
I got an idea at that point, and it comes from deep with in my amazingly awesome generosity. I told Bob (Not his real name) to swing by the store on Sunday. I told him that I would burn a bunch of CDs & DVDs for him of podcasts & such, that I thought were interesting and up-lifting in the area of Christian Spirituality. I told him to take a listen and tell me what he thought.
So last night, Bob shows up at the store. He reaches out and shakes my hand and said the following. (Be sure to use a mildly robotic voice, and read this out loud, if you want the full effect.) "Thank-you-Joe-for-doing-this. I-am-very-happy-with-my-faith. I-do-not-need-to-listen-to-your-CDs. Thank-you-again. I-am-very-happy-with-my-faith"
Yeah, I was a little weirded out, too.
We talked for a bit. I told him it wasn't going to cost him money, if that was his concern. I said that I thought that they were interesting CDs, and that I hoped to get his thoughts on them. Long story short, he grabbed my hand again to shake it, and repeated that same robotic phrase.
I am vary wary of a good deal of the Preachers out there. As I mentioned numerous times before, I don't actually LIKE most people who call themselves "Christians." That having been said, I know that Jesus loves me a great deal. So it is very hard for me not to be in love with him too. (Although my love for Jesus is about as imperfect and flawed as a person can get.) So if someone tells me that they love Jesus, and I can see the Fruit of the Spirit moving in their life, then we have plenty of common ground...even if we don't see eye-to-eye on every theological issue.
Well, there are plenty of Preachers, Teachers, Theologians, churches and such, that are not quite as willing to enter into an honest dialogue with others as I may be. I have heard on many occasions, church leaders tell the faithful what books they can & cannot read, what movies...or lack there of, that they are allowed to see. In fact, a pastor that I really respect has a YouTube video out in which he tells people not to read a specific book, and which pastors he would "Never allow to preach at MY church."
It is statements like that which make me see all types of red flags. Especially when any pastor describes the body of Believers that he works for as "HIS" church. (Sorry dude. It's Jesus' church. You are just one member of that body) Any time I hear something like this the term "CULT" pops right into my head.
Usually, the church leader making the statement of what or what not to listen to, read, watch, etc., warn that if I do, my faith will be ruined, poisoned, what ever. Now I am not as dumb as I appear physically. I am fully aware that there is plenty of garbage theology and false teaching out there. The reason that I can attest to that fact is precisely BECAUSE I bothered read, watch and listen to that stuff so that I could weigh it according to Scripture. I mean, Paul did recommend to Timothy to "Study, to show yourself approved. A workman that never needs to be ashamed." God himself even told people, "Come, let us reason together."
Paul never reacted in fear when he ran into spiritual ideas that were not in line with what Jesus taught. When it came to those outside the church Paul always looked for the common ground to connect to their culture, so that he could then tell them about the Gospel.
When it came to those inside the church, again, Paul never reacted in fear. Because Paul had actually bothered to study and familiarize himself with the cultures & issues of the day, he could explain what the scriptures had to say about the matter at hand. Often times, Paul would use a very biting humor to get his point across, too.
(If you don't think that the Bible is a very real & earthy book, try reading what Paul has to say about those who were duping early gentile Believers in Galatia (5:12) into getting circumcised. Modern english translations are far too polite for my tastes. Suffice it to say that Paul hoped that they wouldn't just stop with the foreskins. His hopes was that they would have to use the ladies toilets when they were through.)
ANYWAY, be very wary around anyone who calls themselves a Believer, but then goes on to tell you what you can and can't read. Opinions are a totally different matter. But you can only HAVE an informed opinion if you actually take the time to study and research the issues. Naturally, this truth seeking has to be intellectually honest. After all, I may be wrong about a lot of stuff. So it would be a good idea on my part to be able to accept that truth when it happens. But I see no reason what so ever to avoid a book on christianity, or a particular theologian or thinker, just because I might disagree with them on some issues.
Dave Johnson is one of the pastors at Church of the Open Door up in Maple Grove, MN.
http://www.thedoor.org/ Many, many years ago I was listening to a sermon of his when he got off on a tangent. Someone had asked him about Christians and alcohol. (Often a very hot button issue for many Believers) So Johnson goes on a roll for a bit, and I just loved his response to the question.
Essentially, it went something like this: "Do I have an opinion about whether or not a Christian can drink? Yes I do. And I'm not going to tell you what it is!!! Sometimes, some issues are so personal for an individual that there is no one set answer. This is an issue that YOU need to wrestle with. YOU are the one that has to search the Bible. YOU are the one that has to seek God in prayer over this issue. If I told you what to do and think on every issue, you wouldn't need to seek God at ALL...and this would just be a cult."
See, that is a pastor you can trust.
So, back to "Bob" (Not his real name.) and his odd reaction to the free CDs. I can't help but think that someone had spooked him. I asked him if someone had warned him about some of the authors and preachers I had recommended to him. He told me "No," but I'm still not convinced. Fearful or not, it certainly didn't seem like he wanted to be challenged in anyway. Oh well, now I have a bunch of freed CDs & DVDs if anybody wants them. Just let me know.
I guess what I really wanted to convey in this post is that you do not have to fear what you do not understand. Especially if Jesus is at the center of you life. If he is where you are anchored, then there is nothing to fear about ANYTHING. "Perfect love casts out fear," you know.
Take YHWH's advice and get off your butt and start talking to, and studying about, him. He's a big boy, and can handle the doubts & questions that you may have. (We all have them. If you say that you don't, well, we can see your nose growing here Pinocchio.) Don't be afraid that someone else's way of thinking about Jesus is going to destroy your faith. If it does, then it wasn't much of a faith to begin with.