Sunday, May 10, 2015

Theology at the Pub

Why study theology?
Why come to N. Ireland to study?
You're American. I don't trust you. 
You're a cult. Are you trying to convert us?
I don't believe in God. 
There are no absolutes. 
You're an empire builder. 
I've been preached at for 40 years. 
My uncle was blown to bits by a catholic bomb. 
There is no God. 

These were just a few notable lines from a conversation last night at the pub. 

The initial conversation started when a nice gentlemen realized that the group of us were American and began to ask us about why we were here. It is often something we are asked at the pub because we sound very different. It is often assumed we are tourists. When we explain we are theology students, the conversation either ends, or it becomes very interesting. 

A few things need to be noted. It is often difficult for me to engage in real conversations at the pub because often times the conversation occurs with people who are noticeably drunk and slurring words at times. I was reminded last night though by a good friend, that we should never tire of having the opportunity to speak the life of the gospel when we can and this is no different. I have to trust that if I remain faithful to the gospel, that it's not the words I speak that makes a difference. I've never had someone accept Jesus after having just lost an argument. 

I sincerely enjoyed the conversation with S last night and I hope that a light of hope reached into the depths of his cynical soul. After the initial hostility to our  French Englishman, S opened up and we had a very good conversation about his life, his history, America, cults, and his job working with disabled people. 

I am convinced more now than ever before, that the historical realms of western Christianity are long lost to cynicism, relativism, and general disdain. The countrysides are dotted with spectacular churches that are empty. The culture is so entrenched with a scope of Christianity that is contrary to the gospels and it sits as a fragment of a deconstructed moral society. 

This is why I love theology. This is why I study the things I do. Christianity needs a resurgence in practical grace. The Holy Spirit is doing work, it's our job to participate with what God is already doing. To be Christ existing as community for the sake of the other is our call. Are we ready? Can we do it?
After last night, I raise my glass to S. Cheers. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The ambiguity of orthodoxy

What makes a church the church?

Is it something in ontology or economy?

Perhaps both?

Recently, I have been researching and writing on ecclesiology as it relates to the German Confessing Church and specifically to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings. 

In Sanctorum Communio he makes a statement that has a profoundly practical application. The church is Christ existing as community for the sake of the other. 

This is an essential reality of what it means to be the church. Community as Christ. A message of ontologogical substance in definition, yet also full of practical economy in how it functions in the world as Christ functioned in the world. 

A suffering servant. 

Do we suffer for the broken? The widow? The orphan? 

I believe that at our core, we ought to. To love our neighbor and our enemy is the most Christian thing one can do. 

But herein lies the ambiguity of orthodoxy. What do we do when our particular range of doctrinal belief is different than our fellow Christians in other denominations, countries, races, sexual orientations, and genders? 

Does it matter?

What is orthodoxy?

I would say it does matter. The more I read and write on the confessing church, the more I am convinced of the bare bones reality of the scripture being preached and the sacraments practiced is the embodiment of what Church looks like. To confess the gospel of Christ should be a social reality. But while it may look like a practical and potentially liberating truth that allows for a wide range of beliefs, I would counter that a social gospel is one that takes seriously the reality of the transformative cost of grace. We invite all no matter who they are and what their sin, but through discipleship and participation in the life giving grace of the gospel, the church should never expect nor allow any sinner (read all people) to remain there as a sinner. 

In the coming days, months, and years, the ambiguity of orthodoxy will become more and more blurry. I believe that the church is becoming more socially minded , which is very good, but in doing so, is allowing for cultural influence to usurp the costliness of true grace. 

In this way, orthodoxy becomes a victim to relativism and orthodoxy is fragmented to a hierarchy of belief. Essentials and non essentials. But I wonder, if the main reason Christ went to the cross was to break the context of sin and become the mediator for human kind with God in relationship and to establish a new humanity, it would make sense to me that sin, injustice, and unrighteousness are not simple things humans can pick and choose to define categories of what falls in them or not. Rather, the cross calls all sinners to become new creatures leaving sin behind, not justifying it (see Romans 6). 

It is not my place to judge anyone, but it is within my place as a member of the body of Christ, the church, to proclaim the simple reality of the cross, costly grace, and transformation into disciples. Orthodoxy is not as ambiguous as culture wants us to think, and for this, I thank God.