Alister McGrath has argued that the “dangerous idea” of Protestantism – dangerous to the Catholic church at the time, at least – was that each Christian should be able to interpret the bible for themselves.
As many Protestant churches have become less rooted in history and tradition (such that many who read this sentence will see “Protestant” as an archaic term!) this has meant that finding a common thread or set of beliefs amongst Protestant churches has become more difficult.
In the New Zealand Baptist context, this is even more apparent. Here, Baptists have never been ones for creeds and confessions, unlike some of our Baptist brothers and sisters in other times and places.
All of this means that it’s not uncommon for congregants, and even pastors, to have a much more fluid view of doctrines, beliefs and practices. And, of course, to change their minds over time.
I recently asked a question on Facebook: should pastors have their theology “sorted”, or are you happy for them to be on a journey, and to change their mind about certain things? I asked it to two sets of people: congregants, and pastors.
In my early 20’s, I had some pretty strong opinions. As I close in on my 30’s, I’m still holding on to some of them. But with others, I’ve either changed my mind, or at least softened a bit.
If I could hop in a time machine and take my 20 year old self out for coffee, I’d tell him he was wrong about these 5 things (after I told him to join a gym)…
1. Stop looking for silver bullets.
In my early 20’s I was into the emerging church in a big way. If you aren’t familiar with it, it was a movement trying to re-imagine what church could be, driven by a group of authors such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. I don’t blame anyone but myself for this, but somehow I got it into my head that this was the future of the church, the new Reformation, and everything else was soon to be obsolete. Except, over time, the emerging church movement sort of faded away, which was a bit embarrassing. This isn’t to say it didn’t have some interesting things to say, or that it didn’t make an impact (I think it did, and continues to, in some ways). But it wasn’t a silver bullet. Now that I’m older I realise that these “waves” often come through the church, every few years. And often they’re helpful and energising. They just aren’t silver bullets. Continue reading
It’s not happened to me yet (I live in hope), but if a new-ish Christian let me pick 10 books for him to read in a year, I’d do a few somersaults and then tell him to read these ones (alongside his bible, of course)…
First, King’s Cross by Timothy Keller, because it’s the best book I’ve come across that explores who Jesus was, and why he matters for our lives and for the world.
Second, The Cross of Christ by John Stott (this’d be the one to spend 2 months with!). The word magisterial could have been invented for this book. It is a thorough, robust, and devotional exploration of why Jesus died for us.
When my much-appreciated imaginary reader had finished with those, I’d put him on to a biography. Eric Metaxes’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, in fact. Hopefully, it would give his mind a bit of a respite after reading Stott. But mostly, because Bonhoeffer’s story provides such an inspiring example of what a life captivated by Jesus looks like.
My reader might at this point be wondering how to “get after” God in a whole-hearted, Bonhoeffer-ish way himself. So, I’d give him The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, a beautiful little book about just that.
We’d be approaching the halfway stage now – and winter, at least in New Zealand – a good time to engage with some of the harder questions which may have begun to surface. Here’s the “trilogy” I’d prescribe… Continue reading