Grace Emerges

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chap. 3, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 3

Three Metaphors

In the last chapter the three metaphors of community were described: The Tower of Control, The Isolating Wall, and the Bridge of Peace. The moderate position is the isolating wall. Compared to the tower of control, it does not seek control and domination of the outside world to as great a degree. But compared to the bridge of peace, the isolating wall protects the community inside and their ideals from outside intrusion. It does not embrace peace or hospitality to the people outside. Instead, it only welcomes people to come in and join them - if and only if they can conform to the standards and norms of the community that keep the wall in place. The hope of the community is that they will “stand for something” in the dark world around them, by representing all that is true and right. By standing for what they believe, others will see, come to their senses, and come and join them. In this way the community will keep vitality, growing and prospering. New ideas will enter the community slowly and after careful screening. The moderate position is a careful one.

Why a Wall?

If the Moderate Wall accurately describes the modern Christian community and culture, what sustains this moderate position? And why does the metaphor of an isolating wall fit so well to describe the moderate position? In my opinion, modern Christian culture builds walls by elevating certain concepts to the level that they can and must be enforced, while relaxing constraints on other concepts. The moderate wall is made of ideas. Ideas about human values and rights. Ideas about God and the redemption of mankind. Ideas about the specific role of the Bible in guiding modern Christians and Christian communities.

Like the people of Kog, modern Christianity firmly embraces the golden concepts revealed by God throughout history, and exemplified in the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, golden teachings that should lead only to love, kindness and hospitality. But modern Christianity also allows ideas to flourish that lead to power, control, domination, seclusion, anger, and even hatred of enemies. If you disagree with this assessment, watch CNN or read a book of history of the 20th century. Did the church and Christianity of the modern era exemplify the teachings and life of Christ? Will it be known primarily for its kindness? Or rather will it be known for its attempts at domination?

Many Christians try to have it both ways. We embrace both kindness and a kind of domination. We allow these two notions to remain juxtaposed, carefully positioned and balanced, to maintain order and control. In other words, to keep the church and Christians from going out of control. Flexibility about certain issues can be allowed, issues that don’t disrupt or threaten the community to as great a degree. In terms of Bible beliefs, this translates into “Articles of Faith” and “Creeds”, which are statements of faith about things that are non-negotiable. Additional items are usually enforced as well, as a list of prohibitions coming from the Old or New Testament. Topics not covered by these statements of faith and lists of prohibitions are generally flexible. Of course these lists are dependent on which church you enter, and which decade you enter it in. As a classic example, most modern Christians of my generation (I was born in 1970) were not allowed to swear or drink alcohol. Now, the current generation allows swearing and drinking to be more a matter of opinion. Certainly, opinions are offered, but if you swear or drink a beer, the deacons of the church will not appear at your house carrying stones. On the other hand, I have heard from many questioning Christians about the pain and rejection they have felt if they question the assumptions of faith and salvation, heaven and hell, literal and rigid doctrines, etc. These beliefs figure prominently in the constitutions (governing documents) of churches, and if you question them, you may literally get a visit from the deacons or elders, carrying stones in their every word.

As the post-modern era sweeps over us, the modern rigidity of ideas has started to fail. But to uphold the boundaries of truth and enforce the statements of faith, churches are still fighting back. Instead of chastising those that question, it is more likely in some communities that you will have to put up more subtle enforcement of cultural norms. Outside views are simply ignored. Inside views are regularly reinforced. Controversy is almost entirely avoided on any topic of importance. The church becomes a place of common ideas - “If you agree, come here. If you don’t agree, then leave or be quiet”. On the other hand, debates in the church tend to focus on topics not covered in the statement of faith or list of prohibitions, topics like how to worship, how to spend money, and what type of building to build. Personalities, clashes, power struggles, and shallow bickering are the focus of many conversations, whereas real topics of confusion and conflict about faith and God, are rare and rigid. If you are a modern Christian, where can you go to discuss your doubts and spiritual problems? Do you have a safe haven for that kind of constructive conversation? Hopefully you can find that with friends or smaller settings, like community groups, Bible study groups, or youth groups, but it is not likely to be found through the main functions of the institution, because the institution does not value that kind of interchange, except for the purpose of convincing people of what to believe, thereby enforcing the wall that holds it together.

Faith and Paradox

To take it a step further, I believe that the modern wall is a construct of our faith and theology. This construct is built through acceptance of paradox. In the modern era after the industrial revolution, the world is defined by laws and concepts, that together form the machine and fabric of the universe. Some things are not well understood, so they are simply accepted, but assumed that under further research, or “someday in heaven” everything will make sense and add up nicely. Modern faith is built on systematic analysis and faith that there is complete order in the universe. Faith is acceptance of paradoxes that we see today, in the hope that someday the contradictions will be mitigated through greater understanding or wisdom. In my view, this acceptance of paradox is what allows notions like love, grace, kindness and following Christ, to stand as equal peers alongside notions of judgement, protection, control and conquest. Both are deemed necessary to preserve our religious identity, and to complete our vision of God’s mission to us. Going back to the parable of the Kingdom of Kog, this paradox accepts both the nuggets of God’s wisdom, the golden bricks, and the human notions that are added to it to promote safe society, the earthen bricks. Continue with me on this journey as I uncover more about these bricks and what we’ve succeeded in building with them, so we can explore what could be built as an alternative to the Moderate Wall.

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