noun: a punishment or fate that someone deserves
This is a picture of me (on the left), Aaron Strietzel (center), and Doug Pagitt (right) at the OPEN Conference in Indiana last October (photo credit: Mark Johnson, another cool dude).
As an aside, I’m not a short guy. And they aren’t standing on boxes.
Anyway, I’ll be telling you more about OPEN (cool organization) and Aaron (cooler guy) at a later date. But for now I want to focus, for a moment, on Doug and the biting irony that this picture contains.
You see, Doug Pagitt was once my sworn nemesis.
Now, Doug had no idea he was my nemesis – though I have since enlightened him, and apologized. In fact Doug had never met me until the moment right before this picture was taken.
But on a rainy night in San Diego, somewhere around the end of 2009 (which is also the year I bailed on my plans of law school to enter vocational church ministry), I gazed out over the rain-drenched San Diego skyline from my hotel room window and declared for all to hear (i.e. the three other people then present in the room with me) that it was my sincere calling as a minister of the Gospel to take Doug Pagitt down, whatever that meant.
At the time, Doug was the godfather of sorts of what had been labeled the Emergent or Emerging church and as a (self) righteous, God-fearing Calvinist I saw it as my solemn duty to rid the world of his heretical inclinations while simultaneously putting a copy of Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” (not a small book) in the hands of every theologically deprived child worldwide – or at least a select few (theology humor).
So what happened?
Obviously things didn’t go as planned and in many ways the story I’m hoping to tell here is the story of how those plans changed or, rather, how they were interrupted. I think that’s a better word for it.
More than a few people have asked me how I came to think the way I think. I usually tell them that I just kept reading. And that’s true to a point – a willingness to read and study the work of Christians (and non Christians) whose positions didn’t simply reinforce what I already believed has been a big part of my growth over the years.
But the impetus (noun: the force that makes something happen or happen more quickly) for so much of my development has been completely external to me. It’s come in seeing the failure of a theological system that, while elegant on paper, leaves people cold and with an even colder picture of God. It’s found me through the lives of those I was told should be the farthest from God, but through whom his image has shown through most clearly. And it’s confronted me, at times, in the moment when I too feel the weight of God’s silence.
I’ve changed because God has interrupted; I’ve changed because God has changed me.
In the weeks and months ahead I’ll spend more time unpacking some of the words I used in the paragraphs above, words like Emergent, Calvinist, heretical, and Wayne Grudem.
But today I wanted to tell this now-funny story (Doug quite graciously thought it was hilarious when I shared it with him) to better frame where I am going with all of this.
I stood in that window eight years ago certain of my beliefs, confident in my calling, full of a smug hubris that betrayed my naivety. As I’ve alluded to already, things have changed a lot since then.
I no longer believe that we should ever be settled in our beliefs about God, not entirely. It leaves no room for God’s freedom to continue speaking to us anew. When I first started at the church I stepped down from last summer, a friend and mentor named Gary Norton challenged me on my certainty – which at the time had begun to crumble into the mere desire to be certain. Why, he asked, was it so important for me to know for sure?
Now, interestingly enough, Gary Norton and Doug Pagitt aren’t exactly close on the ideological spectrum. And though I was a lot closer to where Gary still is back then, I’m (way) more on Doug’s end of the spectrum now. But I’ll be forever grateful for Gary’s exhortation.
Doubt, uncertainty, and change are all ingredients of humility. I also think they are ingredients of faith. And yes, sometimes we are called to doubt our doubts, show courage in the face of uncertainty, and remain steadfast against the winds of change.
But, quite regularly I believe, we are also called to embrace the interruption that is our uncertainty, the things that place us outside of ourselves, that de-center us, and force us to acknowledge, maybe even accept, that (or who) which is other. Why do I believe this? Because, more often than not perhaps, these interruptions are the very voice of God.
I am going to be articulating some things in this space that will be new and challenging. Some of the topics I plan on hitting in the coming weeks include evolution, what I understand scripture to be, God’s sovereignty, the meaning of salvation, the rapture, heaven and hell, the LGBTQ community, gender roles, Satan, miracles, and Noah’s flood. And that’s just off the top of my head.
I don’t know exactly who all is going to be following along, but I know plenty of you will find yourselves disagreeing with with where I’ve landed and/or where I’m going. And in the case of a few, disagreeing often. That’s okay.
For some, that disagreement will come as a trained reaction. And upon further reflection you might find – regardless of where you are when the dust settles – that it was good to experience a rattling of your foundations.
Others of you, quite confident in your own positions, will manage the tension of your disagreement, aware that – like yourself – I’m speaking of mysteries that transcend the limits of our understanding. Speech fails. Or, as Karl Barth (lots more on him later) once said, “we ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability [to speak of God] and by that very recognition give glory to God.”
And yet some of you will disagree to the point of dissent. Your consternation (noun: feelings of anxiety or dismay, typically at something unexpected) may be such that you cannot help but push back, express your worry over my perceived apostasy, or simply cease engaging at all. If this is you, I pray you don’t choose that last option.
In fact, whether you disagree or rather find yourself audibly rejoicing over some shared experience or anecdote, please stick around. Share. Engage.
This isn’t a monologue.
It’s an interruption.
So please, interrupt.
In the next post, my first weekly #ff (follow Friday) post, I’ll be introducing you to my favorite blogger and one of my favorite theologians (though he might not claim the label for himself), and the author of one of the – if not the – best ministry books I’ve ever read.
Who you ask? Well you’ll just have to come back Friday to find out!