Do you have a Constituency or a Community?

Following my recent blog in which I declared that I had fallen out of love with creationism (link) I feel the need to write about my subsequent observations.

Having held this belief for the last couple of decades it seems strange that it should take me so long to write about it.
And yet deep down I think I know why.

It was interesting that following my blog a good friend, a great church pastor who I respect, should message me. In addition to appreciating my ideas he said that I was 'brave'.

Wow! What an interesting word to use. I didn't feel brave and he didn't elaborate on his choice of words but deep down I knew what he meant.

The problem with saying what you really think, especially when what you really think goes against the perceived wisdom of your group, is that you take a risk that all too often you are not willing to consider.

You see we all have a constituency. And having one means that our behaviour will be affected.

For church leaders their initial constituency is the congregation. In this context it is often too costly to say what you really think. This is not all negative; sometimes the reticence to speak is a genuine pastoral concern for those who come to hear you speak. Other times it's just easier to not rock the boat especially if your livelihood depends on it.

But there is another constituency that has a greater control over the leader than that of the congregation. Our peer group, denomination, church stream, or even the wider evangelical church can sometimes be our constituency.

There are many things I might like to say. Many questions I might like to ask. But I know to do so could risk losing face with this peir group.

Following some self reflection I have thought of a few things that might help me to judge when I have a constituency.

1) I am more likely to be political than principled.

2) I am more likely to distance myself from friends and colleagues who don't tow the party line.

3) Even if I agree with what is being said I will only ever admit it in private.

To not follow the above is to risk losing friends. In fact I noted that in the few days after my creationism blog my twitter followers list yo-yo'd up and down in a way it had never done before.

I did, however, have quite a number of messages from people who felt the need to thank me for speaking out. Anyone would think I had fought against drug traffickers or something equally as inspiring.

All I did was say what I really thought. I wonder what would happen if I continued in this vain.

Of course the real goal of a church leader should be to serve a community rather than appeal to a constituency.

In a community one might be able to have the kind of honest conversation that doesn't demand either perfection or certainty of belief all of the time.

In a community the leader might be able to create an environment where every person can be honest about their thoughts and feelings without having to look for the acceptable answers in order to feel accepted.

In a constituency, however, we will always be drawn towards saying the 'right' thing.

I am challenged by the thought of how many subjects I would be reluctant to write about in case I might find myself on the wrong side of the line of evangelical acceptability.

And if you think I am overstating the case think about what happened to Rob Bell when he dared to ask questions; when he dared to say what he really thought.

A prime example of having a constituency directly affecting behaviour is the recent arguments about Doug Wilson's view of male/female relations.
I have been struck by how many of the voices who critiqued Rob Bell have remained silent about Doug Wilson.

It makes you think; in fact I almost wish I hadn't written this blog - but then, as my friend said - I am brave.

Accusing women of being emotional

I have just been in blog conversation with blogger Alistair Roberts @zugzwanged

He has taken to commenting on Rachel Held Evans and her excellent stand against the recent writing of Jared Wilson on the Gospel Coalition Website.

He seems to take the view that Rachel has been overly emotional.

Here is my response to him on this:

I appreciate your response.

I dont want to talk past you on this (as so often can happen when we come from different positions) so I hope my next bit will come across well.

I spent many years in industry and witnesses the dismissive way that women were treated (often over sexualised).

When I raised my voice in objection to such behaviour I could only do so as an engaged observer.

If, however, a woman stood up in such circumstances she would do so as a first hand person in the issues involved.

As such I had the privilege of being able to make comment in a more detached way. My female colleagues were not as free to do so for understandable reasons.

This is an example of my reasons for being concerned about your comments to do with emotion.

You and I have the privilege of not being subject to the results of being conquered etc in a way that a woman is in her context.

Rachel and others ( including my wife and four daughters) do not have the same emotional distance from the subject in hand as you or I or either of the Ps Wilsons.

If a woman speaks about the subject and engages her emotions in doing so it does not undermine her point of view.

And to be honest I think you have been somewhat guilty of the same condescending and patronising behaviour I saw in the male bosses who trivialised the complaints of females in similar ways.

You may detect my tone is somewhat passionate. You may say I am being emotional but I am not willing to let women be silenced by shouts of emotionalism.

Creationism: A Bridge Too Far

It should be a given that theological students are taught early on to consider the historical context, writing style, and author intention when trying to understand the bible.

It seems somewhat surprising to me then that evangelicalism is still having debates about creation and evolution.

It is clear that those who find it necessary to defend creationism are concerned that any limiting of a literal view of Genesis is an attack on scripture as a whole.

I don't share this concern because I am comfortable with the idea that different parts of the bible exist to perform different tasks in communicating the good news message the church has been entrusted with.

The analogy I use in order to help navigate a way through understanding scripture is that of bridge building. Using the idea that - you can't drive a two ton truck over a one ton bridge - I ask of each part of scripture a key question. What size and type of bridge can we build from it?

I have used this analogy to influence my thinking in business as well as theology. When considering the viability of a particular business system it has been good to evaluate the weight of the process that will be using the system. That is to say: what is riding on this process. What have we got to lose if the system should fail.

If there is only a small risk associated then it may be fine to use a limited system. If however the risk is greater we might want to ensure that our system, or bridge, can take the load.

The analogy also works when considering relationships. It is not unusual to meet a couple where the expectations of one party are greater than the other. In these circumstances the relationship bridge can only be as strong as the commitment offered by the weaker expectations. In these circumstance one party is inevitably attempting to drive a two truck of expectation over a one ton relationship bridge.

When it comes to scripture in general, and theology in particular, we do well to ask whether we are able to construct a strong enough bridge with the evidence available in order to deliver our doctrinal statements with confidence.

If we take for example the gospel of Luke we see that from the writing style, the content, and the author's intention we should be comfortable building a bridge that can take a significant amount of historical enquiry.

The gospel of John however does not provide us with the materials for such a bridge. His writing style, content, and presumed intentions lead us towards a more theological enquiry.

It's not that Luke contains no theology or that John offers no history but we should take care to build the right kind of bridge with each.

To say this in no way undermines either the inspiration or the effectiveness of either books. In fact it adds to our appreciation of scripture.

If we then use the above method to shed light on the creation accounts in Genesis we are liberated from trying to build the wrong type of bridge.

Firstly, if no human author was present at the creation of the cosmos then we have to see these early stories as revelation and not history. This in no way undermines their usefulness but leads us to ask the right questions of the text.

To create a historically centred understanding from the text in order to argue against science is to try to build a one ton bridge only to drive a two ton truck across.

The use of terms such as scripture or inspired tend to lead us towards a view that all the words found in the bible have the same function. Note here I said function and not value.

I am comfortable to state that both Genesis and Luke are inspired whilst maintaining that their function is different. It seems clear that many creationists would see this as belittling the bible; indeed I have heard it said that to fail to believe in a literal six day creation is to weaken the message of Christianity.

I do not share this view and would go as far as to say that the weakening of the presented message is far more to be associated with a flat reading of the bible as if culture, context, writing style, and author intention were of no value.

Let us then construct the correct type of bridges for the correct type of theology.