As we ended our Zoom session last Monday, Dr. Mary Pandiani challenged us with this haunting question, “Can you change your biblical doctrine?” Of course, I also heard in my head the implied follow-up question, “If yes, what would it take for you to change it?” I couldn’t help but notice that her provocation came after our Zoom discussion around God, Sex, and Gender where many of us in the cohort shared personal experiences related to various topics in the book. Linking personal experience with doctrinal change is not a coincidence. As Andrew Marin has demonstrated in Love Is an Orientation, one’s personal experience can lead to a tremendous amount of life change.
Marin, with his book and foundation, desires Christians “elevate” our conversation with our LGBT neighbors, coworkers, friends, children of our friends, and visitors to our churches. This work by Marin, as attested to by favorable and unfavorable reviewers alike, is an extremely important work and vision. I would also say, timely. This morning I read an article detailing how to get my church ready for transgendered visitors. “It will happen” the blogger wrote. Last week a member of our cohort stated that he desires LGBT people to come to his church. It will happen. Marin gives us a glimpse of what it can look like to love our LGBT neighbors and how to engage them as they start attending our churches.
Three things have recently challenged my biblical doctrine and I believe I am in the process of shifting.
The first part of my shift started through life events. As a high school student I see a lot of myself in Andrew Marin. However, over the years since graduating high school I have come to know many in the LGBT community. What I found out about myself is that many of the beliefs I had about God, sex, and gender were mostly tired old stereotypes I picked up from various sources. As a pastor, I have had the joy or officiating several weddings over the past 14 years. Just over 50% of the couples were living together when I married them and my guess is that only 2 or 3 couples were actually virgins at the time they took their nuptials. These experiences along with developing friendships with people who call themselves LGBT and the recent tsunami of divorces in the my church, have lead me to shift my thinking in many ways. I always wondered how much Brian McLaren’s son being gay affected McLaren’s thinking on the topic. When it came down to it, would I perform a wedding for an LGBT couple? What if one of the people getting married was my child? I can honestly say at this point, March 23, 2017, I just don’t know. I am not happy here in this conundrum, but I also don’t mind the liminal space.
Anthropologist and missiologist Paul Hiebert has helped me change doctrinally as well. This week I read another book that, Like Love Is an Orientation, has a forward written by Brian McLaren. Now I know, many in our cohort might dismiss both books because they view McClaren as a liberal. But please, let me ask you to suspend judgement for a bit. Dave Schmelzer in Blue Ocean Faith describes what I have come to believe and follow as a way of being together as the church. Schmelzer describes Hiebert’s Bounded Set and Centered Set models. Please see picture. Bounded set way of thinking has definite constricting boundaries and creates an insider and outsider mentality and culture. This is the culture Jesus challenged with his parables. This is the culture Paul challenged with his “Shifted Doctrine” on circumcision. I told the members of the church I pastor that sometimes I wish the Hub followed a bounded set model because pastoring a bounded set culture is so much easier than Centered set church. With Centered Set thinking, we have Jesus in the middle and people are either moving toward Jesus or away from Jesus. In a sense we let God be the judge of all the closed-ended questions. Marin quotes Billy Graham after Graham got flak for attending a Clinton rally. Our job is to love, let’s let God be the judge. This is the epitome of Centered Set thinking. Giving up judging, stopping building walls, and surrendering my us vs. them mentality have led me to shift my biblical doctrine. This allows me to focus on the outcomes of things, what the Bible calls, “fruit.”
The third thing that has caused me to shift my biblical doctrine is actually a person; the greatest teacher ever to live, Jesus. Jesus lead some pretty horrible people like tax collectors. He demonstrated love to people like the Woman at the Well, regardless of sex and gender. His parables are key for me here, especially the story of the Prodigal Son. I think the whole reason Jesus told parables was to shift our doctrine. However, many Christians today hear the parables with closed ears and hearts and interpret them in ways that simply reinforce their current religious or political thinking. Thatcher pointed this out in the section where he said that most people find what they want in the Bible. I want to be like the father in the Prodigal Story and not like the older brother. When it comes down to the Bible vs. Jesus, like the passage that gave the father in the parable the right to disown and even kill his son, I want to side with Jesus.
For me it has to start, continue, and end with Jesus. In John 5.39, Jesus says that eternal life does not come from the Bible, but from Jesus. In Matthew 28 we learn that all authority has been given to Jesus, not the Bible. Think about, ALL AUTHORITY is given to Jesus. John 15 is one of my favorite sections in the Bible. Here Jesus tells us that we can do nothing (like Paul who says we ARE nothing without love) without remaining in Jesus. Then a few verses later, Jesus calls us his friends. Dare I say he “elevates” the conversation between Lord, King of Kings, and us, his followers.
Can I change my biblical doctrine? You betcha!
How? By trying to live as close as I can with Jesus and copy him.
PS: I also think the whole point of being a student, especially at the doctoral level, is to be open to shifts of various sorts. I am thankful for LGP6.