Thursday, December 22, 2005

Living in Technicolor

I like Chuck. I like him a lot. Chuck, in this case, is Chuck Smith Jr., the pastor of Capo Beach Calvary in Southern California.

Chuck recently wrote a book (along with Matt Whitlock) entitled Frequently Avoided Questions. What initially drew me in was one of the questions on the back cover: Can a person be both Gay and Christian? I quickly (and discreetly) opened the book to the chapter that addresses that question and read it.

What really stood out to me (and what will undoubtedly horrify some) is that the authors never directly answer the question. Rather than give an absolute yes or no followed by some densely written apologetic to beat opponents over the head with, they thoughtfully frame the issue, summarize the different conclusions Christians have reached, and then spend the rest of the chapter instructing readers how to engage in productive dialogue with those who disagree with them.

Something tells me these guys won't be getting the James Dobson Seal of Approval.

Here's how Chuck Jr. sums it up:

Though these points of view are diverse, there is something they all have in common. Advocates, who believe they have found the one right answer, have formulated them. Therefore much of the debate has been between people with differing beliefs on the subject who are trying to get others to recognize that their answer is the only correct one. This then is the old-school thinking and position: there must be and could only be one right answer to the question, Are there gay Christians? The liberals had their right answer and the conservatives had theirs, but each considered the other’s response to homosexuality to be wrong. Some people are still thinking there can only be one right answer to an issue that is as complex and diverse as the myriad personalities that find themselves confronted by this challenge.

Lest that sound like a wishy-washy, all-is-relative non-position, here's a quote from the introduction (from Matt) that encapsulates the approach they take throughout the book:

My early Christian experience was formed in a context that encouraged me to categorize every thought, action, object, and person in terms of right and wrong, black and white. I have learned since that time, however, that life is much more complex than I was led to believe. Some Christian leaders I have followed assume that the alternative to black-and-white thinking is a compromised shade of gray, but I have been learning the importance of seeing the world in color.

The world of the Bible is certainly colorful. Take grace and mercy, for example. God forgives the guilty, embraces the rebellious child, and gives his unfaithful people a second chance. Even holiness and righteousness – two very important biblical themes – are colorful, and if interpreted as black and white, they degenerate necessarily into rigid forms of legalism. When I was a new believer, I appreciated the security of living in a black-and-white world under the authority of my pastor. But more recently my growth in faith and various encounters around the world have taught me that asking questions is sometimes as important as having the answers, sometimes more important, because answers tend to signal the end of our journey, whereas questions signal its beginning.

Makes sense to me. While it may be more comfortable to live life in black and white, I have to say that the world looks a lot better in color.


Anonymous said...

Matt certainly has a colourful way of expressing himself; no pun intended. I can appreciate a well-turned phrase as well as the next person, but in the end, what does it really mean?

Eugene said...

That's the million dollar question. As I put it in a conversation last night, it makes a lot of sense to me, but I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what it actually means in practical terms.

Anonymous said...

Black and white versus color:

color is complex. Black and white is simple; there are two choices. If something does not fit into one category, by default it belongs to the other.

If holiness is black and white, then if there is a question about a certain behavior--e.g., is swallowing a gnat a violation of kosher law?--assume it is a sin until more light proves it otherwise.

Black and white correspond to Scot Peck's stage two of spiritual growth, which I think he referred to as formal and legal. It is the faith of the person who is not really looking for faith, but security.

Color is seeing that moral decisions are not always clear cut. Add a factor or slightly change the setting and what may be a lie in one context is a necessary maneuver in another (there are biblical examples of this, by the way).

Is it really so difficult to see how the metaphor works? By the way, we borrowed it from Brian McLaren

And, just like in the book, I am one with the dense and uninteresting perspective.


Eugene said...

It's fairly simple to see how it works; putting it into practice is the difficult part. After more than three decades of learning all sorts of wonderful-sounding biblical principles that work better on paper than in actual life, I find myself placing more and more weight on how a theological position actually plays out in real life - which is why I like the color analogy while simultaneously saying that I don't fully understand it. If that makes any sense.

P.S. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, someone who thinks like I do. As a theatre graduate working towards a MA in counseling I have been forced to view the world outside of the world of Black, White and Gray. You can't make a decision about what type of character you will or won't play on stage, or what type of clients you will or won't help if you only see life in these three color categories. As a result I've been saying since high school that I don't see the world in terms of blacks and whites but in color. So I should feel offended that I've been plagerized (just joking) but It's good to hear that there are other people out there who agree with me, in more than just the smile and nod and hope she goes away sense. Thanks Eugene, that was a great quote.

P.S. congratulations on getting Chuck Smith to respond to you're blog