Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Limited Access

I was recently going through some old emails when I came across some reflections I wrote (for my longsuffering friends, who were no doubt relieved when I finally started my own blog) in response to hearing Joe Dallas speak last year. On Joe's behalf I will say that he seems to have a genuinely compassionate heart, but even at this earlier stage in my journey I had some major problems with his philosophy.

For one thing, his thinking is very rigidly Stage Three, and I no longer have as much patience as I should for those who doggedly cling to an encyclopedic view of the Bible that tries to reduce all of life's complexities to simple, two-dimensional propositions. For another, despite holding to such a dogmatic worldview, he seemed to demonstrate surprisingly little concern toward the theological implications of his own divorce and remarriage.

Having said that, here's what I wrote last year:

Joe's philosophy appears to be very much built around the concept of Christianity being a difficult path that only a few succeed at. And while there are scriptures that can be used to undergird that idea, there are aspects of that theology that I find troubling. For starters, it seems in practice to lead to a very elitist mindset, where God rewards those strong enough to complete His obstacle course and, well, too bad for those who don't make it. It's a very subtle thing, but there's a certain sense of pride that adherents of this viewpoint seem to take in being part of God's 'remnant,' in being part of an exclusive minority that gets to look down their noses at the rest of the world.

Since my upbringing predisposes me toward a largely evangelical understanding of the Bible, it's not difficult for me to accept, on the surface, most of what Joe's philosophy espouses: the road to heaven is difficult and narrow, and not everyone is willing to walk it. Many people will find God's standards offensive, and many more will simply find it too hard and fall by the wayside. But why do we show so little concern for that latter group? The attitude I generally discern from those who speak for Exodus and its allies is that anyone who becomes ex-ex-gay has given themselves over to Satan, and that's their loss, so forget about them. Little time is wasted reflecting on whether the church (and/or Exodus) is actually doing its part to support the struggler, and whether our approach to these issues is truly in line with God's heart beyond our adherence to the apparent letter of the law.

But does God really care as little for them as we apparently do? The same Jesus who talked about narrow roads and taking up our crosses also said "my yoke is easy and my burden is light," and "whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." So where is this light burden? It seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle as we condemn to hell anyone who doesn't successfully carry this much heavier burden all the way up the long, steep, narrow path to the eternal reward we apparently now have to earn.

Many of the people that we've written off spent years crying out to God and wholeheartedly trying to do all the right things to find the freedom they kept hearing about on Sunday mornings. Whatever errors in their thinking may (or may not) have contributed to their failure, it merely begs the question: where did they pick up their mistaken notions? And while we're busy rationalizing away the four fingers that are pointed back in our direction, let's also ask whether the God we serve is so callous and nitpicky that He will eternally condemn anyone whose understanding and implementation of every last facet of the truth is less than perfect. If God truly looks on the heart, if He truly loves us more than we can fathom, and if He's truly all-knowing, then surely our salvation isn't contingent on whether we have every one of our theological ducks lined up straight and in the correct order, as the Exodus/Focus on the Family types seem to advocate.

And I know, we don't really believe that we have to earn our salvation - or so we say. Yet we still get mired down in the idea that those who fail didn't have enough faith, or they didn't rely heavily enough on God, or they otherwise did the wrong things. And we don't even see the contradiction! It's not based on our works, but those who fail didn't work hard enough. We want to have it both ways, while at the same time pretending that we're not. Rather than acknowledging the divine paradox that's staring us in the face, we try to reduce God's truth to something we can completely define (and therefore control), and by doing so reduce all of life's problems to simple, black-and-white, one-size-fits-all formulas.

Salvation comes through works, with faith trailing behind. Grace is dispensed once we have followed the letter of the law. God predestines us retroactively after we've exercised our free will. We would deny those falsehoods if confronted with them, but they're the very lies we live by. We continually fail to embrace the paradox, settling instead for whatever half-truths we can wrap our finite minds around even as we pay lip service to the truth. And that's quite understandable; we're only human, after all. God forgives us our frailties. Too bad we can't do the same for others.

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