After My First Year in a Liberal Seminary
I came from a conservative background, so going to a liberal seminary has shaken my world up. I’ve left classes many days with my faith feeling less stable than when I went into them. Many of the things I’ve been taught my whole life are being brought into question. But this has forced me to come up with some working solutions on a few different topics. Here's where I stand at the moment on a few of them.
So much of the teaching at this school has been directed toward social justice. I think they rightly champion the cause of the oppressed- this is their gift to the world. But like anybody (conservatives or liberals) with any cause, I’ve felt like the cause can sometimes overshadow the commissioner of the cause. I have seen the Bible creatively stretched in ways to make God seem more fair and less harsh than we think he should be. And I’ve seen the actions of God in the Bible critiqued, as if we had the right to judge our God by his own law.
Sometimes God does things that seem unfair and unjust. I think we can shout our anger at God for it, but we must not say, “I assume I know better than you.” This was the sin of The Fall. When we received the knowledge of Good and Evil we were suddenly in danger of thinking we knew better than God.
Gender of God:
If we need to use gender inclusive language for God, that is better than having someone leave the faith because they have been hurt by one gender. I don’t think we have enough good fathers, or truly good and noble Male leaders in our culture to cue up images of a good father that would represent our God very well. I think God contains qualities of both genders. Men have traditionally led households and churches and that role of “Father” reflects the nature of being the head, like God is of us. But I think that if men hadn’t abused their power and hurt people with it, and we inherently understood that the creator of men and women contained all the elements of both male and female within him, we would have no reason to seek an alternate pronoun.
People at my school fight for equal rights of women. I’m on board with that. And I’m a big fan of my woman pastor. But I think maybe the issue of women in leadership is less about equal rights, and more about an opportunity to serve our community in roles we’re appointed to. That’s because filling roles given makes systems run well. We all have been given roles that we did not choose. If we have inherited wealth, we are called to share. If our parents are ailing, we have been appointed to care for them. If we have been given gifts of music, or accounting, or therapy it is our role to give that gift to the body because that makes it run well.
Some of us were born as men and some as women. Maybe, indeed men have been put into the role in churches and households to lead with self-sacrifice, and that is their responsibility. But I think if there is a shortage of good men who are leading sacrificially, and if certain parts of the body indeed work better with a woman in charge maybe it is better for the women to fill that role. I wonder if maybe roles are given to help a system run well, but it’s more for the benefit of the people. One thing I don’t entirely understand yet is how, perhaps, men leading and women supporting, maybe reflects God’s relationship with us. Not that one gender is better or more important than the other, but that each fills their own role well, the leader and the led. And maybe this is how God wants to exhibit his cycle of love on earth. But overall, I wonder if gender roles are more like God’s preference in an ideal world to make a system run well for the benefit of his people, than it is God’s ultimate rule. I don’t know! It’s just an idea I’m playing with.
And ultimately we are all serving under someone. Whether it be our president, a parent, an employer, or our God. I think the less important thing is ‘Who am I put under?’ and the more important thing is, ‘Am I serving that person well?’ That is what we are accountable for.
So much of these issues again come down to the fact that those revolting from the traditional ways may never have had to rebel if the original leaders loved and served like Christ prescribed them to lead.
Errancy of the Bible:
I think if you do some acrobatics with some facts you could make all the details in the Bible jive together, and that might be the case. But it makes a pretty fragile faith if it can be deflated by one unsolvable error. My classes pointed out pretty consistent inconsistencies in the Biblical facts, and in the ways the Bible’s interpretation has changed over the centuries, and even showed new context which changes the meaning of the text. And so I’ve had to ask myself, what if the details are debatable. What if they are not the important part? What would that do to my faith? They’ve taught us that ancient storytellers were worried less about facts than we are. They wanted to get across the heart of a message. So, right now I think that even if it has some factual errors, it’s probably still the way it is meant to be. And when I say, ‘meant to be’ I think that might mean that even though interpretations and theology have changed, it’s the best we know it to be right now, and that God has made it alive in ways that speak to our changing situations. Even as we grow in our faith the very same verse may change in meaning, and I think that's how it is supposed to be– alive.
I’ve also started to think that maybe God has given people the heart of the message, and given them authority to determine how to lead, and communicate the message most accurately to their people. After all, he tells his disciples, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” So, they’re doing their best, and I think God’s like, “You guys have the heart of my message, and the basics of the story, so I put it into your hands how you will lead your species. I will honor the rules you make for yourselves as a people.” But this means that if we find an error in the stories or our theology, we humbly adjust and move on with what seems to be more true and accurate, with a sincere heart. It doesn’t deflate our entire faith.
The same with theology as it morphs through the generations. I feel like we are responsible for making the best decisions with the best information we’ve been given. I also understand the beauty of Orthodox churches, which hold onto the same traditions since the first century. And that is the best they know how to do with the truths they have been given. I like to think that we each are accountable for the understandings and perspectives we have to work with.
We can get pretty sticky on all the differences in doctrine but I like what one of my professors told me when I asked about one of the polarizing issues of today. He said something like, “You know? I just don’t think the Bible talks about that one very much, because it’s not that important compared to many other things in the Bible, like helping the poor.”
Left with a humble faith:
After all this I’m less likely to judge another religion because I’ve been humbled by the flaws in my own. But this Christianity is a good option, if there is one among the mix. And I think, although we should be ready to say why we have chosen Christianity, we should be convincing people by how we live out the heart of the message. If there is a competition among the religions, the force to compel others toward ours should be how it has changed us into better people, and how well we live out its instructions. And in our case that means, attempt to be sinless, and love each other so well that the world sees a love that it seldom finds elsewhere.
In the end, I am glad I am at this school instead of a more conservative one. It’s made me think, and through it I’ve gained some new answers to some of the tough questions of our culture. Check with me after next semester and these ideas may have changed. But I’m okay with that. Let’s share our best ideas with each other and try to keep approaching the heart of God. I think that might be the way it’s supposed to be. I want a humble, alive, growing faith.
But dear God, may we never seek these ideas, or the pursuit of them over You. And may we never think we have learned enough to know better than You. Amen
Raw Spoon, 6-23-16