I mentioned in my last post that “I was told not to go on exploring too much, lest I land myself in Dangerous Territory.” That dangerous territory I was referring to was that of Un-Reformed Ideas, or those outside the Reformed tradition.
I confess, that fear has been instilled in me since college. I don’t know exactly why or where it came from, but I do know what it is a fear of. It is a fear of the Slippery Slope. That these unreformed ideas, though there may be nuggets of truth and beauty and goodness in them, will eventually and inevitably lead me onto a path of no return.
I believe there is some truth to that, but that it is not the whole of the matter. Yes, it is true that ideas guide and lead our beliefs in certain directions, and that, if we are not thoughtful ourselves, we will be led by the men and women who propound them. But I believe it is also true that we should not shut down an idea for fear that it may lead us down the Slope. That would be like a child (or adult) not wanting to give up their chicken nuggets and fries, and refusing to eat greens for fear of gagging. Yes, the idea may make us want to gag, but there may also be something good about it.
I just finished reading Frederick Buechner’s The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Earlier Days, and he gives insight into why we should not fear the world outside of what we are familiar with.
At age twenty-seven, he has what we would traditionally call a conversion experience. Through his life up until that point, there were experiences he went through and people he met that, in the moment, seemed like random happenings or chance meetings, each of which was unexpected, yet had a profound impact on him. After his “conversion” he says:
Whatever it was that I had found. Whoever it was. The painting in the book. The recurring reference in those early, embarrassing poems. The name on the lips of the beery boy at the Nass. The priest trudging down the sun-drenched Bermuda lane, and the man with the beard who met all the ships when they docked and searched all the faces. The crowing of the rooster and the sound of voices I could not quite make out in another room, and the sound of my friend’s voice on the phone that I could make out all too well. My father’s writing on the last page of Gone with the Wind that he was no good, and then, because he believed that, giving his life away for what he must have thought was our good and thus in his own sad, lost way echoing with his unimaginable gift another holy gift more unimaginable still. What I found was what I had already half seen, or less than half, in many places over my twenty-seven years without ever clearly knowing what it was that I was seeing or even that I was seeing anything of great importance. Something in me recoils from using such language, but here at the end I am left with no other way of saying it than that what I found finally was Christ. Or was found. It hardly seems to matter which. There are other words for describing what happened to me – psychological words, historical words, poetic words – but in honesty as well as in faith I am reduced to the word that is his name because no other seems to account for the experience so fully. (110-11)
As a Christian, as I read books, and discuss and wrestle with ideas that are uncomfortable to me, I always find that I, too, am lead back to that same place. That same name. That name that is the center of all things. That name in which I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28). That name that is above all other names (Phil 2:9).
While John Dominic Crossan denies key tenets of Orthodox creed (divinity and the resurrection), I am grateful him for his work and research, and I will continue to read his books. (I just checked out “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography” which I am very excited to read.) I have much to learn from him.
At the same time, I find it difficult to swallow all of his conclusions, particularly those that contradict or deny the atonement. Is this just because I’ve been taught my whole life that “Jesus died for my sins”?
I don’t think it is just that. For, experience, observation, and heartache have taught me that it is possible to walk off the path (and that there is a Path). To stray from that which is good for me. To sin, in other words. Life has taught me that I transgress, fall short, and experience guilt and shame. Argue as we might about subconscious desires and conditioning, I cannot simply dismiss those experiences. I, like Buechner, can only say that “no other [name] seems to account for the experience so fully.”
Buechner concludes his book with the following two paragraphs:
But here at the last I find myself thinking about King Rinkitink again – another king strong in his weakness and stout of heart in the face of despair – and of those three pearls that he carried with him. The blue one that conferred such strength that no one could resist it. The pink one that protected its owner from all dangers. And the pure white one that spoke wisdom.
Faith. Hope. Love. Those are their names of course, those three – as words so worn out, but as realities so rich. Our going-away presents from beyond time to carry with us through time to lighten our step as we go. And part at least of the wisdom of the third one is, as Rinkitink heard it, “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.” Above all, never question the truth beyond all understanding and surpassing all other wonders that in the long run nothing, not even the world, not even ourselves, can separate us forever from that last and deepest love that glimmers in our dusk like a pearl, like a face. (111-12)
As I read Crossan, it seems like he is looking to fit the pieces together the best he can. (I admire this, and he has put things together for me that I have never seen.)
I think this use of logic is a gift from God. But in God, it seems that the very logic he created also breaks down in our human minds. (Crossan admits at times, in The Power of Parable, that his conclusions are sometimes based on speculation because there is simply not enough evidence to be sure.)
There is, simply put, only so much we can figure out. There are things in our universe, our world, our minds and hearts, that, try as we might, we cannot solve mathematically. All the pieces never fully add up to the perfect sum of the parts. The whole is more than the sum of the parts as it’s said.
And I wonder if that is God’s great, hidden joke with us. That he gives us joy in our work and our toil under the sun, but that we never arrive at a perfect understand of all things. Will our attempts to figure out the Theory of Everything forever remain unfinished and left sitting like the Tower of Babel? Will all our attempts to discover the real Jesus be covered in a shroud of mystery?
Crossan teaches that Jesus was a revolutionary peasant who taught an up-side down kingdom. One in which the haves will eventually have-not, and the have-nots will be the haves. (“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12; or the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16).
But isn’t the upside down nature of Jesus’ teaching consistent with the upside down way God invaded time and space, through an illiterate, impoverished, teenage virgin?
Again, “Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.”