My First Draw
This morning I read a reflection by Richard Rohr that Dr. Peter Enns, professor of Old Testament at Eastern University, posted on his own blog. It is about the evolving maturation people, societies and history goes through and how the growth of a person can mimic what history is doing as well. While at Moody Bible Institute, a very young institution with a claim to belong to a very young tradition, I began studying the Old Testament and Church history more intently. The draw I had to the Old Testament and Church History was exactly what Richard Rohr is writing about below in his meditation. Read on…
Many historians, philosophers, and spiritual teachers now agree that collective history itself is going through an evolution of consciousness. We can readily observe stages of consciousness or stages of “growing up” in the world at large (e.g. today Christians do not believe that slavery is acceptable, but many at one time did). The individual person tends to mimic these stages, and they seem to be sequential and cumulative.
You have to learn from each stage, and yet you can’t completely throw out previous stages, as most people unfortunately do. In fact, a fully mature person appropriately draws upon all earlier stages. “Transcend and include” is Ken Wilber’s clever aphorism here. Most people immensely overreact against their earlier stages of development, and earlier stages of history, instead of still honoring them and making use of them (e.g. liberal, educated Christians who would be humiliated to join in an enthusiastic “Jesus song” with their Evangelical brothers and sisters even though they would intellectually claim to believe in Jesus, or adults who can no longer play, or rational people who completely dismiss the good of the non-rational).
C. S. Lewis believed it was undemocratic to give too much power to the present generation or one’s own times. He called this “chronological snobbery,” as if your own age was the superior age and the final result of evolution. I would say the same about one’s present level of consciousness. Our narcissism always tends to think our own present stage of consciousness is the ultimate stage! People normally cannot understand anybody at higher stages (they look heretical or dangerous) and they look upon all in the earlier stages as superstitious, stupid, or naïve. We each think we are the proper reference point for all reality. G. K. Chesterton stated: “Tradition is [just] democracy extended through time.” And I would say that enlightenment is the ability to include, honor, and make use of every level of consciousness—both in yourself and in others. To be honest, such humility and patience is rather rare, yet it is at the heart of the mystery of forgiveness, inclusivity, and compassion.
This understanding of how we “are” to grow, both personally and historically has unlocked the Old Testament for me in ways that I couldn’t have experienced without it. Ironically, reading the Old Testament as an evolution of thought about Yahweh and Israel’s identity as a nation came from a school, Moody Bible Institute, that would fall into the “chronological snobbery” Lewis writes about. While I gained and learned a lot from this experience, their reading of Scripture (Dispensationalism) tends to be caught in its own tailspin and will be an artifact of church history all too soon.
My Other Draw
My other draw to the Old Testament and Church History was explained well in another blog posted by episcopal charismatic priest, Father Kenneth Tanner. The post was from First Things, entitled, Of Exiles and Educating in the Tradition. The First Things blog, written by a Bible professor explained,
Having taught a number of years at an undergraduate institution within the evangelical world, I observed on more than one occasion students who wrestled with the particular brand of Christianity in which they had been raised. Some students had even departed the faith entirely when they stepped into my required classes in theology and ethics; or, so they thought. What they had done, in fact, was reject a particular version of Christianity that they had mistakenly taken for the whole. They had not yet looked beyond their own tradition.
The task was not to defend the particular stream of Christianity in which my students had first touched the waters of baptism, but to show them that it was fed by a vast river stretching back two millennia. In short, I defended Christianity by helping them swim upstream so that they could discover just how deep and wide Christian Tradition was. Through a confrontation with full-throated Christianity, students had the resources to criticize the stream to which they belonged while also locating that tradition within the great river of Christian Tradition.
Essentially, what this has done is lead me to the Episcopal tradition after having been born into my inaugural tradition (Baptist/non-denominational) and sojourning through a few others. I couldn’t square my reading of the Old Testament or Church history with any of the traditions I encountered nearly as well as I have been able to in Episcopal tradition. I also couldn’t square the need and role of indigenous theologizing and the ongoing task of global theologizing with the way that my earliest traditions ignored them. I am not an evangelist for the Episcopal tradition as much as I can tell you I have found a safe place to ask questions, hard questions and still belong. I would hope that, on your journey, you might find a home, a tradition that gives you the freedom you need with the home you require.
I would invite you to investigate three things with your current tradition.
1. How do they read the Old Testament with all of its complexities?
2. How do they read and interact with church history?
3. How do they perceive the needed influence of other cultures and languages in their reading of the Bible?
These three questions have led me and many others into other traditions of Christianity (and some out of Christianity) because of how much they bothered us. I hope you have been bothered too.