Posted by: minnow | June 24, 2010

Addendum: Irenic Confrontation

On a discussion blog, where the current series is reviewing Brian McLaren’s latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, and discussion participants are encouraged to share their thoughts, questions, and doubts the following passage in Galatians was posted as a comment.  Nothing more just this passage:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (1:6-8)

It struck me as a reprimand for having questions, for not reading the Bible in the same way the commenter reads the Bible.  It also struck me as a complete misuse of scripture.  People who once believed may doubt the diety of Christ.  They may discount His resurrection, His miracles, even His historical existence and thereby be accused of turning to a different gospel.  But, those issues were not part of the discussion on the blog at the time.  The issue at hand was the wisdom of taking the Bible word for word, as a literal, inerrant, God breathed, document. 

The use of the word gospel in the passage above is not synonymous with our use of the word Bible since when the Galatians letter was written it was NOT canonized scripture.  In other words, we did not have a “Bible” yet.  I realize between my last post and this I have been on a bit of a rant about how we read and use scripture.  But, I am grieved by our tendency to beat each other up and our attempts to manipulate one another’s behavior by quoting the Bible. 

My ranting may not do any good.  It is a bit like a mosquito buzzing in your ear.  Eventually it gets slapped and that is the end of that.  So why rant?  “Why rant about the Bible” paraphrases a question we were asked (by a different commenter) on the blog I just mentioned, a question I had attempted to answer when the above quote was posted.  In my comment I said the Book matters to me and I argue about it because it is all I have to tell me who my Father is.  Actually, I have more than the Bible but the Bible is my most detailed resource and directly ascribes to God various attributes.  I am frustrated when I see it abused: twisted and shaped for personal gain and then misappropriated.

BUT, I have said as much before.  Why keep repeating myself?  Today, I repeat my rant to get to the following point: on the blog in question the host immediately expressed empathy toward the individual who quoted the Galatians scripture, even though the host was among the voices who suggested we have read scripture incorrectly and was therefore targeted by the commenter’s apparent condemnation.  I, on the other hand, confronted the misapplication of scripture.  My intent was to push toward truth.  The host’s intent (and I’m guessing here) was to make everyone feel welcome, to validate everyone’s right to an opinion, and to show himself to be more concerned about being loving than being right.  All are good intentions.  All are important attitudes.  However, loving others and standing up for right principles do not need to be mutually exclusive behaviors. 

When we fail to confront wrong behavior we imply it is right or acceptable.  Granted, some methods of confrontation are better than others and I admit (though not always easily) I personally could use more love when I confront others.  For example, had I said, “Ouch.  Quoting this passage feels very condemning right now.  Does it sound like some of us are denying Christ in this discussion?”  I might not have come across as condemning as I probably did by just saying, “Seriously, John Doe?”  Had the person who quoted the Galatians passage in the first place asked: “In light of what you are talking about how do we deal with …” and then quoted the scripture a whole new discussion might have taken place in an attempt to wrestle with his question.  Had either of us, any of us, refused to pick up offense AND been willing to pursue truth (AKA: fight for the principle in which we believe) we might have actually gained ground in the discussion.  Instead it feels like we decided to just muddy the water (the host) and throw a few chunks at each other (myself and the Galatians commenter). 

Slowly I am learning.  Love really does cover a multitude of sins.  And, in so far as I am able I need to choose to live in peace.  That means refusing to pick up an offense–even when it is present.  At the same time, neither peace nor love can thrive if we are not able to be honest with one another.  If we are to walk as brothers and sisters we need the freedom to confront what hurts and what harms.

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