There are a couple of other things I want to get down from Crazy For God by Frank Schaeffer. I’ll tackle one of them today because it is pertinent to the church community of which I am currently apart. It has to do with how we view scripture.
And at this point I would like to step out with a bit of a personal statement to my church. I am going to talk below about how we are a highly varied group with multiple different views on Christianity and scripture. I see this as a highly positive thing, that we can all come to the same table with respect and give each other a validating voice with which to speak our various truths. I wouldn’t want it any other way. With that in mind, I fully realize that some of the things that I say on my blog may be difficult for some of you, and it is not my intent in any way to cause you confusion or anger or frustration or to make you feel like you are an outlier. If there are any outliers here, it is surely me. I am not really that much part of the main-stream in my brain nor in my life, and I love blending the stereotypes. But I respect all of your views, and I believe that all of us contain truth that needs to be shared. So to my family at the Wheatland Mission I say that I want this blog to be a place that any one of you, myself included, can be honest and open about anything spiritual (or non-spiritual for that matter) and ask any question or make any statement that you want. You will not find shame and condemnation here, and it is not my intent to marginalize anyone. Now with that out of the way….
This community is made up of quite a varied group from the pastor, whom I greatly respect, on down to each one of us. I don’t quite know how this motley crue came together, but I like it. There are some who view scripture (and by that I mean the Christian bible) very literally from cover to cover and who feel it is important to think about it very systematically with each piece fitting together just right and that it is completely inerrant. Sadly, because I do think they have a lot to offer, many from this group have decided to leave our gathering in recent months. Then there are others who would say that they have been completely disillusioned and turned off to scripture, much of that because of communities from their past which they feel in a way spiritually abused them. I don’t doubt that to be true for a second. There are yet others who view some of scripture as very literal and some as more metaphorical and who don’t need it all to fit together just right. They feel as long as they are searching that they are on the correct path. And there have been others, I don’t know if there are any at this moment, who believe that any scripture, Christian or not, is a path to the same god. And finally, there are some who probably don’t know what they think of scripture, and much of the time I think that is a fine place to be. No scriptural baggage. Frank Schaeffer speaks to ourviews of scripture a bit in Crazy For God.
In chapter 51 on pages 308-309, he is discussing how they found themselves aligned with more and more right wing fundamentalist groups as the Schaeffer books and films gained in popularity. As these movements gained steam, Frank saw his father gradually leak back to a stance of the “doctrinal purity” for which he fought most fiercely when younger. The intervening years had seen more of an “enlightened position.” As this stiffening took place, the elder Schaeffer father advised people to “take back their denominations.” One of the places affected was the Schaeffers own work at L’Abri, their campus in Switzerland.
One of Frank’s brother-in-laws, John Sandri, had been giving well attended bible studies for some years. As the elder Schaeffer’s views tightened, many of the workers at L’Abri complained that John’s teachings did not give scripture the “‘correct’ theological spin” and bordered on “heresy.” On page 309, Frank Schaeffer writes:
“John’s ‘crime’ was his interst in how the Bible states things and how you draw meaning from the biblical text. John knew that if you push the so-called Sola Scriptura Calvinist approach and the ‘inerrancy’ ideas to their absurd limit, all real study of the Bible stops. It becomes a magical text. It is no longer open to interpretation. Dogma replaces study, because scholarship can only be meaningful when you are allowed to ask real questions and let the chips fall where they may.”
That rings true on so many levels with me that I don’t quite know where to start, but perhaps the most important is this. When I was in the Nazarene church and beginning to struggle with why I believed what I believe, the answers that I got from asking questions were not helpful and usually resulted in some comment like “your heart is not in the right place” or “you just have to have more faith” or “just let your leaders lead.” It eventually became clear to me that in order to get a different answer, in order to “let the chips fall where they may,” I had to ask questions in a different location. If I asked a question to Nazarenes, I was going to get a Nazarene answer. So I had to get out. Now back to Crazy For God….
John Sandri’s “heresy” led to him being asked to leave L’Abri in a teaching capacity. Oddly enough, they asked him to stay on to help “run the work.” Frank calls what took place “an absurd theological fight” and praises John for “not taking himself too seriously” and staying on to help out where he could. Frank states that “once fundamentalists start to sniff out ‘impurities,’ they never stop.” History alone certainly proves that out.
To close I want to quote one more section from page 311:
“To me, John’s selfless actions came to represent what faith looks like when lived, as opposed to what theological ‘purity’ looks like. And one reason I still bother to struggle to have faith is because of John Sandri’s example. He truly returned good for evil.”
I think that is a great reminder about what is really important. People aren’t interested in how “theologically pure” we are. People aren’t interested in what we think about how the bible is to be interpreted. And I don’t think God is much interested in it either. How we treat each other is what is important. How many of right hoops we jump through is not. I want to understand the bible in a way that leads me to a life of love and compassion and validation of others and listening and searching and discovering God. And I don’t really care one lick about how theologically pure I am.