(On Credo Fridays I try to post something that reflects the current state of my beliefs. Today begins a multi-part entry about the TELOS.)
When I first started following Jesus it seemed to me that the point of all of this – this following, this life – was a close relationship with God.
By the time I had been at Bible College for a few weeks I was convinced my initial belief was childish and the real point of all of this – this following, this life – was to learn about God right (not just the right things about God but learning about him rightly – in a right manner – that focused on logic and inductive reasoning) and to keep the rules he’d given us and convince people to get immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins (Ac 2:38) and secure their spot in heaven – or at that time, Heaven. The Bible was “the Original Makers Maintenance Manual” and if I could get people to follow it, life would be beautiful and perfect and predictable. It would be certain.
Years after Bible College I found my conviction wavering. I was experiencing bad fruit, negative consequences, unfavorable outcomes. I was definitely ready to compete with Paul for the Best Pharisee award but there was a big, empty hole in my life where my relationship with God had been when I first started following Jesus. All my rightness had made me an unpleasant person to be around.
So I had a change of mind.
And then I found myself in a very long season – maybe even an epoch – of deconstruction.
I was once told we all have 3 piles inside of ourselves. One pile is, “What I know to be true.” The next pile is, “What I doubt.” And the third pile is, “What I know to be false.” My first pile was huge. My third pile was also huge. There wasn’t much in that middle pile. But as my epoch of deconstruction, of unlearning, wore on, that middle pile grew and grew and grew and the other piles both became much smaller.
Here’s how I came to my uncertainty.
First, I have continued to read and study my Bible. But as time went on, I tried to recognize when I was reading it through the lens of what I already knew and instead I try to work hard at reading it for what it is. I find I love the Scriptures more today than I ever have in my life of following Jesus. I take them more seriously than I ever have before – and by that I mean I try to come to them with an awareness of my own agenda, my own bias and I accept them as I read them. I have discovered that they are not a manual. They are not textbook for higher education. They are far more art than science, more personal reflection than divine edict. The deeper I dig into the Scriptures, the more I study the Text and what we have learned about the ANE and the historical and cultural background of the New Testament, the more I read from those who have given their whole lives to research, study and interpretation of the Text, the more I am passionate about the Bible, the more Orthodox I feel and the less Evangelical I appear. And the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life that they point to looks more and more different from my Bible college days.
Second, I have read across the spectrum of time and orientation of belief about the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life. And I have found something beautiful and amazing and so full of love in the works of people who have followed Jesus with very different beliefs from my own about the Church, morality and good theology. I have become measurably more like Jesus from the things I found in these works by authors I would have previously called, “the pious un-immersed.” Ultimately, I found myself in the place of Peter explaining the outpouring on the Gentiles at Cornelius’ place – ‘the Holy Spirit was on them the same way the Spirit came on us…” And I’ve found the person and the power of the Holy Spirit to be a better measure of belonging than adherence to a particular set of rules that I felt most comfortable with.
Third, I have been in relationship with people from across this same spectrum of belief. In fact, it was relationship that first started the erosion of my certainty. I attended Bible college when I first became a follower of Jesus. I graduated with a very clear sense of the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life. I knew that people who spoke in tongues were either mistaken or, more likely demon possessed. Then I fell in with a bunch of Youth Pastors who met regularly to pray together, work on events and outreaches and play basketball. And two guys I came to know prayed for me one day and both prayed in tongues. But before I slipped into exorcist mode I had to deal with their lives. They were two of the most Jesus-like people I knew. And I knew one of them well enough to know he had a relationship with God that I envied. It was too difficult to maintain my belief system in the obvious presence of God’s Holy Spirit working in and through these two guys who everything I had believed told me weren’t real followers.
So that middle pile grew, the other two shrank.
Fourth, and I’ll stop here for now, I had my own experience with God that didn’t fit inside my box. It was an Emmaus Road moment. One night, I started reading Keith Green’s biography. He’d been very influential in my early days of following and his death coincided with the end of my first year of Bible College. When I read his biography, I had graduated Bible college and already served as a youth pastor in 2 churches. I sat on the couch and started reading and kept reading, even when my wife and new baby had gone to bed, I kept reading. It was the next day when I finished the book. Day had broken on the world and a new day had started for me. My wife will tell you still today that she went to bed married to one man and woke up married to a different man. The Holy Spirit, the Rushing Wind, came blowing into my temple that night, quite unexpectedly, and blew out the dust of death and breathed in new life.
I experienced a transformation – an ongoing transformation that continues to this day – and a new understanding of the TELOS – the real point of all of this – this following, this life. And it was quite independent of rules and right thinking and right believing. In Recovery we might say this was my “white light experience.” And the experience of life has been, for me, a process of unlearning and deconstruction, of renovation and recovery, of shifting the content of my three piles and embracing allegiance over certainty, ever since.
Now I want to tell you about the TELOS but I couldn’t go there with you until I first described the shift in me, the story of my epistemology, the way knowing has developed in my own narrative.
Part TWO is HERE.