*Warning! A 1,400 word blog post.*
Have you ever read something and wondered about the author’s emphasis? Why are they stressing a certain point – a point that may seem obvious or odd to you? Well, the author’s emphasis could be based on their personal experience with a belief that is prevalent among some Christians – but unknown to you.
I’ve realized lately that I have a broader personal exposure to different segments of Christianity (particularly evangelicalism) than some believers. My broader base of exposure has proved helpful, familiarizing me with the strengths, weaknesses, and distinctives of various groups.
I did not purposefully choose to be among the groups I mention below, but it just sort of worked out that way. For example, the AOG (Assembly of God) I attended had grown influential in the area I (then) lived, and was drawing in people from other backgrounds. The pastors were actually twin brothers, from a Jewish family, and they converted to Christianity in their late teens. This, and other aspects, made it a unique AOG!
My exposure to various segments of evangelicalism has not altered my basic, underlying beliefs. I suppose that could be perceived as negative in one sense – as we all need to be open to realizing that we could be off-base about something. However, I did learn from the various groups and was enriched for the better by it.
Several years among the charismatic AOG did not change my mind about the charismatic. I’ve also had close friends in the Vineyard movement. I was and remain a soft cessationist. However, my years in the AOG did help me “remember” the Holy Spirit – thinking of Francis Chan’s book Forgotten God, Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. And wow are charismatics good at prayer! They pray with power and enthusiasm, and I really miss that. They also pray at the drop of a hat about anything, and I miss that too.
But I know a couple who, like me, has been in some very different types of churches – and each time their beliefs have totally changed. They did not seem to know what they believed, and were like chameleons changing color. They were not charismatic…then they were charismatic. They believed in eternal security…then they believed you could lose your salvation. Etc. I don’t want to sound critical, but rather the point is:
This exposure to different groups did not help them think and study Scripture – rather they just changed without much thought at all. They were flip-floppers, and easily influenced by their environment.
A change in view due to careful thought and study is different.
I attended an independent Baptist church for a few years. (This is now a bit of an embarrassment to me, although they do have their positives. One positive is their emphasis on evangelism, that has stayed with me since.) Among them I was first exposed to the “King James Only” movement. I had never heard of it before, and then experienced it up close and personal! I remember being new at the church and I was carrying my NIV Bible, when there was a long rant from the pulpit about the diabolical NIV version! Did I run home and trash my NIV? Nope. But this did make me delve into Bible translations and carefully consider the KJV only controversy for myself. I continued to use my NIV while attending this church, but kept it in my Bible cover – haha. Similarly, and hinted at above, when in the AOG it led me to study the charismatic gifts and whether they are for today.
I spent a few years among the Nazarenes – a group in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition with their own distinctive teachings about the spiritual life. I’ve always believed in eternal security, and that sanctification is a gradual, life-long process. The Nazarenes have different views here. I must say that my exposure to various things among the Nazarenes only made my aforementioned beliefs stronger! I observed troubling weaknesses that reaffirmed my own position – as I more carefully studied the issues. I can defend the Nazarenes – they do not teach “saved today, lost tomorrow” as some derogatorily describe it. While they do think salvation can be lost, it is not in such a flippant or easy way as that phrase makes it sound.
Even not among the Nazarenes, I still come across Christians who think they can go days, weeks, months without sinning. Good grief. I have very strong beliefs here, and I think we sin every single day. An awareness of this is critical. (My book delves into this.) That does not mean we are wallowing in sin, that does not mean we can’t make spiritual progress – but if you think you don’t sin everyday – I think a refresher course on the nature of sin is needed, and a greater sense of God’s holiness.
But I digress, and I did appreciate my time among the Nazarenes. The particular church we were at was warm, genuine, and friendly. The Nazarenes allow women more freedom to serve. Among them I discovered gifts I did not realize I had – such as Bible teaching and leading groups. They changed the trajectory of my life, and for that I am grateful. A soft place in my heart remains. I remember a joke among them: John was a Baptist, but Jesus was a Nazarene!
This post grows long, and I did not mention the group I was raised in – the Plymouth Brethren – a group that grounded me well in the Scripture. I grew up in a heavily Roman Catholic area, which gave me familiarity with Catholicism. I now live in the south (Baptist land!) and some southerners have little understanding of Catholicism.
To return to the first paragraph of this post, you could think a writer or speaker is belaboring a point unnecessarily – but they could be addressing a problem with which you are unfamiliar. Recently on goodreads, I saw someone mock an author who emphasized that we are not gods. “Duh, what an obvious point.” But it appeared the author was indirectly addressing the little god controversy in the Word of Faith movement. We are made in the image of God, and this “divine” aspect of ourselves is overemphasized and distorted to the point that we are seen as gods. For example, this blogger had a brief post about this: We are GOD’S, BUT NOT GODS (Watch the apostrophe).
I’d encourage you to familiarize yourself with other types of Christianity other than your own denomination or tradition. That doesn’t mean you have to start attending different churches. Years ago it was more common that people were born into, married, and died in the same denomination. There are positives about that.
But you can also get stuck in an echo chamber, only hearing the same voices – Failing to become aware of the weaknesses of your camp, and not being stretched by exposure to other views.
Subscribing to Christianity Today can expand your horizons – it is broadly evangelical with contributors from all sides of evangelical belief. I’ve been familiarized with varying theological approaches, and my thinking stretched, as I’ve read this magazine over the years. You’ll also learn about new books and authors. Getting involved in a para-church group can help you make friends with Christians from other backgrounds.
- Being exposed to other views can develop critical thinking skills and help you delve into the Bible and theology on a deeper level. It can enrich you spiritually, as you incorporate the strengths of various groups into your Christian life.
- However, it can also lead to the chameleon couple I describe above, who haphazardly changed their views multiple times. It can lead to confusion, rather than clarity. Some people don’t really know what they believe, are easily influenced, and end up in a confusing mess.
Perhaps the underlying issue is a lack of attention to the LIFE OF THE MIND among Christians. There is an associated lack of discernment.
This was recently shared on twitter:
Theology 101: Churches should teach on logical and rhetorical fallacies, sound research methods, and identifying bad evidence and arguments. – @Svigel
I agree. Perhaps after all this verbiage that is the key point? We must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. As Paul words it in Ephesians 4, we do not want to be…“tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.”
If you managed to read all 1,400 words (way too long for a blog post!), please feel free to comment on this rambling and maybe incoherent post.