Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Listening to Life from both Sides Now

For the past year or so, some very interesting reading has been appearing in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference (United Methodist) bi-weekly newspaper, The Witness.

I would characterize the letters to the editor, by Dan Adams and J. David Trawick as examples of progressive and evangelical theology. Dan is a retired minister and a member of our conference. David is pastor of Northwest Hills United Methodist Church in San Antonio.

Recently Dan Adams posted a letter calling for the "desacralization" of the Bible and a deeper consideration of what the Bible says. David countered with a letter which said that the view of desacralizing the Bible was flawed reasoning.

I have just concluded a class based on "progressive" ideas and was privileged to have one-third of the class of a conservative, even fundamental mind set. The other two-thirds could have been labelled moderate and progressive. And the class went very well because a spirit of listening and understanding was followed by all.

Dan and David do us all a great service by their discussions. A great difficulty of polemical thinking is the tendency to circle up the wagons and kill off all the "heathen" out there. That concern prompted the following letter to the editor of The Witness, published last week.

Thanks to Dan Adams (“We should desacralize, critically consider what Bible says,” Sept. 28), J. David Trawick (“View on desacralized Bible follows flawed reasoning,” Oct. 12) and many others for keeping the dialogue going between the progressive and evangelical views in our great body.

Our church can learn from both, so long as we invest time in listening and understanding all sides. One thing I learned from John Wesley and Albert Outler was that Wesley was a conjunctive theologian, not a disjunctive one. Wesley saw value in all sides of a discussion and tried not to eliminate one at the expense of the other. Oh, he had his polemical causes, but for the most part he was very inclusive.

The risk we all face with our passionate disagreements is that we will cease to love one another. The risk is that our common love might turn into uncommon pride and self-righteousness. When the focus becomes “my-way-or-the-highway,” we risk finding ourselves categorized as “sounding brass or tinkling cymbals.”

And that tendency to self-righteousness (to which all sides are vulnerable) is one of the most threatening factors in church unity. It is a function of the Holy Spirit to promote unity in the church. To be outside of the spirit of unity, is to be outside the movmement of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me. I cannot for the life of me find Jesus desiring to be separated from the unclean or the demonized. Even the Pharises and Temple leaders were welcome in his presence when they came to him in a congenial spirit.
Let us listen. Let us strive to understand. Let us reach out, rather than push away; and thus be enveloped by the spirit of God.