Thursday, April 13, 2017

Where's Your Center?

I sent a quote to my brother earlier this week. Admittedly, it was a quote of myself, speaking to myself as I was contemplating, but anyway, here it is:

When it comes to christian theological posturing, we must be unwaveringly Christocentric.
When it comes to our attitudes towards other world religions, we succeed most when we are devoutly Theocentric.

This is an idea that I've been kicking around in the last few days and I thought someone else might benefit from it, so I figured I'd unpack it here. Before I expound it any further, however, let me define some terms, since my brother and I tend to use loaded terms when we text (#theologynerds)

Christocentric: This is basically the idea that our theology -- hermeneutics, ecclesiology, eschatology, soteriology... and pretty much all the other religious "-ologies" out there -- are to be "based on" or "filtered through" Christ. Jesus is not only a good teacher or prophet or even an especially holy man, but he is instead God on the earth. So whenever we try and interpret scripture or make a decision in the Church or evaluate beliefs, we always keep Jesus as the standard; he is our example, our teacher and our sole object of worship.

then there's...

Theocentric: I don't know if this is a word in use or if I just made it up...which is quite likely; in any case, my meaning here is that we keep God in the center. From a Christian perspective, this could seem very much like the previously mentioned "Christocentric", but in this case I'm using it as a distinguished word that represents keeping the ultimate divine being (whoever she is) in the center of our view.

Now that I have those two big loaded words fleshed out a bit more, I will begin to unpack what I meant by my text. I say "begin" because I think that this idea is both big and deep. One could meditate on it for days (as I have) or just take it at surface level and my honest hope is that anyone reading this do the former instead of the latter.

It was my experience growing up (and I would venture to guess it's still true of the particularly American-flavored brand of Evangelicalism) that I was more or less taught that anyone who wasn't Christian was doomed to burn forever and that any Christian who wasn't Christian the way that I'm Christian...well we just don't know. In fact, I remember being concerned for my Grandmother's soul (God bless her) because she was a devout Roman Catholic. I remember sitting in the car outside of Daylight Donuts, trying to convince her that Catholicism was wrong. I'm eternally grateful for her patience with my ignorance.

The truth is that when we are Christians dealing with other Christians, the best way to make sure that everyone is respected and that all sides are heard, is to be Christocentric. The New Testament is absolutely teeming with examples of how the early Church struggled to find answers to the problems of their new life in Christ. What kept such a jumbled and seemingly haphazard movement together? Christ and his Spirit working in the hearts of women and men. Today we face just as much, if not more, diversity and schismatic attitudes across the interwebs, coffee shops, places of employment and places of worship. If the Church is to remain both distinctly Christian (which I'd like to believe we can all agree it should) and internally cohesive, then I think the best thing for all to do is to focus on the one person (not idea, preference or flavor-of-the-week) who ought to stand in the center of our worldview: Jesus of Nazareth. He was the answer then and he is the answer now to all our dealings.

By contrast, a different approach must be taken when dealing with humans outside the Christian faith, be they religious or non-. Just as I was indoctrinated as a child to get everyone on the right page - my page - so too was I steeped in a culture that demanded me "get outside my comfort zone" and tell everyone that had ears to hear (or just ears) that Christianity was the only way to not burn in a black hole for eternity, Amen. Needless to say I found zero success as an adolescent evangelist.

When we encounter people from other world religions or those that are staunchly anti-religious, we bring the most life to the conversation and relationship when we are willing to accept one basic truth: God (Allah, Divine Energy, Wisdom, etc. or whatever) is a person who wants to be known. This one idea, that the Divine person is reaching out to creation to know and be known, can re-frame how we relate to those who believe differently than us. Most religions are based on a single or series of theophanies or God-encounters. My reasoning then goes something like this: If God wants to be known and world religions are based on encounters of God, then when we look at all the religions of the world, we are simply looking at a series of times that God has reached out to humanity for relationship. When we take into account that God is not human and God is not of this reality (that is, subject to its parameters), then we can see how any encounter with the Divine will need some interpretation and, guess what? Humans have to do the interpreting; with whatever modes, means, intelligence and resources available to them.

So, to be more concise, doesn't it seem plausible that our world religions are simply the historical outplaying of the traditions based around the interpretations of encounters with God?

I feel the need to admit here that this line of reasoning can seem like a universalist approach in which "all roads lead to Rome", but that is simply not the case. I am still devoutly Christian because I believe that Jesus was the clearest, no-filter, real theophany. He was God, incarnate, breathing, pooping, sweating, drinking, laughing and bleeding right in front of people. As such, when I sit here on Holy Thursday - the night of God's last supper, pre-resurrection - I can't help but believe in my soul that Jesus re-defines every other theophany that's ever taken place in human history. Still, we do best as theocentric believers when we deal with those who disagree with these convictions about Jesus.

I feel like I could rattle on longer, but I'll land this thing here by simply asking, have you experienced this in your world? Do you find that people are more willing to disclose their intimate religious beliefs when you agree that God is simply reaching out to all of us in anyway that she can? Do you find that dealing with fellow Christians that you disagree with goes much smoother when you keep Christ as the center of conversation? Please, share your story.


1 comment:

  1. I'm a simple idealist, optimist, minimalist, lover of King Jesus and his Kingdom people. I agree with what you've stated. If we are to be his disciples then we should not put labels that we understand on things or people that God has created. We should accept that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than ours. We need to be still and know that He is God.