Contextual Theology Diagrams

I have SLOWLY been working on my book on Missions Theology. I am putting here a couple of diagrams that are associated with the sections related to Contextual Theology.

  1. The first one is the one related to Models of Contextualization. I am using Stephen Bevans six models.

I try to relate the six models of Stephen Bevans to the focus on the Word of God, Human Context, and Individual Reflection. Of course, all six models take seriously, to some extent, all three areas, but there is a tendency to lean towards one of the poles.

Translation and the Countercultural model emphasize the Word of God over the others. As such, they tend to be appreciated more by Evangelical groups. The Anthropological model gives greatest weight to Human Context.

The Transcendental and Praxis Models I have put as closest to Individual Reflection. Both are intentionally iterative. The Transcendental Model is related to David Tracy’s model for theological reflection. The Praxis Model is the iteration between action and reflection, which is also the general pattern for Practical Theology.

This leaves the Synthetic Model. I would love to place it at the Human Context end of things to make the diagram symmetric. However, the Synthetic Model takes human tradition, praxis, and the Word of God and intentionally synthesizes it. Since those three each point to a different pole, that means that the Synthetic Model fits best in the middle.

2. The second on is Tests for Sound Contextual Theology. This also draws, more loosely, on some work by Stephen Bevans.

These tests help determine whether a contextual theology should be seen as a healthy localization of the Christian faith or not (or as Bevans would say, “in bounds” or “out of bounds”).

The tests are from Divinity, Community, and Function. For previous descriptions of these categories, one can go to a previous post of mine:

https://munsonmissions.org/2016/01/23/doing-local-theology/https://munsonmissions.org/2016/01/23/doing-local-theology/

I thought about adding more tests. These include:

  • Test of Cultural Relevance (Does it draw from local symbols?)
  • Test of Cultural Resonance (Does the theology speak to the unspoken concerns and passions of a culture?)
  • Test of Aliveness (Does it identify its need to change as culture changes, or does it see itself as “having arrived at ultimate truth”?)

However, upon further reflection, it does occur to me that while these may be good benchmarks for good theology, they are not really tests of orthodoxy.

Biblical Theology Presentations

I taught a short-course on Biblical Theology back a few years ago. Actually, it was two short-courses— one for Old Testament and one for New Testament. Biblical Theology is not my strength, but I was excited to teach it at Maranatha Bible College because it is a passion of mine. I used, primarily “An Old Testament Theology” by Bruce K. Waltke (2007). I also used Walter C. Kaiser Jr. “Toward an Old Testament Theology” (1978), and Christopher J. H. Wright “The Mission of God” (2006).

I suppose my interest in Biblical Theology is partly because of the poor Biblical Theology that underpins most Missiology. It is a frustration of mine.

Anyway, I decided to put two of my presentations on Slideshare that relate to the OT Biblical Theology. They are the first and last presentation of that course— actually the two presentations that are the least related directly to Biblical Theology. On is foundational to an understanding of Biblical Theology, and the other is more historical and transitional towards NT Biblical Theology.

The Cheshire Church

The following is a quote from the book by James F. Engle and William A. Dyrness, “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Who can fault legendary evangelist Dwight L. Footnotes: The Cheshire CatMoody, who captured the mood of evangelicals at the end of the nineteenth century in his declaration, “I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'” In other words, all hopes of transforming society with the gospel were dashed, in his eyes, until Christ’s return in glory, leaving only one option, the lifeboat— a single-minded focus on evangelism as the mission of the church.

While few would echo the words of Moody and his contemporaries today, we still hear a distinct but largely unrecognized carryover. Ever since the late 1800s, dominant evangelical voices have called for accelerated church planting to evangelize the maximum number of unreached in the shortest possible period of time. The return of Christ became the dominant motivation for missions— only this return would bring about the transformation that the gospel required. The only human effort required was an announcement of the message. ….

There never has been a dispute that evangelism is indispensable as the first step in making disciples in all nations, but now voices were heard calling for the first time for completion of world evangelization in this generation. It would almost seem as if the future world and the ultimate victory of Christ had become dependent on human initiative. Little wonder that evangelicals were quick to embrace the wonders of a technological age and to mobilize Christian resources in an unprecedented way. In the process, it became tempting to disregard the essence  of the Great Commission …. where it is abundantly obvious that human efforts are futile, or at least inadequate,without the convicting, regenerating and sanctifying role of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, among those who referred to themselves as evangelicals, there was almost total silence in response to God’s call for social justice to alleviate the burdens of ignorance, poverty and hunger, racism, the loss of cultural identity, and other forms of oppression (Amos 5:21-24, Luke 3:10-14; 4:18-21). Oss Guinness prophetically observed that the outcome of this silence is a church that has lost its impact by becoming “privately engaging, socially irrelevant.”

Guinness uses the analogy of the Cheshire Cat in the famous story Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In this fable, the cat gradually loses its identity until all that remains is its famous lingering grin. So it is with the church, which by and large now has only the ‘lingering grin, ‘ a surface indicator of a privatized faith without moral and social impact. In so doing, the church has dug its own grave, while the smile lingers on.

(Pages 64-65.  Os Guinness quote is from “The Gravedigger File”)

The IMB Mission Statement and Holism

holism

I facilitated a lecture on Social Ministry. The students’ readings were:

  • Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2009).
  • Jerry Ballard, “Missions and Holistic Ministry” in World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Missions Congres, ’90 (Asia Missions Congress, 1990), pages 340-348.
  • J. Jeffrey Palmer, Kingdom Development: A Passion for Souls and a Compassion for People (Chiang Mai, Thailand, ARLDF Publishing, 2004).

Ballard spoke of four Evangelical perspectives on Social Ministry as it relates to Christian Ministry. I will add a fifth one— one that was suggested to me by Dr. Dan Russell. These are:

  1. Convenience.  Christian ministry really is NOT about doing social ministry. Christian ministry is really about “spiritual ministries”— converting people to Christ, baptizing, church formation, training up religious leadership, Bible study, prayer ministry, etc.  However, if one can meet a physical, social, or other sorts of needs in people, it is not a bad idea… as long as it is “convenient.” In other words, as long as it doesn’t distract from “real” ministry. IT IS NICE TO BE NICE.
  2. Social Gospel. Christian ministry IS social ministry. The so-called “spiritual ministries” listed above are downplayed or at least seen not as central concerns.
  3. Ulterior Motive. Like Convenience, Ulterior Motive sees “Real” ministry as spiritual ministry. However, it diverges from Convenience in one major thing. Ulterior Motive does not say simply that “it is nice to be nice.” Rather it says “it is more effective to be nice.” In other words, social ministry can be leveraged to more effectively do spiritual ministry.
  4. Holism. Holism says that Christ’s call to ministry is holistic. Humans are holistic and so compartmentalizing and prioritizing types of ministry is a mistake. Christian ministry IS SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL. Our call to bless is transformational in all spheres of human existence.
  5. Spiritualistic. This is like Convenience in that it sees “real” Christian ministry as spiritual, not social. However, it sees social ministry as a distraction from spiritual ministry. Thus, in practice, it is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO BE NICE. Evangelical missions in the 1960s seem to have embraced that as has some small group multiplication strategies today.

Speaking of today, I would say that I generally support the Holism stance. I understand the logic of the Ulterior Motive stance, although I would probably add a bit of a John Stott spin to it suggesting that while social ministry can be leveraged to support spiritual ministry, spiritual ministry can likewise be leveraged to support social ministry. The two are synergistic. Still, I would say that doing good does not really need a spiritual justification.

This leads me to the mission statement of the International Mission Board (of Southern Baptist Churches). I am not IMB, but I am sent by a Southern Baptist Church, and I teach in a (Philippine) SBC seminary. As such, their mission statement is of at least academic interest to me.

IMB partners with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.

It sounds pretty spiritualistic. It has many of the categories of “spiritual ministry,” including evangelizing, discipling, churchplanting, church multiplying, and leader training. My suspicion is that the statement was actually written by people of the Convenience stance or Spiritualistic stance (or more likely a combination).

However, as I am reading it, it occurs to me that one could have a more Holistic stance and still agree wholeheartedly in it. (Actually, the one term I don’t like is the word “limitless.” It seems to be chosen to sound visionary to potential donors, but is actually vague… immeasurable… meaningless.)

But let’s consider the other terms:

-Evangelism. This term sounds quite spiritualistic. It suggests taking on the role of a messenger of God to serve as proclaimers of the good news of Christ. This draws naturally from the Greek that emphasizes its link to a “good message.” However, David B. Barrett in his book “Evangelize: A Historical Survey of the Concept” notes that both in the Bible and the early church, the term was used and applied very broadly. Sometimes in the Bible the term is used simply for verbal proclamation. Other times it describes the total activity of Christians to make known God’s message of peace to all people. Since Southern Baptists place great emphasis on the Bible as authoritative (and perhaps less commendably their tendency to idealize the primitive church) presumably they are using the term as it is used in the Bible and early church, rather than how it is commonly used today (and rather than based on its etymology). If so, that would be commendable. Good Biblical theology draws from usage, and “evangelize” is used quite broadly in the Bible.

  -Discipling.  Again, there can be a question of what the term means. In its common usage, it is often limited to a form of indoctrination— learning to read the Bible, pray, memorize Scripture, and so forth. However, if it is understood in its Biblical-Historical sense, we draw back to Christ and his process of discipleship with the Twelve (and others). Baptists are Christocentric and so see Jesus as both our example for practice, and our goal. As such, we would look to Christ to understand how to disciple and see that being like Christ would be the goal for a disciple. Again, discipleship in this sense is much broader than the cognitive-dominated sense we use it today. It could quite reasonably be argued that Jesus discipled holistically (whole person, whole need, whole context). Additionally, a disciple arguably should have more than simply the same doctrines as Jesus, but have similar behavior, motivations, priorities, socialization, and spiritual focus as Jesus.

-Healthy Churches. The mission statement speaks of planting and multiplying healthy churches, but that begs the question of what constitutes being healthy. Perhaps the creators of the vision statement were thinking of being “3-self” (or perhaps 4-self). Since, however, self-propagating (one of the 3-selves) could be seen as redundant (seeing that the term multiplying is just prior), it seems unlikely. I might suggest that healthy means having healthy members in healthy relationships. This draws back to the work of Stan Rowland and Medical Ambassadors (now Lifewind). They define health in Christian ministry in terms of four healthy relationships. These are God (spiritual), Others (social), Self (psychoemotional), and Physical World (own body, ecological, and economic). I don’t know if the creators of the statement thought through the use of the term “healthy” that much. However, it seems reasonable that if any of the above four areas of healthy relationship are bad, one cannot really saying that one is planting and multiplying “healthy churches.”

-Training Leaders. I don’t really know what is meant by this. However, if it is correct to understand the other items previous in holistic terms, then certainly training leaders must certainly mean to train leaders to recognize both spiritual and social ministry as vital to the church, and both as parts of God’s total call to serve.

Again, I don’t know what the creators of the IMB mission statement meant but I certainly hope that a holistic broad (God-sized?) vision can be its interpretation in the future.

(Just get rid of the word “limitless”…)

Asian Christian Theology? (Part II)

Years ago I wrote an article on Asian Christian Theology, where I expressed some questions or concerns about how some consider this.  (You can read it by CLICKING HERE).

Recently I was in a meeting where exploration of supporting Asian Christian Theology books was explored. Some questions came up that commonly come up when this topic is being considered. For example, what defines Asian Christian Theology? If one is Asian does this make one’s theological writings Asian or not? Many Asians are trained (and sometimes indoctrinated) in Western schools or traditions. Will the results of these Asian writers be Asian theology, or simply Western Theology written by an Asian.

Additionally, do Asian Christian Theologies have characteristics that make them distinctly different AS A GROUP from Western or other Christian Theologies? Considering the variety of Asian cultures it seems doubtful that there is one unifying theme. Continental identity does not seem adequate.

Further, does Asian Christian Theology have unique methodologies (or at least foci) different from Western? Perhaps there is a greater focus on narrative over propositional truths. Maybe the dominant metaphors would be different. Perhaps systematization would be less valued. But if an Asian wrote a systematic theology with a strong focus on propositional truths, would that make it “un-Asian”?

For me, the key point is not on any of the above.  I would suggest something different.

cultural-bridge

The above figure suggests theology as a man-made construct that relates God’s unchanging revelation to Man’s changing culture(s). Since human cultures are diverse and changing, good theologies should be:

  • Contemporary
  • Culturally Practical
  • Making sense within the culture

<Consider reading the post where I talk about this more. It was meant to be part of a book that I never finished.  Click Here.>

With this in mind, what is an Asian Christian Theology? It is one that is

  • Relevant to people living in a present Asian culture
  • Has practical value to these same people in that culture
  • Utilizes metaphors, thought processes, and such that make sense to people in that culture.
  • AND… effectively links accurately and fully to God’s revelation.

I could add a fifth point. Ideally, it should speak to people of other cultures as well. That is because we are not only part of a local community of faith, we are part of a universal community of faith. As such, it should not serve as a wedge between local and non-local Christians. (Theology should both unify and diversify.)

Ultimately, the best test of whether a theology is Asian is “Does it give God’s answers to the questions that come from Asians within an Asian culture?”

Theo-storying Again

Okay. I finally finished working on my wife and my have struggled

theostorying
New Edition a few weeks awaybook,

with, off and on, for close to three years, Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training.  I have decided to start updating and fixing my previous books. I have decided to start with Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture. Although it has actually aged fairly well as far as I can see, there are reasons that I am starting with it.

 

#1.  This is the only book I have written that was not written because I am teaching a course on that subject. I wrote it because of the love of the topic.

#2.  I had actually started to write a sequel to Theo-Storying. However, in the end, I decided to take some of the ideas from the sequel and bring it into an early revision of the book. Since then, however, there are more things I would like to add. Most importantly the role of Theological Reflection, and its connection to Midrash Aggadah.

#3.  I had also started to write a book on Missions Theology.

theology-and-missions
The early version of the cover of a book I never finished.

I actually made good progress on this one. But in the end I lost interest in the project. But I did not lose interest in some of the topics covered. Some of the ideas were moved into Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training, but some really belong in Theo-Storying.

 

Hope to be done soon. I think I can get it done in the two week break between semesters here at PBTS and ABGTS. I will keep you updated.

Missional and Missionary Churches

One of my students is writing about the Missional Church movement as part of her dissertation. I will not steal her thunder. I will just make a couple of comments on the topic here. She noted that the term “missional church” has often been seen as another term for “missionary church.”  Over time, however, the missional church and missionary church has bifurcated in meaning. It seems to me that some of that has to do with their understanding of their place in culture (or as my student would say, their connection with the idea of “Christendom.”)

Missionary churches have often seen themselves as “Sending Churches.” That is, they send cross-cultural missionaries or send money to cross-cultural missionaries. This is certainly a reasonable understanding of the term.

Missional churches commonly see themselves as “Sent Churches.” That is, they exist in the mission field. This seems pretty reasonable as well.

In a time of Christendom as a concept that “just makes sense,” the church can be seen as existing in an E-1 setting, and people in the community exist in a P-1 setting with respect to the local church. <I am drawing from Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch’s article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, titled “Finishing the Task: The Unreached People’s Challenge.” Pretty good chance you have heard of the E-Scale, and maybe P-Scale in missions outreach.>

However, Christendom (Christian societal evolution) has fallen on hard times as a belief, and we find churches in many parts of the world as being Marginalized— in cultural conflict with the society they are in. This is the reality in many places, but is now being seen as more of a reality in the West as well. In some ways that is a good thing. Being American (although I haven’t lived there in over 15 years) churches there have commonly blended into a politico-patriotic Americanism that has a lot to do with the surrounding culture but little to do with Christlikeness. Of course the US is not alone in this. The goal is, of course, not to be different for the sake of being different. Some in an attempt to be different… are not a transformative influence— they are just strange and foreign. In fact many churches established by missionaries world-wide do not fit well with their culture because they fit the culture of the missionaries who founded them (Philippine churches are a really good case in point for this).

Churches need a connection to the culture to be relevant, but need a certain amount of disconnection to provide an alternative as an impetus to transformation.

Getting back to Missional Churches— identifying themselves as being somewhat marginalized within their setting, they then could be seen as existing in an E-2 culture (and people in the community would find the church as P-3 with respect to its context).

                        Missionary Church                                                  Missional Church

             Sees itself as E-1 in its context                                Sees itself as E-2 in its context

   Sends missionaries to E-2 and E-3 settings              Sends people into its community

      Good distant missions… poor theology                Good theology, poor distant missions

One may think that Missionary Churches and Missional Churches should be quite compatible with each other, but sadly they often are not. Missionary Churches often see Missional Churches as anti-missions. And, in fact, to some extent the charge can be true. Many missional churches focus on local missions so much that they don’t support foreign or E-3 missions except perhaps with Short-term missions— a shaky strategy at best. The lack of support for E-3 missions and reliance on Short-term missions are worthwhile complaints about (SOME) Missional Churches.

The thing though is that the Missional Churches are correct theologically. The church does exist in a marginalized setting in much of the world— and is supposed to be. The church does exist in an E-2 setting pretty much everywhere. As such, real cross-cultural missions DOES happen every time someone seeks to do ministry outside of one’s own church gathering place. The separation between local outreach for a church and missions outreach is a false dichotomy that may have made sense a few decades ago, but makes sense no longer.

It seems to me that we need a mix of missionary churches and missional churches (and certainly such things do absolutely exist). Churches need to recognize that they exist as sent out into the world (on mission) wherever they exist. Churches don’t just send… they are sent. They need to recognize that they exist counterculturally within their own community. On the other hand, the church exists as part of something far bigger than itself… it exists within a world of diversity and should embrace its role to impact the entire world, not just its own corner.

 

Correlation in Missions Theology

Correlation is described by Paul Tillich as:

 

Theology formulates the questions implied in human existence, and theology formulates the answers implied in divine self-manifestation under the guidance of the questions implied in human existence. This is a circle which drives man to a point where question and answer are not separated.

Paul Tillich, “Systematic Theology,” 1951, pg. 61

 

In other words, Theology seeks to answer the questions brought up from human existence, and asks the questions that must be explored in that same existence. This is an iterative process with no end-point.

 

Pastoral Care serves as an activity in ministry of human existence that drives this sort of theological reflection or correlation. Howard Stone describes this process:

 

For authentic correlation to occur, the pastor must return over and over again to the primary texts that shape the faith. An ethics course back in seminary…. [for example] … may not sufficiently alert pastors to the dangers of an increasingly emotional involvement with and dependency on a counselee of the opposite sex. So, for correlation to occur, the pastor must repeatedly return to the sources of the faith, read widely in theology and ethics, and have a continuing dialogue with the competing value and belief systems present in our culture.

Besides a continual return to the sources, reflection on present experience also is required. The pastor must reflect not only on former learnings, but also on recent events, indeed upon the care that is currently being given. …. It is easy for one’s theological beliefs to become separated from the material world in which one works. A calm review of experience as it relates to the sources of faith, the people who are being cared for, and one’s day-to-day relationship with God is essential if there is to be any ongoing encounter between theology and pastoral care.

Howard W. Stone, “The Word of God and Pastoral Care,” Abingdon Press, pp. 35-36

 

Correlation again goes back to two poles— experience and reflection. However, with Stone, there are actually three aspects. Experience is seen in serving and interacting in a pastoral care setting. Reflection, however, involves two aspects. One is readings (including Scripture and wisdom from one’s faith tradition in terms of theology and ethics). The other is one’s personal relationship with God.

 

Ultimately, pastoral theology cannot be divorced from ministerial experience. Neither can it be divorced from one’s personal relationship with God, nor from the wisdom of one’s faith.

 

But Stone goes on to add another factor to the reflection.

 

Reflection is insufficient, however, if it is done in isolation outside a communal context.

Ibid., pg. 36


 

Stone goes on to consider the different forms such communal context takes place. It can involve formal supervision, or a peer group setting or more. The point is, however, that theological reflection is never to be done in a vaccuum. Experience is in the community, and reflection is in a community as well.

 

Experience is tied to community. Reflection is tied to community, personal relationship with God, and one’s reading and reflection on God’s word, and works of theology and ethics of one’s faith.

Clericalism and Languages Worthy of Praising God

It ihas been common to assume that worship or praise of God must come through sacred languages. This may for some be Arabic or Sanskrit, or a myriad of other languages deemed sacred.

One might think that Christianity would be immune to this. In Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

That people of every language are there in

Image result for cyril and methodius slavic alphabet
St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Apostles to the Slavs

heaven praising God might make one question a single sacred language. Still one could argue that in heaven these people from every language are now only praising with one language… a sacred language.

 

However, the Bible was written in more than one language (three languages to be exact: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), with subtle variations of language associated with the fact that the Bible was written over a long period of time. That should give people pause as well. But again, it may not convince everyone.

For me, the strongest point is that the defining act of God for evidencing the start of the church age was the gift at Pentecost given to the 120 to praise God and proclaim Jesus in different languages. I am aware that some groups see these “languages: not as languages at all but merely as ecstatic utterances. But even then, if ecstatics can be used to praise God then presumably various languages could as well.

For some people, this is a strawman issue… an issue for Muslims perhaps, and some other religions. But I live in a country that until about 120 years ago, it was not possible to worship God as a Christian, or read God’s word in any of the over 100 languages spoken here. 300 years of Christinity here, with worship and Scripture that was only spoken by a selected few. This sounds ridiculous… and yet it is true.

Why is this? Why would Christianity, which is at its very foundation multilingual have developed religious cultures that disconnect the language of worship from the language of the common people? I have to guess that it is clericalism.

I am using the Merriam-Webster definition for clericalism:

a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy

Keeping the language of religion in the hands of the clergy (either because of language or because of jargon) keeps ecclesiastical power in the hands of the few. This is not unusual. The medical and legal subcultures are well-known for esoteric language. And they are not alone.

Of course, it may not start out that way. Religious language/jargon changes more slowly than surrounding language, so it may start out as the language of the people, but as the language around changes, the language of religion becomes the language of the few and the trained. One sees this in most of the ancient denominations of Christianity. However, at some point in time, there comes a time where the clergy make a choice— will their faith be expressed in the language of the people or the language of clergy. Most commonly, historically speaking, it is the language of the clergy.

But every now and then… there is a shocking transition. These can include Jerome translating the Bible into (vulgar) Latin… and Martin Luther translating the Bible into German and developing songs of worship in the same language.

One of those times was when Cyril (Constantine) translated Scripture for the Slavic People. A great quote on this is available in a blogpost “Language Worthy of Praising God.”

The Secret is…

Image result for shhh!!!

The Secret is… there is no secret.   Many Christians throughout history have doubted this, however.

  • Starting in the first two centuries of the church, the Gnostic sects taught that they had special, secret, knowledge that people needed to have access to God. Irenaeus argued against the Gnostics that God’s revelation is found in Holy Scripture, the words of the initial apostles, and the words of those who were trained by the apostles. In other words, God is not into secrets… at least not secrets we need for abundant living. God’s revelation was given Holy Scripture and it was meant to be available to all… not to the few. Then if Christ did indeed have secrets, who would He have shared it with— His disciples who were to share them to all people, or to some individuals who kept secrets for a select few?  That tactic has popped up on occasion in recent centuries as well. Perhaps this was most famously done with “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” (Shakers) with Ann Lee being considered the female counterpart to Christ, or of Mormonism’s teaching of a 2nd (and secret) revelation of Christ.
  • Over centuries groups claimed to have a certain special secret. Sometimes it was a new revelation, second blessing, modern innovation, or restoration of some ancient practice (like embracing superficial Jewish practices, or primitive church alleged practices). Of course, traditionalists sometimes react by saying that their traditions are “the secret.’

I have been to a few trainings in my time. The more aggressive ones tend to be built around some sort of “core secret.” In one, the “secret” is FASTING. You want to twist God’s arm to do what you want Him to do rather than what He wants to do? You just need to fast. <Considering how ambivalent the Bible is regarding fasting, it would certainly be a pretty big secret if this was true.> I also recall going to a training which was a pretty mundane form of discipleship training. The one innovation that was supposed to turn it from mundane to awesome was the secret of “generational bondage.” In that, If you are a Christian but have an ancestor who committed some sort of sin, then God either gives you a curse or allows a curse to be placed upon you (not sure which, really). He doesn’t tell you this, and doesn’t really forgive it unless you say a prayer worded in a specific way. This seems based on nothing more than a passage in the Torah that is open to a wide variety of interpretations, and completely ignores a chapter in Ezekiel that appears to completely undermine the logic.

This desire for secrets in our faith perhaps says something very real about our spirituality, something a wee bit negative about ourselves, and something quite negative about our view of God.

Very Real About our Spirituality. We often feel like our lives are not embracing that “Abundant Life” that Jesus spoke of. We feel unsatisfied and so we look for secrets or “spiritual life hacks.” I would argue, however, that we spend more time avoiding the guidance of Christ than we do actually obeying Him. It is like the quote from Chesterton, ” The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and left untried.” Our quest for secrets ultimately comes out of our own spiritual laziness.

A Wee Bit Negative About Ourselves. Let’s be honest, we like to know secrets… but a secret is not really a secret if it is freely available to everyone. We like to know secrets and know that others don’t know them. We want to go to seminars where the Secrets of __________ are revealed. We open Clickbait webpages with titles that utilize tactics that draw on this ugly part of ourselves.

Something Really Negative About Our View of God. Think about it for a moment. Consider the Generational Bondage example above. For it to be true, God would have to have a curse on us for something we did not do, and perhaps did not even know about. He would have to make sure that we have a miserable life without telling us why for something we did not do. He would also not remove that misery until we say a specific incantation that has no really support in God’s public revelation to us.

Is that a god we really want to worship? Taking it further, do we really want to worship a God whose revelation is only truly available to the cogniscenti… scholars? Do we want God’s revelation that can bridge languages and cultures, or do we want it to only be understood by scholars of 6th century BC Hebrew, 1st Century Koine Greek, 4th century AD Latin, 16th century English, or (perhaps) 7th century Arabic. Is that the God we really want? Do we want a God who tells one story publically to witnesses who feel compelled to share freely to all, but then tells certain critical “facts” to a few specially selected people who are good at keeping these facts from the majority?

In Clickbait articles, there is often the backstory that there is a secret that a select group has and is now being revealed to the consternation of those special ones. Some articles claim there is a great cancer cure that medical doctors don’t want us to know.  Or there is a secret way to wealth that millionares or billionares know, and that they desperately don’t want us to get because then we would join their elite group. I suppose it is okay that we have such hateful attitudes about doctors, or dentists, or stock traders, or the rich (or others). Sometimes it may even be true.

But why would we want to apply such thinking in our opinion of God… that God has special secrets that He doesn’t really want us to know… but would be hugely valuable for us to know. Sure, we don’t know exactly when Christ is returning (despite groups that claim to have such secret knowlege). But why would we think we would benefit from that knowledge? The faithful servant in Jesus’ parable was rewarded in being ready every day for his master’s return. The foolish servant apparently thought he could figure out the time of his master’s return and thus could be lazy and abusive. Presumably, if God doesn’t tell us something, we probably benefit from that ignorance. It seems to me that in Christ, we have God who shared freely with His disciples and told them to share freely with everyone, “even to the ends of hte world.”

The secret is that there is no secret. We should be thankful to God that there is no secret.