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Too many friendships have been messed up because some look at the Bible, Jesus and salvation differently than others, even in the same family. The problem is that neither side understood that they were victims, in part, of poor teachers and unprepared pastors. They didn't understand the principle of the theological ellipse--the great healer of all misunderstandings.
The core problem throughout 2000 years of Christian history is that men and women have made two circles out of the ellipse of truth. And those circles have become verbal hand grenades that have led not only to heated arguments but to many bloody deaths. Let's call one circle, Pole A, and the other circle, Pole B. Theologians and philosophers call Pole A--the objectivists, and Pole B--the subjectivists.
Take two illustrations: "where is God?" and "what happens when we confess our sins." Objectivists emphasize that God, whoever He is, is transcendent. Subjectivists emphasize that God is immanent. Justification, to Objectivists, is something that happens in God's bookkeeping system that changes our relationship to Him. Subjectivists emphasize that whatever God does already changes something within men and women or justification is only a word game.
Let's see how both Pole A and Pole B can be both right and wrong--and how the battle can be won. After all, there is nothing wrong with hydrogen or oxygen, but if you want water, a new way of relating hydrogen and oxygen must take place--the ellipse of truth or reality.
Let me tell you how it suddenly dawned on me as to why all this theological confusion, even in our own church, happens. For years I sat on committees or listened to various teachers in the Seminary--and left confused and troubled. But, during my doctoral program, everything began to click. Day after day I was in classes and seminars with Buddhists, Catholics, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, you name it. All I heard was learned opinions, debated back and forth, with learned teachers adding to the bifurcations but nothing was ever settled--we all agreed to disagree!
It dawned on me that truth had to transcend the prevailing differences of opinion, which to me were not all wrong. I found myself saying to Pole A and to Pole B: "You are both right." I suddenly appeared as a peace-maker! And that became a new journey in understanding why the Christian church had so many divisions.
I soon saw that there is no truth in the "either/or" copout--in other words, that truth is ultimately a paradox! Or, that there is a "middle way" that so many contemporaries cling to and call themselves "centrists." There is no "mean" between "two errors." The more one stresses Pole A, that much more Pole B objects and the war continues between good men and women, stuck in their mutually repelling attempts to state Truth. (This oscillation explains all doctrinal wars, whether theological, legal, musical, the arts and sciences, etc., for 2000+ years.)
Now let's change directions and realize that both Objectivists and Subjectivists have something important to say to each other. In typical religious language, conservatives form the "objectivist" circle and liberals or progressive (their new self-acclaimed moniker), are in the "subjectivist" circle, although these labels are far from satisfactory.
Each circle is emphasizing something correct, timely, and needed. Even as water is not formed until the circles of hydrogen and oxygen are reformed as an ellipse, so the partial truths represented by conservatives and liberals do not set forth the full picture of truth until they are both cast within the ellipse of truth.
Here's how the average person can recognize either conservatives or liberals. Key words for conservatives (for which they will fight to the death) are: transcendence, authority, orthodoxy, rootage, law, structure, security, and grace-all good words to hold on to. But the historic weakness of conservatives is often a misunderstanding of the character of the transcendent God such as a Sovereign God of predestination. They often emphasize authority at the expense of human responsibility and freedom. Because of these misunderstandings, faith becomes mainly a mental assent to doctrine. Some form of "only believe" is stressed. The result too often is human passivity in the salvation process.
Key words for liberals (for which they also will fight to the death) are immanence, freedom, responsibility, reason, flexibility, meaning, relevance, and personal faith-also good words to hold on to. The historic weakness of liberalism is rooted in its subjectivity. Pietists, mystics, rationalists, charismatics (and whoever else puts human autonomy or feeling "in front" of divinely revealed truths) base their security either on reason, feeling, intuition, or historical research. Absolutes are rarely appealed to, "It must make sense to me" is often heard-a wish not to be overlooked.
In post-modern times, both conservatives and liberals cross lines when they no longer ask, "Is it true?" but rather, "Does it work?" Pragmatic experientialism puts the question, "What is there in it for me?" rather than the more Biblical "What am I going to do about it?"
The core issue is how does one transcend the objectivism/subjectivism dichotomy?
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