From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8
Sunday morning my Adult Education class will – essentially – be wrapping up our series on “Christian Doctrine.” Of course, we never will be completely done with the conversation, because no matter what we talk about the idea is, always, to help place our core beliefs in clear focus.
It helps me lead if I have already written about the subject, so here we are. I have a couple of frames that will likely help me in my thinking process.
First, a “comment” dropped at the end of my post (Saturday) about Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his public statement against Christianity. You can read the post here (“An open letter to Aaron Rodgers”). The comment read, “Derek. For many, God is not the nice guy that you are. He is stern. He is imaginary, of course, and, for you, an image of yourself.”
It was a thoughtful response from an atheist friend I respect. Of course he is right, we do tend to try to understand God as a reflection of our own image. But at the same time (given that we are made in the image of God) surely there is something to be learned from who we are – especially in the sense that Christians are called to be faithful followers of Jesus, the “God with us” representation of the Creator in the best way we can possibly understand. And if Jesus is graceful, compassionate, and merciful, animated by light and love, and self-giving in the most humble yet powerful way, then does it not necessarily follow that we can understand more of the character of God by looking at Jesus than by listening to the harsh, judgmental, self-serving voices that scream so loudly and lead so many away from redemption?
At the heart of my understanding of Christian truth, then, is the person of Jesus, who stands as God’s gracious invitation to come home, to accept the embrace of our Creator, and to invite all persons – no exceptions – to celebrate the fact that we are forgiven, and loved, and welcomed.
The second frame is that of Rebekah preparing her message. It is an amazing privilege, and responsibility, to preach God’s good word to around 400 people every Sunday, plus those who listen in online (when, that is, our technology cooperates!).
I love to witness the process of preparation. It also says a lot about being a responsible, faithful minister of word and sacrament in the Reformed tradition:
The text selected at least a week or two in advance. The prayer, and imagination, and research, and prayer, and reading, and study, and more prayer that occupy so many hours and days ahead of time. The conversations she has with so many people – including me. The concentrated time at the computer. The additional prayer and more research. The writing. The sitting in her chair and reading. The pulling together of so many threads on a Friday and Saturday. The dining room table literally covered with resources and magazines and ideas and notes and thoughts and books. The breaks for coffee. The printing out of a draft. The rewriting. The reprinting. The handwritten changes, arrows, circles, scratched out paragraphs, and additions. The additional prayers. The getting up Sunday morning to attack the manuscript again with still more changes. The praying before church. The work of the Spirit during the 9:00 preaching. The re-writing between worship services. The work of the Spirit again at 11:15. More than anything the “Staying Awake.” (And by staying awake Rebekah means: listening to people, and the word, and the Spirit, and the news, and the world around us, and the church, and the whisper of God in and through it all.
What it means to be a Presbyterian Christian:
These are good frames within which to think about what I believe, and what it means to be a Presbyterian Christian.
We have a deep historical structure in this church; we are informed by hundreds of years of prayer, and thought, and scholarship, and faithfulness to the scriptures, and debate, and discernment, and love, and disagreement, and we are focused – always – on what it means to live in and respond to God’s invitation to come home in Jesus.
I think that’s pretty much it. To be a reformed Presbyterian Christian is to be constantly growing and challenged and re-forming in response to the moving of the Spirit of God, while being grounded in scripture and informed by the creeds and confessions adopted by the church and subject to the deliberations of our brothers and sisters and – ultimately – our own conscience as spiritual beings in prayer and communion with God.
I am a theologian inasmuch as I am a God-thinker. I am anchored in Creator God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and a traveler along The Way with my friend and guide, Jesus Christ.
I think that’s where my class is headed this Sunday morning. Anyway, it’s where the conversation will begin – DEREK