By: Lance King
Sunday night’s Divine Dialogue was one of my top 10 favorite experiences as part of the Chestnut Grove community! In a rare combination of generosity and academic rigor, Landon and Zac explored a variety of doctrinal perspectives about “how Jesus makes us right with God” along with a group of thoughtful parishioners. The “nerdy” technical term for this area of theology is Christian atonement.
Here’s why I so loved our dialogue:
- We all did theology. Theological ideas are too rarely examined critically, even by Christians. The unfortunate result is strong emotional connection to ideas we’ve not considered very well. The natural consequence of this trajectory is uncritical religious extremism. Zac and Landon led us to consider our (largely inherited) theological models in the direct light of otherbiblical models- and we all lived to tell about it. Paul might have described this as working out our faith with some fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)
- Gracious space existed for divergent perspectives. In the public sphere, I am weary by ad hominemtreatment of contrary positions. In any disagreement, “the problem” with the [preferred pejorative adjective] enemy is frequently exaggerated, creating the perception that any disagreeable party is patently deficient. “Anyone with a brain knows…” or “Anyone with common sense understands….[that I’m right]” None of that approach accompanied the presentation of conflicting theological models, some of which are deeply treasured by Sunday night’s participants. Even when a contrary perspective was voiced and/or continued being discussed in subsequent emails), grace was the understood backdrop. Hallelujah!
- Appropriately technical, and yet accessible definitions.Zac and Landon knew their material and their dialogue partners really well. They distilled hefty historic ideas often described in thick volumes into manageable summaries. They reduced verbiage well without oversimplifying into tweets and memes. Engaging with complex ideas is challenging! Digesting them well enough to communicate them to the uninitiated is even more difficult. Yet they accomplished this, sometimes redefining terms in ways I had never heard (ie- atonement, wrath, sin). The only memorable exception was Zac’s portrayal of “Recapitulation Theory” in which he got pretty scholarly… and I loved it extra!
- I grew. Not only did I gain new definitions of familiar ideas, but I had largely dismissed one of the six Christian atonement theories from my active theology because it no longer made sense to me. However, Landon’s re-conceiving of that theory allowed me to “put that club back in my bag” (to borrow Landon’s metaphor for our theological ideas being like a set of golf clubs). As one who is accustomed to being a teacher, it was exciting to be challenged and stretched by his renewed idea, and then accept the idea which I disagreed with previously.
“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by and blown about by every wind of doctrine,… We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:14-15
Developing mature beliefs is a central task in a transformative Christian journey. I am encouraged that Paul spent decades actively stretching and evolving in his faith. (contrast Acts 8 with Romans 8) I am even more encouraged that Chestnut Grovians are still engaged in the same pursuit today- the “nerdy” technical term for this is “Formation” – growing up, together.
Paul told his friends that God’s gifts were given to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the son of God, to maturity. Ephesians 4 I’m giving thanks this week that our formational friends, Landon and Zac take this idea seriously, and that we all benefited this week from their many, many God-given gifts. Thanks be to God!