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Preface: Bio / Bias

In this opening preface I want to set the tone for all that follows. I (you the reader also?) believe what we believe because of a number of factors. In theory Scripture, and hopefully not just theory but also that an honest reading of Scripture has been a (major) factor. Yet there are also other personal elements (hence the short bio) where we have been influenced by those we have met, been introduced to and read. Experiences in life shape our theology. I also try to indicate that a bias is present too. We are not simply neutrals, but will have some leanings in one direction or another. Some aspects of what we believe are because we would rather believe something than an alternative... and we can almost always find someone (or even a text or two) we can quote that 'proves' we are right.

I am not seeking to defend the rightness of my beliefs. I have arrived at them over years and am pretty settled with them, though am aware that there are those who could correct me! I am looking also for readers and those involved in the discussions to approach with the same spirit. To be non-defensive, so able to listen to those who hold to a different perspective, but are not simply going to change through weight of opinion.

I decided to write these booklets being as open and honest as I could. I have been a follower of Jesus, and a reader of Scripture for decades. That maybe should have brought me to a place of maturity, but it is also as likely that I have become more set in my beliefs than ever. I hope I can change but I am not likely to just swing from one set of beliefs to another. In the light of that I do not present what is here as 'the final word' or that what I believe is more in line with the truth than someone else. However, the positives I suggest in this non-defensive approach are that we can enter into open dialogue with each other, influence each other from a perspective of listening to one another rather than speak at one another.

There is probably no great value in throwing truth at someone who is opposite to us and also set in their ways, hence I am proposing that all discussion is dialogue, that there is a gentle speaking and a genuine listening to one another.

I make reference early on to Robert Johnston's paper where he proposes that there has been a growing evolution of what the term 'evangelical' describes. I consider his paper very helpful as many times there are those who think to be evangelical means a very fixed fundamentalist approach to Scripture and theology. The term 'evangelical' might / might not be helpful and I do not consider that someone has to embrace the label - nor necessarily reject it. (After all even the term 'Christian' is a label. 'I am a Christian but not like...'; 'I aspire to be a Christian like...')

In answering the two questions he presents (beliefs - based on the authority of Scripture) and (reconciliation to God - the cross of Jesus) we, along with many others, can probably tick the two boxes... but the scope for divergence is enormous even once we have ticked those boxes. The Calvinist, believing that Jesus died for the elect, and the Universalist, believing that all are reconciled to God through the cross, tick the same two boxes! The pro same-sex marriage and the ardent believer in everlasting torment likewise do.

The positives are that we can explore more freely without a fixed boundary being set first. We can be progressive in our thinking, and ditch fear that somehow truth is narrowly defined. We can probably also be more agnostic over certain issues, or hold to 'my answer is somewhere on the spectrum between A and B'.

Alongside this there has been considerable research on 'stages of faith' that suggest the tight box of church has both enabled people who come to faith to grow and at the same time set limits on how far they can grow!

(I have an article on stages of faith at: https://3generations.eu/stages-of-faith).

The term 'evangelical' means something and its use probably has value in certain contexts. Too often it has been captured by those who are veering toward a fundamentalist approach to faith. I will refer to 'hard-line' evangelicals in the text, though perhaps those I describe should be termed 'mainline' evangelicals.

With the shift it is much harder to draw lines. The one who believes that Jesus died only for 'the elect' and not the whole world believes that on the basis of Scripture (though of course I cannot see how they do this!), and the one who believes that all are saved / will be reconciled to God (Universalism) equally believes what they believe on the basis of Scripture.

Welcome to the series and welcome whatever set of convictions you come to it with.

Questions to consider:

  • How aware were you of a shift in the past decades with regard to the term 'evangelical'?
  • Are you comfortable with the kind of shift that Johnston describes?
  • What areas would make you uncomfortable when the wider discussions are opened up?
  • Are there core elements that you would consider are 'no-go' areas, questions that cannot be asked?
  • How comfortable are you to consider the aspect of humanity that I am putting forward - many classic views have humanity as 'totally depraved' and any good that is done has no eternal value, being simply 'filthy rags'. I contend that is not the biblical view.

Those are not questions to be answered as per some exam paper(!) but will help us as we come to the opening session. I think the more we can be open to share and to listen the greater the benefit there will be for each of us.

In our first session we will have an opportunity to share a little of our journey on such issues as I suggest above. All on the basis of listening and openness.

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