Random Blog Clay Feet: February 18, 2009
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is Truth in the Middle?

I have grappled all of my life over trying to understand where the truth lies between legalism and what is sometimes termed “cheap grace” or the “only believe” syndrome. While I have not had much exposure to the second philosophy and so am not nearly so fluent in explaining it, I have certainly been steeped in the arguments against it that have caused me great confusion when I am exposed to the real truth about the gospel.

Since legalism is very frightened by the true gospel, it always paints anyone teaching it into the “cheap grace” category and then fiercely opposes their messages and impugns their motives. I have slowly been overcoming my fears of the gospel deeply ingrained in me by my legalistic upbringing, but I still have a great many embedded automatic arguments that continue to rebut nearly every step of my growth in this direction. I still remain very confused at times and bewildered as to how to effectively answer the accusations and assertions made by the legalistic, argumentative part of my mind against what are clearly ongoing revelations about God and the real truth of the gospel.

At the same time, it is quite evident to me that the avid claims of both camps are equally invalid in their claims to be teaching the true gospel. Legalists paint anyone not subscribing to their rigid beliefs as being people who are only looking for excuses to sin without restraint. Conversely, it seems that while they live largely in reactive opposition to legalism, the second camp's version of what the gospel is avoids accountability to the principles of reality reflected in the laws of God. It is very clear that these two opposing belief systems feed much more off of their fierce antagonism to each other than they do from a careful, thoughtful study of the Word of God and the leading of the Spirit. But their arguments and teachings still have a great attraction logically speaking – and that includes arguments from both sides. Thus the enormous potential for ongoing confusion.

I am sitting here trying to understand if it is even valid to try to clarify the differences between the two camps in order to unmask the truth more clearly. That sounds very appealing and natural for me to do, but at the same time something else warns me that spending a lot of time investigating what I know may be deceptive and false will only perpetuate my confusion. Trying to understand a counterfeit does not contribute very much to knowing what the true really looks like, it only makes you more familiar with the counterfeit. But my mind is wired to want to expose the falsivity of the opposition. Maybe this is due to years of training and mentoring for arguing our way to truth. Arguments generally try to expose what is wrong with other people's thinking and attempt to prove through proof-texting the validity of our own positions. But it is becoming more and more clear to me that these methods themselves are at best suspect and maybe even fatally distracting.

While collecting various texts to help understand a truth can be extremely helpful and instructive, the difference between proof-texting and careful study of a number of texts is a very fine line it seems. But as I think about it now, I begin to sense that the difference is much more distinct when the motives and spirit are examined much more than simply the methods in which it is presented. As I think back on most of the training that I received through proof-texting I remember clearly that the conclusions were definitely foregone and that the texts were simply used to reinforce a belief already deeply entrenched. There was almost never a discovery process experienced whereby the student was allowed freedom to come to their own conclusions and affirmed for that. Almost always there was a careful micromanagement of their logic and reasoning process to produce the intended outcome and usually the conclusion was provided already.

As I think back about that style of training, it is no wonder I experienced so much excitement and enthusiasm when I was first exposed to real inductive Bible study. This was a method of study that was explicitly discovery oriented quite intentionally. The way that I was taught it was the exact opposite of the methods and motives of the teachers I had generally encountered previously. And while the facilitator usually had a good idea of what the students would likely discover after they allowed their minds and hearts to soak up the real truth from the Word, they avoided providing any foregone answers whatsoever. What they did to was to ask questions designed to lead others to that discovery, there was seldom the sense of agenda or coercion that I had always sensed in typical Bible study before.

I have to say that after that initial exposure I met a number of people who have attempted to conduct inductive Bible studies but failed quite badly because they didn't realize the need to leave out all preconceived agendas. They didn't realize how much they were trying to mingle in the attitudes and methods from the old way of study into the new. They were trying to force the participants to arrive at only the conclusions that they had already determined were the “right” answers, but in the process they tended to ignore or sometimes even repress other insights that could have come out of the study. As a result of this spirit in immature faciliators, inductive Bible study began to get a bad reputation as nothing more than another clever method of indoctrination just like all the other studies had been. I was very disappointed in these later encounters with poorly conducted study groups and usually didn't attend very long when it became evident that the leaders hadn't really grasped the true concepts and skills of leading properly without any coercion.

As a result I also became very aware that my own background of training in the counterfeit methods of coercive Bible study prevented me from being very effective myself in being able to conduct true, exciting inductive study. I realized that I had the same weaknesses because of the pervasive nature of everything I had been trained to do all of my life previously. It would take a great deal more time to train my mind and heart to be more open, less controlling and more trusting of the Spirit of Jesus to lead others to discover truth in a group setting without my trying to over-control their discovery process.

That is not to say that I haven't been blessed tremendously by learning how to think inductively myself. In my own study ever since I first learned how to do this, I have challenged myself fiercely to remain open-minded, to question all of my own assumptions and previous beliefs and to expose myself to be willing to flush out all prejudice and allow the Spirit to have freer access to teach me new things about reality and truth. This, of course, has had the effect of moving me farther and farther outside of the mainstream of beliefs and methods of teaching in the church. It causes some to become very suspicions and even afraid of me. I even learned that some leaders had instituted a ban on allowing me to participate in any significant way within the local church, evidently because of their fear that I might infect others with my untypical ways of thinking.

But my own box has been so shattered that I was released from that there is no going back for me now. That does not mean that I cannot find a place in the body of believers in the local church. But it does mean that I am forced to rethink the way I relate to others, especially those who are still trapped in strong chains of fear, tradition and mindless obedience to deference to others in positions of authority to decide what they should believe. I was raised on stories of the reformers and how they were forced into conflict with their established churches because they dared to think outside of tradition and listen to the Word of God more than the long-established teachings of the establishment. These people were later hailed as heroes for daring to follow God rather than the teachings of men. Yet some of the very same people who hail them as heroes will today heap disdain and reproach on anyone daring to follow a similar example today.

I don't believe that having a spirit of independent exploration of the real truth about God has to be coupled with a spirit of hostility toward the established church. I realize that can be a very strong temptation, but that is because the devil will push that temptation on anyone who is starting to move closer to truth in order to discredit what they may present to others. The devil's kingdom is not just threatened by new facts but is even more frightened by a spirit reflective of Jesus. The Pharisees and rulers in Jesus' day were more resistant to His influence with the people because of His spirit and disposition than they were by the facts that He was teaching. Yes, they were threatened by those radical new teachings to a great extent, but those teachings would not have had much power at all to disturb the status quo if they had not been exemplified in the spirit of the One who was presenting them.

This is where I need much more training. I have been and continue to learn amazing new truths about the real gospel. But these truths will only backfire and become attacked and discredited if I do not have the spirit surrounding me that is reflective of the nature of these new discoveries. And having a new attitude and disposition is far more slippery to experience than simply hammering out new lines of reasoning and figuring out the correct logic for explaining Bible texts.

What I am coming to realize more and more is that both my left hemisphere and my right brain/heart must be cooperatively engaged in my discovery of expanding truth about the gospel. This is the only way in which my life and messages can be used by God to be truly effective and dangerous to the establishment of darkness. It is not enough for me to just present exciting new discoveries in truth, my life must also be growing and transforming my spirit through those same principles of reality if they are to have any credibility and power to attract others to believe them experientially.

But back to the reason that I started writing this in the first place. I am still pondering how to effectively disarm the inner voices that pop up frequently to argue against new insights that the Spirit of God is presenting to me. To ignore them does little to put them away. To try to figure out what is wrong with their arguments may or may not be the right approach. I guess that is the core of what I am grappling with – how to relate to the inner voices of accusation that claim I am in danger of straying from traditional truth.

It still seems to me that there is validity in taking time to examine these arguments that defend past beliefs so that they can be exposed for the fraud that they may be. Many times this process of sifting through, carefully examining opposing ideas and working through the conflicting concepts both prove to strengthen what I am now learning and also permanently disarm the power of the old beliefs so that they can no longer assert themselves in my mind. I believe there is even more value in exposing the false assumptions that prop up old beliefs, and in the process there is also the potential to strengthen and maybe even correct or refine to some extent the emerging ideas that are trying to take their place.

This inner process of sorting, examining, critical analysis and careful heart-examination all taking place together is actually the process of maturing. It also prepares me to be both more effective and less threatened when other people raise those same objections from the outside. If I have already grappled with and resolved some of these arguments and objections from the inside, then I will not feel triggered or threatened when those arguments are raised by others. That sounds very valid. Now, I would just like to know the best way of doing that.

One thing that I have observed over the years that has helped me a great deal is this: truth is almost never found in trying to find the middle ground between two opposing opinions. Whenever I hear anyone talking about trying to find the center place between polar opposites in order to discover truth, I become a bit wary. For time and time I have found that real truth is in a completely different context and is based on realities and foundational assumptions which neither side takes into account. The real problem almost always lies in the underlying assumptions on both sides. And those assumptions are very often quite similar in nature to each other. Both sides have very mistaken views of God's character and His attitudes towards sinners. So the real problems and contentions will never be resolved and truth cannot be discovered by simply arguing about the differences or attempting to come up with more convincing logic.

I don't think I am going to conclusively figure out the full answer to this right now. This is something that is going to become more clear to me over time as I grow in maturity and experience. In fact, I suspect that if I were to settle on a single answer for this right now that I might be setting up yet another pillar of bigotry in my own mind that would later have to be disassembled and revisited. It seems the better part of wisdom to present these kinds of dilemmas to God and then trust Him to grow me into a better understanding of how to relate to these issues and perplexities.