In 1992, when I was in the middle of my doctoral degree, I was privileged to hear Dr. Stanley Hauerwas deliver the Slater-Wilson Lectures, which was an endowed lecture series at Saint Paul School of Theology. The two lectures he gave were titled Interpreting the Scripture as Political Act. In the lecture subtitled Why Sola Scriptura is Heresy, he completely tore apart my theology.
It was in that lecture that he made the case that the Lutheran doctrine of “sola scriptura,” which is Latin for “scripture alone,” is inherently flawed. He further made the case that both fundamentalism and classical liberalism could not adequately prepare us to handle the sacred text to which we had been entrusted. In his lecture, he pointed out that both fundamentalism and classical liberalism posit that scripture makes sense all by itself. The fundamentalist notion is that we just need to open the bible, and it will simply make sense. The classical liberal approach was that the bible makes sense IF we have the right tools with which to read the text.
The latter was what had been foundational to my theological and biblical training. I had been versed in various forms of critical method; literary critical method and historical critical method chief among them. I had learned how to study the text for clues that might lead us deeper into meaning, and to this day, it still informs my preaching and my teaching.
I would often find myself arguing against friends whom I had known yet who were essentially fundamentalist. They believed that my mind was poisoned by the academy and that the mere use of the word “criticism” about the bible was blasphemy.
Then here comes Stan Hauerwas tearing down the entire house. He argued that these two ways of thinking were but two sides of the same coin, and that neither of them got at the heart of the sacred scripture of Jesus or the early church. He advocated for a third point of view that found its footing in sacred community.
And it was right around that time that I was also introduced to the work of Dr. Walter Wink. His 1998 work titled The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium contained a chapter called “Jesus’ Third Way.” I have quoted that extensively as I have talked about the teachings of Jesus as relates to turning the other cheek, giving ones coat when the cloak was demanded, and going the second mile. In that work, Wink highlights for us that Jesus is neither practicing violence nor pure pacifism. A close look tells us that Jesus is practicing non-violent resistance. (You can read Walter Wink’s work HERE, and yes, in the spirit of inclusiveness, I am sending you to a Baptist website).
It was here that I realized two things. First, an academic approach to spirituality and biblical studies was, in and of itself, insufficient. There was a deepening, sometimes elusive, wisdom that was continually being teased out in every sermon I preached and every single time I opened the scripture in search of something new. Second, the key to this deepening wisdom and spirituality is entirely imbedded in relationship.
While Hauerwas intended his argument to make a case for the church in the language of what is known as a “neo-orthodoxy,” I have found it in a deeper “creation spirituality.” It has been born out most recently by my discovery of Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest who was also a geologist and paleontologist, in his book, The Phenomenon of Man. It was further born out by Ilia Delio, the Franciscan theologian, in her book, The Emergent Christ.
Their work is about the interconnectedness of all creation, which is then born out further by Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ.
In all of this, I have come to see that the third perspective that has been finding a deeper place in my life is most fully born out in the relationships implied in the two greatest commandments … love of God and love of neighbor. These relationships are what encompass all of creation, and they are the only way forward as we seek to overcome a world fractured by rampant individualism, selfish ambition, greed, and corruption. These relationships confound our dualistic mindset that is based in notions of black and white, good and bad, heaven and hell. These relationships are themselves avenues to a third perspective.
These are relationships that are about the fullest outpouring of self … God’s self-giving love in creation and redemption, and the self-giving love to which we are called as we seek reconciliation and restoration.
The complex nature of all this is then made simple in the creed we so often recite at Wellspring:
We are called to be the church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
So the answer to our dualistic world is finally this messy, loving, hard-to-follow, relational God of ours. Following this God and this Christ isn’t easy, but I am convinced it the journey that leads to life.