25 February 2015
How can we contextualise without compromising?
It's a couple of years ago now, but I remember the scene well. It's during the Christmas break, and Ann and I are having a lazy morning. I'm lying in bed reading my Bible, and I found myself in an honest moment with God, as I tell Him there are some bits of the Bible that I find really hard to take.
I should explain: two years ago we were right in the middle of the redefinition of marriage debate. The issue of human sexuality was a focus of so many interviews, conversations and articles. As I lay in bed I was remembering a conversation with a dear friend who had shared with us the fact that he lived with same-sex attraction, but had now decided he wished to explore an intimate relationship. It had been a tough conversation as we were friends, and still are. I was grateful he felt able to trust us with his story, his struggles and indeed, the conclusion he had come to. But my love for my friend, my reading of scripture, and my understanding of how the Church had interpreted the scripture for more than 2,000 years, meant I couldn't just celebrate with him, and say: "It's OK, it doesn't matter" or, "I'm sure God wouldn't mind". I really wish I could have celebrated with our friend. I wish the Bible was less clear – at least from my reading of it – on some of these issues. It would have been so much simpler if the Bible's views of marriage was not exclusively heterosexual.
But as I lay in bed that morning, it wasn't just the issues of human sexuality – some of those Old Testament stories of God at work, His holiness and His judgements can be hard to take. There are bits of the Bible, both Old and New Testament, which cut across my sensitivities, brought up in a western European education system and bombarded by a secular humanist agenda. I'm attracted to God so supremely revealed in Jesus, God who the apostle John sums up with three words: "God is love". But it seems there is more to God than my 21st Century preferences. There is more than the parts of the Bible that I chose to underline, or the stories I regularly read and preach from. As I lay there thinking, I was overcome with a deep sense of my own arrogance. I realised I was in danger of wanting to put God into a neat box and wanting to make him acceptable to my sensitivities. Maybe my God of love was more of a Hollywood God than Yahweh, the God revealed in scripture. I was in danger of reading the Bible and wanting to create God in my own image. It was a profound moment. I found myself asking for forgiveness and thanking God for the Bible, in which and through which, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, He has chosen to reveal Himself in all His magnificent fullness.
I have reflected on that morning over the last couple of years, and have realised how every generation of Christians have faced the challenge of how to contextualise the gospel to its own generation. What stories, metaphors, images and historic truths will best connect and make accessible this wonderfully loving, sovereign and eternal God. The challenge however, for each of us, is how to contextualise without compromising or sanitising the God of scripture, and indeed, the God revealed in Jesus.
At a recent board meeting, the Rev John Glass, our new chair of the Evangelical Alliance Council, brought to us a challenge, as to how we come to know the will of God. He reminded us of Romans chapter 12, where the apostle Paul makes clear to his readers that the will of God is to be found.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind." How easy it is, with so many strong messages bombarding us day in and day out, to find ourselves "conforming". The dominant world views that occupy our daily diet of TV, social media, film and newspaper are so persuasive it makes me want to "conform".
My prayer is that I will see things more clearly and that there will be a transformation of my mind, so I will better know His will and understand His ways.
You can order copies of our helpful resource Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality on our website eauk.org/church/resources