Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Reconstructing My Faith: Syndrome, Mars, and the "F" Word

“Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super... no one will be.”
Granted, I’m a huge Pixar movie fan – which means I’m likely to quote a line from one of those films in response to just about any topic – but this particular quote from the super-villain Syndrome in THE INCREDIBLES has been rolling around in my head a good bit lately.

And it’s really not about superpowers – instead, it’s about prioritizing doctrine and Christian practice.

“Every doctrinal point & theological argument & cultural practice can be super important! And when they are all super important… none of them will be.”
Terraforming Mars

One of the biggest hits of the last decade or so in board gaming has been a game called Terraforming Mars… in which players represent different companies working to increase the oxygen level, amount of surface water, and temperature of the planet to make it ready for colonization. The game comes with a huge stack of cards with a variety of projects, actions, events, and facilities that players can use their money and resources to build and/or make happen.

Making wise decisions about what strategy to pursue is an important game skill – as is deciding what things are attractive but unimportant. For example, pumping up your ability to produce energy may feel powerful (and there are sometimes good reasons for doing so), but you have to decide whether the money spent is actually furthering your game plan or simply buffing production.

I think the same thing is true in the process of evaluating what we believe – what ideas in our belief systems are attractive (for a variety of reasons: cultural, social, inertia, etc.) but are not central to our understanding of Jesus and the way we live in light of His death & resurrection? And, more importantly, what are the key pillars that we build our faith in?

The “F” Word

That brings us to the “F” word… and, no, it’s not the one that gets your movie an R rating if you say it more than once. 

It’s “fundamental” – which, in the context of religion and spiritual truth, often gets morphed into “fundamentalism” and then we’re off to the races with performative hand-wringing and wailing & gnashing of teeth.

Though I would recoil at being called a fundamentalist because of the negative connotations that are now Super-Glued to that word, I can easily subscribe to what used to be called the fundamentals of the Christian faith:
  • the deity of Christ
  • the trustworthiness of the Bible
  • the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • the complete inadequacy of our works to make up for our sinful choices and behaviors
  • the role of followers of Christ to share Biblical truth with love and grace
And it is those fundamentals (yep, the “F” word again) that should help me define what’s “super important” and what is, well, less important.
Elton Trueblood (maybe)

Years ago, I heard someone attribute the following to Elton Trueblood*:
There are things in the Christian faith that we should draw a line in the sand, stand, fight, bleed, and even die for. The trick is not to draw the line in stupid places.
We are, sadly, experts at drawing lines near boundary markers that are cultural in nature – some of which I’ll touch on in the upcoming posts in this series. Frankly, it’s easier to defend boundary markers – what says “you’re part of our tribe” or “you’re not a part of our tribe” – than it is to defend the fundamentals of the Christian faith. 

What Does This Have to Do With Reconstructing Your Faith?

Great question. Simply put, everything from here on out depends on giving proper weight and consideration to the subjects being discussed. Not every doctrinal disagreement is on the level of the deity of Jesus Christ; not every ministry practice is as key as prayer & worship. Until we (I) get that straight, it’s tempting to see everything as “super important” – and thereby make some major errors in how we treat Scripture… and how we treat other people who disagree with us.

Two notes:
  1. I'm honestly not sure Elton Trueblood actually said that - or at least I can't find evidence of it anywhere. I still think it's 100% wisdom.
  2. This is the second in a series of posts entitled Reconstructing My Faith. The first post - Rocks, Dross, and Almonds - is also available for you to read and enjoy.

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