Nothing quite gets a Christian's gender appropriate knickers in a twist like the issue of guidance. Partly, this is because we all love to cloak our decisions with spirituality. I well remember being romantically rejected with the line: I feel God is saying no. There is no worse line - for rejection is bad enough without it coming from the mouth of the Almighty! Ladies, please, for the sake of men everywhere, don't use such language (God only speaks through Scripture anyway so it's not even theologically correct!)
I can't claim to have my theology of guidance sorted out in my head. Give me another fifty years and I might have something close to one. But the issue has been on my mind a lot over the last year because of having to choose what to do after university and so I figured I'd share my thoughts.
There's a book written by Kevin DeYoung called Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. As the title gives away the book is a reaction against Christian mysticism. His basic point is that God made us intelligent human beings, capable of making decisions and that as long as we are immersed in God's word, seeking advice and praying faithfully about things then we are free to make the decisions that seem best. I read the book around three years and was quite struck by it. Now though, I feel it goes too far and throws the baby out with the bathwater. While Mr DeYoung rightly decrys the sort of Christian mysticism that puts great store in dreams and little in the wisdom found in the Bible he leaves little room for the guidance of God.
Yesterday, on the bus I read in the Metro that a man had died while doing a charity trek in Greenland, a few weeks earlier I read a similar story of a woman who died during a Channel swim, in both cases who can't help but feel sympathetic that two people have died while trying to raise money for charity?
But, at the same time, these stories helped confirm an idea that has been rolling around my head for a while now. The way giving happens in the Western world is a graceless affair and is instead based on personal work.
We've all been at the end of a friend's sponsorship request. They are going to do something particularly hard (or stupid) and in return we give them money that will go to charity. The end result of this is good - money going to charity. But the method is really strange if given a moment's thought.
Let's imagine for a moment that someone was to write an honest sponsorship blurb:
This is a book about theological nuance. For some that might be immediately off putting; others may think that the authors have wasted their time in pursuit of an overly rigorous theological standard; some will no doubt cast doubt on the authors' intentions implying that Keller haters are going to hate and yet a few others will be greatly vexed that Mr Keller is the subject of such, any, debate. Me, I really enjoyed it! And I hope to demonstrate why if you fall into any of the above categories this book is still well worth a read.
Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical is written by half a dozen British Presbyterian ministers criticising Mr Keller's expression of his views on sin, Hell, the Trinity, social justice, hermeneutic, creation and Presbyterianism. As the authors are careful to point out they are not doubting Mr Keller's intentions or his profession to hold to reformed orthodoxy. As they consistently maintain: Mr Keller is a godly man seeking the glory of Christ. What they are calling into question is whether Mr Keller achieves his goal of teaching orthodox truth to post modern society without compromising on the message.
As should be fairly clear, the authors disagree with Mr Keller on the issues mentioned. Yet what is good about the book is that they do not allow their disagreement to become personal. They confine themselves to discussing the theological problems rather than straying into any form of personal attack. It is a mature, sensible, adult conversation they are having - would all such discussion be conducted so! Engaging with Keller typifies the irenic spirit so easily lost in theological debate and a graciousness that befits godly men. I found it a needed challenge to my own writing style to match the authors' graciousness.
There are a lot of things that can vex me about the modern day church but high on the list in particular is the anti-intellectualism of many Christians today. There was a time when theology was looked upon as the queen of all sciences but all too often the trend today is to sweep theological matters under the carpet. Perhaps, as Christianity comes under increasing attack from secular thinking, the easy path becomes to retreat away from theology and take refuge in "just being about Jesus."
It comes out in many ways. The unwillingness of many Christians simply to put the effort in and form an opinion on any number of theological topics - anything from women in church leadership to worship to biblical evangelism. Or in the fact that many are unaware that there is, indeed, a biblical (and non-biblical) approach to evangelism. Or in holding to scientific views with deep theological consequences that remain cast aside - for example, embracing the evolution of man causes serious problems to holding a consistent view on the historicity of Adam, the integrity of the Genesis narrative and all resulting negative consequences.
This has all been on my mind because I've been reading Engaging with Keller - a critique by half a dozen British pastors of Tim Keller's theology. Expect a review soon but two things have struck in particular. The first is that the book is very gracious towards Mr Keller, it debates theology as Christians should debate theology - with grace and love. The second is that the book illustrates the vital importance of theology.