Like the Beach Boys, I’ve been all around these States of ours in the last three years, and I have an observation about church unity: everyone between 20 and 40 packs a computer, reads blogs, and dresses the same. Even seminary students these days are wearing blue jeans, flip flops (preferably Rainbow!), T-shirts, and they have spikey hair and funky facial hair. I have started wearing color T-shirts, but no one seems to have noticed. (There is a rumor that even at Dallas students don’t wear ties.) Now for some serious thoughts:
Most of the schools, and also some of the churches, are clearly aware of their doctrinal distinctives. None more so than Westminster. In spite of theological differences, Christians welcome other Christians — which is to say we really do try to live out our creedal confession of the communion of the saints and the unity of the Church. I surely experienced this at WTS.
If we can’t get along by loving one another, trusting one another, listening to one another, and conversing with one another, then how can anyone stand up and say, “Now there’s a group of Christians.” (The way we all took notice of the Amish recently.)
This does not mean there are not some strong differences and disagreements. I disagree with some (as I did in my paper on emerging), but in our disagreements we need to learn to keep it from becoming personal. There are two elements to this: dislike for another and the fear/pride of being shown wrong. Most of us get into trouble for both at times, but we need to be aware of both and do our best to avoid them.
Case in point: I saw a marvelous exchange at Westminster between Michael Horton and John Franke — let’s call Michael a conservative Reformed thinker and John a more progressive one. John is willing to take risks with his ideas, and he has done so, both in his book with Stan Grenz and in his Character of Theology. (By the way, I’d much rather read a risk-taker than someone who is going to tell me what I already believe; I like the challenge, the pleasure of a new idea.)
Now Michael disagreed with John; John sat there and took it; nodding his head; jotting down notes; and he got up and said that Michael was right about some of what he said and that some of it was subject for further conversation. Admirable. Admirable. Admirable. Michael was calm, efficient, clear, and that sort of thing. John was kind, grateful, and clearly one who thought theology was done in context and conversation.
Sometimes we disagree too strongly with one another. Case in point: there was an interchange with a student and me Friday night in an open session. As it turns out, he felt he was inappropriate in the exchange; the next morning he came to me immediately and apologized and asked for forgiveness (which I, of course, gave and had I been a little more liturgically comfortable, I would have made the sign of the cross — I did this to myself — because it is the cross that creates the reconciliation we were experiencing). I was moved by this student. I think this is what it is about.
Wherein lies our unity? Not in our “light” but in our “life.” Not in what we know, but in the One we do know.
A final word: everywhere Kris and I go we meet new people, we trust new people, we gain the confidence of new people, and we find new people to be our friends. Most of these people we don’t even know — maybe we’ve met briefly. I had never met Tony and Jessica; I’ve only had a few conversations with Peter Enns and Michael Kelly and Michael Horton and John Leonard and Dan McCartney, but I’ll tell you this: I’d be glad to sit down with anyone of them over dinner, or over some libation on my back porch, and just be friends. It is our form of that ancient Christian practice called hospitality.
“Receive one another.” We’ve been received. Therein lies a real expression of our unity.