The Discovery & History Channels, and “Honest” Scholarship continued…

Posted on April 14, 2008


(This post is a continuation of a previous post by the same title, dated April 11, 2008)

So then, what about Christian communities wrestling with “one of their own” engaging in these kinds of discussions? Was Northpointe right in ‘accepting’ Dobson’s resignation?

What then, is true “honesty” when it comes to these kinds of wrestlings?

There is obvious discussion around whether or not Dobson’s resignation was justified in light of his “honest” wrestlings with the history and archaeology. He is a beloved teacher, and a darn good one at that from what I read. But the school’s statement of faith must clearly be upheld, and contractually, violation of any pre-signed agreement [1] ought to be addressed; if, that is, it was violated. Perhaps that’s why there was a willing resignation instead of a termination (all this, of course being speculation). This issue is far too ambiguous to come down clearly on any side. Even in light of Northpointe’s website clearly stating that “Christian world & life view taught from a conservative viewpoint” is a value under the banner of Spiritual education, that doesn’t mean archaeological or historical inquiry is “liberal.” I can see things very easily from both sides of the table, and I don’t believe this action was necessarily “wrong” or “immoral.” And I certainly don’t see anything wrong with a Christian teacher wrestling with difficult questions because even Northpointe values the “truth of God’s Word” (same web page).

I feel that my personal position is perhaps similar, and a bit precarious as well, being in a fairly conservative church, yet wrestling with similar questions as Dobson, and calling into question much of what are deeply held beliefs within my own congregation. I even hesitate to blog about this. I imagine I’m not alone. I’m certain there are some emerging Christians who find themselves in positions of leadership and influence who care deeply about their work and ministry, yet are caught in new discoveries, new findings, and new thoughts of theology that are contradictory to those traditionally held (in the more literal sense of the word “tradition”).

So then, what is the “greater command” in a personal quandary as difficult as this one. Does one acquiesce to the umbrella they find themselves under, even though it may be in tension with deeply held convictions, or, does one come clean with their inner wrestlings knowing that it may compromise trust and respect, and even sometimes acceptance and employment? I’ll share a couple points that have been helpful guides for me.

1) Scholarly debates and study are valid for my personal journey, but not always for my congregation. There is a reality to different spiritual paths (c.f. Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways), and as I scan my congregation, the guy who is just off drugs, and the kid who’s trying to overcome her sexual addiction, and the single mom who is at her wits’ end…they don’t care about Nag Hammadi, Caesar’s decrees and chronology, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. And, you know what–if I may be so bold–they don’t have to. Psalm 23 and John 3:16 sprinkled with a bit of Romans 5:8 and others; that’s what they need. Good pastoral counseling and prayer; that’s what they need. I personally want to know more, to delve deeper into the begging questions of history, archaeology, philology, and culture. But it is not my calling, nor should it be, to burden each person with the same struggles I’m having. As a pastor, and even as a teacher, I must choose wisely what to disclose and what not to disclose, to meet people where they are at, and move them redemptively along the Christian journey with pastoral wisdom. I will admit that reconciling those two is very challenging at times, but this kind of discernment is absolutely crucial for the kind of work that is classically “Kingdom” work.

2) My job/employment is primarily a service to the people, not a personal audience. Really closely tied to #1, I believe that though we value “truth,” “honesty,” “integrity,” and “transparency,” values which are common to a lot of pastors/teachers/ministers, etc., the other values of wisdom, shepherding, leadership, and service are of equal value. Too many leaders throw away their positions for the sake of full disclosure, and I just do not believe that needs to be the case all the time. There is a “time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and I must not subjugate my service to the people for any personal inner turmoil I feel. Many may suggest this is dishonest. I suggest this is wise. Your congregation, your classroom, cannot be the platform for these kinds of discussions. There may come a time when personal struggle and employment cannot be reconciled, but until that time comes, I suggest being “quick to listen, and slow to speak.” (James 1:19)

3) Not all skepticism is scholarship. Therefore, I must be truly be honest about my own inquiries, scholarship, and the questions I am asking. I believe that to truly be “honest” about everything, one has to do a lot of due diligence in research, study, and historical work. AND, just because people are asking questions (on shows like the History and Discovery channels) does not mean that there aren’t any good responses, or that the questions themselves necessarily lead towards controversy. Again, back to the whole discussion of the value system of sensationalized TV. These programs are meant to be provocative, and in some ways, ignite within the viewer a sense of drama or tension, when in reality, there may be none of that. And within an individual, skepticism can be manipulated, in some ways, into a self-valedictory declaration of wisdom, insight, or emergence out from under oppressive, non-thinking, pious systems of thought. In other words, becoming a skeptic can feel liberating because instead of being told what to believe, now one develops on their own their systems of belief. Now, I am NOT suggesting that is Dobson’s case. I am merely suggesting that to truly be honest, we must take skepticism itself with “a grain of salt,” and ask deep questions of its origin, and its outworking in our lives. And, we must be “honest” that others have gone before us with these same questions and have come out the other side stronger in their faith, more dedicated and committed to their beliefs, and have written intelligent and well-reasoned arguments why. To ignore that material is, in my opinion, dishonest.

[1] I am not claiming to know anything about the actual contract between Dobson and Northpointe.