Walking On Water

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:28-30

Why can’t I keep my eyes on the one who never takes his eyes off me? I would much rather walk in the storm with you than sit with my fear until you get here. And I’ve seen enough to know that if you want me to, I can do anything at your word. But in spite of your command, and despite my faith and courage two steps later I am choking on sea water and screaming for help. My willingness, my faith, my courage, and my personal pride can’t overcome the shakiness of my legs. Wave dancing to drowning in an instant. Why can’t I hold eye contact even while you hold me upright?
It felt good to put a foot down on the top of the sea and feel it stop on the surface. It felt better to swing the other leg over the gunwale and stand with you in the middle of a storm. At your word I could defy the facts that I had known my entire life. Water isn’t wet, if you command it not to be.
Why don’t you ever look away? My legs, my heart, my little faith quit on you all the time and then I’m amazed that you step back in and pull me up to stand on my wobbly feet. You know what you are working with. It seems like you would find better raw material, somebody with some muscle tone to their thighs and balance to keep them standing when the surface shifts. It doesn’t make sense that one of these times you haven’t let me sink below the surface permanently. Yet somehow, you go from standing over there across the chaos, to instantly dragging me back upright beside you again. I’m not amazed anymore that you can, but I’m still astounded that you will.
You reach down for the one whose dreams are greater than the capacity of his backbone. You grab hold of the one who doesn’t have enough faith to trust you even in the middle of a miracle. You pull up the one whose courage lasts two steps at a time. Then you walk back to the boat beside my scrawny legs and let me try again tomorrow.

 

Identity Politics over at TGC

Reimagining the evangelical tradition to include voices that have been obscured isn’t just good for marginalized Christians—it’s good for all Christians. Theology from every context offers valuable contributions. The mature theologian takes his or her seat at the table of theological discourse and both enriches and is enriched by the exchange. Different perspectives taken together embody a more robust vision of faithfulness and affection for Christ than they could ever manage alone.

-Walter Strickland in a recent Gospel Coalition article. This article provokes several questions that are becoming increasingly more difficult to ask. The article describes a central idea that American Christian history has been predominantly focused upon white Christian accomplishments, to the point of marginalizing serious theological figures from minority communities. He provides a brief bio of Charles Octavius Boothe, an astute theological mind who was born into slavery during the 19th century, and concludes with some reflections about learning as a black male in a predominately white theological tradition.

“Theology from every context offers valuable contributions.” This statement is an assumption of cultural relativism that doesn’t seem well supported by evidence. Diversity can provide needed perspective to theological discussion, but diverse contexts will not necessarily offer value.

I suppose Strickland could counter, as he does in his article: This is because “history is recounted by the wealthy and powerful.” Ergo, history will necessarily be skewed in a certain direction. This point, however, collapses upon itself when you consider that Strickland is attempting to undertake this very task. All Cretans are liars, the Cretan poet says. Should we trust him?

This reminds me of the objection that history is impossible to do objectively because historians are unable to extricate themselves from their subjective starting points. But the show carries on. N.T. Wright contends that what we need here a kind of epistemological realism, a basis for walking out into the tall grass of historical work without overly cautious concerns of being bitten by the snakes of our postmodern subjective sensibilities. In other words, yes, I have a point of view, but I don’t believe that this will obscure my vision so badly that I am unable to think objectively about my presuppositions.

To continue, perhaps the most important part of his article details Strickland’s experience of being a black male learning in an educational environment fostered by predominantly white men:

My theological education offered me a love for Scripture and a theological framework, but it unintentionally taught me that people of color have little to contribute to theological discussions. I had well-intended white professors who assigned white authors and invited white guest lecturers. In order to become more like my Caucasian professors, I began to squelch everything in me that didn’t correspond to them in order to do “real theology.” I began stripping away my blackness in order to fit the evangelical theological mold. At that time, I only entertained theological inquiry that emerged from culturally white space; I developed a bias against African-American theologians; and I belittled the rich heritage of the black church. I was miserable.

Since these considerations are so laden with moral freight, Strickland must, in my opinion, do a much better job describing what ‘stripping away his blackness’ or ‘culturally white space’ means. Only then would we be able to understand why he belittled the rich heritage of the black church. NB, where can we derive a theological basis for ‘the black church’ in the New Testament?

Furthermore, I’ve read similar accounts across a variety of disciplines, and it is interesting to note how seriously subjective the account is. This is not to say that the account is unimportant, but it is significant to insist that the real issue is not the history per se, but the manner in which the student is processing his current cultural experience in light of that history.

This experience is no doubt paralleled by Asian and Latino Americans, not to mention Native Americans. The absence of an institutionalized Christian ethos embodied by your ethnic community doesn’t provide you the basis for positing one.

Strickland further made an interesting point about cultural context:

Boothe demonstrates that theology can emerge from various contexts. In evangelical circles, however, certain contexts have been given almost exclusive priority. Formal theology has been disproportionately conducted by white men, and their perspective has been standardized. Thus “well-read” evangelicals can gain that label despite never interacting with theologically faithful traditions outside the dominant evangelical culture.

Again, are we asking historians to expand the horizons of their interest, or are we asking them to assume that for every white theologian you will find an equal and opposite black/Asian/latino theologian? Strickland continues:

By normalizing a particular context, issues that arise outside of that context are often dismissed as illegitimate. In fact, theological development from non-white contexts are often only deemed “proper” when they engage issues pertinent to white culture and conform to “authorized” conclusions. This explains why issues that disproportionately affect non-white communities—like systemic injustice, racial oppression, economic inequality, and human rights—have received scattered engagement among evangelical theologians and ethicists.

And here is where we hit a real ideological roadblock, one I am not sure I understand. We have come full circle back to the assumption: “Theology from every context offers valuable contributions.” I won’t even ask what ‘white culture’ means in this context, because it seems like Strickland has leapt into the present. Suddenly, buzzwords in the discussions surrounding racial tensions are being brandished as relevant to the quite tenuous discussion of historical representation in the church.

I suppose the best way to represent this is to say that Strickland says black people were being ignored in the past and they are being ignored now. I’m not trying to dispute that contention. I am trying to dispute whether “being ignored” means that we should always expect to be finding a black, Asian, Native American, Latino, or female Jonathan Edwards in every chapter of Christian history. If so, that is an ideological fantasy that does no justice to minority communities. Rather than being examined according to their individual merits, they will be lumped, always and forever, into groups and considered only within these groups. True merit will be masked by the shade of identity politics. Strickland honors Charles Boothe in his article, not by pointing to the color of his skin, but by examining his life on the basis of how he employed the limited resources he had.

I reserve the right to disagree with myself at another time, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking through Strickland’s article. I have a great respect for the folks at The Gospel Coalition, so I was eager to have this out of my head and open to scrutiny. Please let me know if you have any comments or clarifications to offer in the comments section below.

Growing

Like my thinking, this blog has undergone a bit of restructuring since I first began it in 2015. For some time, I’ve wanted to find ways to make this blog a unique space for Christian interaction over the most important things in our lives.

Dear reader, while I admit that I have not always fostered the kind of interaction that might make this space more helpful to you, I have managed to bring on another writing voice that can help.

I’ve been hounding Matt Bulman to contribute regularly here for a while now. Matt has written a few guest posts here and has agreed to do so more regularly. Matt’s experience, creativity, and style will do much to expand the purview of this blog. I asked him to provide a brief bio for you and I’ve included it below.

Our hope is that The Life of Things will grow into a space where we can hear from multiple perspectives within evangelicalism. I’m always refreshed to find common places where, united by our bond in Christ, we have the platform to speak and to listen together in our diversity. Your questions, comments, and concerns are always welcome.

About Matt

My name is Matt Bulman. I have a wife, Hannah, and three sons, Levi, Nolan, and Jacob. I work construction during the week and sometimes remodel my house on the weekends. I go to Harvest bible Chapel in Winston Salem and am a member of a decent small group there. Here is how I got to here.

When I was nineteen I left the university of my choice to go to Bible College. I was convinced that this was what God wanted me to do and that I would be pleasing God by going. Halfway through school I got married and a few months before graduation my oldest son was born. And then somehow I fell through the cracks and got lost.

I had offered my life up to God with the best of intentions. He took my gift, put it up on a shelf and as far as I could tell, forgot about me. When my classmates left to go to other churches as youth or assistant pastors I was left sitting and waiting. I sat and waited and slowly twisted into something else.

God had disliked me, tricked me into volunteering for his army and then forgot where he had placed me. I was the kid he didn’t want to have. He had to save me because I believed in him but he didn’t have to love me. A couple of years into that I began to see that maybe he was right. He didn’t use me because I wasn’t useful, didn’t like me because I wasn’t the kind of guy he likes. Those were six years of spiritual fun times.

I was still going to church, still teaching a sixth grade boys class and serving in other ways but only because it was easier than doing the work to get out. But as far as God was concerned I quit. He left me alone and I left him alone.

A Bible College reject, too frustrated to keep going and not man enough to tell anybody I quit.

“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

Then, in 2012, Jesus jumped in, slapped me awake using youtube videos of Mark Driscoll, and won’t let me go. It took six years for me to learn that I didn’t have anything to offer God for his approval, and five minutes to realize that he wanted me anyway. When he should have really turned away he didn’t.

I write to remind myself that I am seen, not forgotten, and that I am not sitting in God’s garage waiting for bulk item pickup day.

Laying It Down

This guest post is written by Matt Bulman. Matt works construction, spends time with his wife and three boys, and follows Jesus with the people at Harvest Bible Chapel in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

                When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. – God turning down David’s request to build a permanent temple for Israel to worship God.  II Samuel 7:12-13

“Lead me to the end of myself, take me to the edge of something greater.”  -Frontiers, Vertical Worship

 

You ask me to lay this dream down, this house I’ve wanted to build for you. You say you have another plan, something better for me, a bigger picture that I can’t yet see. You ask me to lay it down, to walk away from my good thing, my great gift for you. I know you say I can’t have it, but God you know how much this hurts. Forgive my hesitation, my unwillingness to trade the certain for the not yet. Let your patience hold you a little longer while I hold this dream as it breathes its last. I’m going to let it go but God you know this is hard.

Why can’t I see your bigger picture? What do I do when my dream looks better than your promise of potential blessing? How do I lay down this good thing I want when I can’t see what you promise in return? Why are the hard times all mine? Why do I get the tears, the agony, the blood and war and another gets the victory celebration?

You command me to walk away, to let another fulfill my dream. You demand my sacrifice, but reject my plan for how to make it. You desire my worship, but rip away my offering. You answered my prayers, saw my tears, fought my battles, and worked my miracles. You are my rescuer. My stronghold, my fortress, my rock, my deliverer, my defender, my shield. You were a forest fire of hope in the middle of the darkest nights. Every hard time you were there and I learned to trust you in the chaos. But why were the hard times all mine and the rewards destined to go to another? I know you say I’m on the edge of something greater, but forgive me, it is so hard to see that from where I’m standing. I just can’t see it and I don’t understand.

But I will lift my eyes to yours and call this back to mind, you are God of gods and Lord of lords and your steadfast love endures forever.  These battles were mine but the victories are yours and your steadfast love endures forever. The hard times were mine but you are the rescuer and the redeemer and your steadfast love endures forever. The tears were mine but you are the prayer answerer and your steadfast love endures forever. It is enough for me that your steadfast love endures forever.

Who am I that you would keep your eye on me? Who am I that you never turned away?  Who am I that you brought me here? And who am I that you would promise me anything? Your love for me is enough, and your steadfast love endures forever.