Experience has a strange way of bringing a person to the depth of realism. It gives you the chance to wrestle with your own insecurities and biases up close and personal. As I get older and experience more of life, I am blown away by all that I don’t know about God. I grew up in the “name it and claim it” doctrine but matriculated to seminary where a reform mind became my standard. I studied Calvin, Luther and some of the other great theological minds as they wrested through the writings of Paul. I identified myself as a Calvinist (and to some extent I still do.) But on the flipside I ostracized Bishop TD Jakes, Noel Jones and Myles Munroe because they did not fit into my theological box-at the time.
They did not hold to a strict doctrinal stance like Calvin or Luther but they were the preachers that helped build my salvation foundationally. When I was growing up in the faith, they were the ones that encouraged me through their preaching but reform theology caused me to separate myself from these great pastors of the faith. There may have been some Modalism in operation but they still encouraged me. Yes, they may have believed in certain other doctrinal issues that differed from my newly reform mind but they were the face of my community. Some of them may have been Arminian in their position on salvation but they still believed in salvation nonetheless. Yes, some of them may have whooped a little but that was their right to do so and part of a living tradition in the black community.
My point here is that I am not wise enough to know if God is more pleased with one set than the other. Yes Jakes and Calvin are on two different sides of the spectrum but I believe they both have a profound love for God. Deep down I believe that Calvin was a product of his environment that set the table for the execution of a Servatus. I believe that Jakes loves the Lord and his method of teaching is beneficial for those in his congregation. Though Calvin and Luther had perceived beef with each other, I still think they ultimately understood of the others stance.
The end result is that I have my issues with Calvin, Luther and Jakes much the same but there are some things that each of the do so well that outweighs my intellectual disposition with each theologian/pastor. My reform brother would dare not mention Jakes in the same breath as Calvin but I submit that Calvin did not have the appeal of a Jakes. I would also note that many in the Pentecostal church would dare not mention Calvin the same breath as Jakes but from a strict theological interaction Calvin stands in a league of his own. My sophomoric understanding of existentialism allows me to identify with both groups with the ever-growing sense and belief that God is “transforming us all into the image of Christ.” I hold to Calvinism with tension as much as I hold with tension the teachings of Jakes. I do not think either of these men are/were blatantly out to hustle people with doctrine but they contextually and creatively found convening spaces to present the Gospel. I am not convinced that either of them had/have it down solid but that both are/were seeking greater understand of God. Thus I reiterate-Experience has a strange way of bringing a person to the depth of realism.
I have grown discontent with the “system” of church. This is not to cast dispersion upon the biblical understanding of church but to identify the mis-education that have befalling the church. It has embraced a prideful stance of bigotry, hatred, racism and sexism disguised in Christian jargon and labeled as religious zeal and piety. It has managed to produce a hate based upon personal dislikes that are not comparable to the hatred that is described by God. Ambiguous theological concepts of the reformers became standard epitaphs that are centered upon inhuman practices of its founders. Though the concepts may be biblically correct the perspectives are humanly divisive. So what it produces is a sacred white boy club that other ethnicities and women have no real chance to ever find solace without conforming to those tenets-at least in those spaces, if at all.
This is not a safe haven speech for egalitarianism but a stark view of the theological perspectives that supposedly galvanized the Christian church when in actuality it was the impetus for the system of church. A high level of importance was placed upon transference of information-evangelism, but little was placed upon building community. (This is why John Calvin and Martin Luther can be embraced though they had pure hatred for one another but James Cone is viewed as a hater because he admonishes the need for the oppress community to strive. Also why Jonathan Edwards can own slaves and still be deemed the greatest pastor /preacher ever in America but Jeremiah Wright, a Marine veteran and pastor, is demonized by the media regardless of the fact that he established many major programs in a poverty stricken community.) It is important to understand that building community or a kingdom is only possible if there is shared information. The information cannot become a substitute for community. So sharing just for the sake of sharing becomes an aimless tool used to build the system for growth instead of building a people for community. The system of church has become just that- shared information. The power of the church is slowly dying and people are finding discontent with the institutionalized, systematized, programmatic process that disconnects with those who ask the church to defend itself in the name of truth.
I write this today because it was the “system” of church that taught me that homosexuality was vileness of the vile. They would say”we hate the sin but love the sinner” but never displayed that love. Never allowed the very word (logos) that they said was life changing ever do what they proclaimed. They would ridicule the homosexuals into leaving or flat out faking it in order to have fellowship. Because this was so embedded in me, I relinquished all ties with anything that had anything to do with homosexuality. I used unsavory names for homosexuals and thought they were the scum of the earth-go figure. With that I lost the opportunity to read one of the greatest writers who ever lived-James Baldwin. It was Baldwin that showed me a love for God and humanity that Calvin and Luther had no clue. He lived his theology before all men and was willing to tell all how he saw America through that theology. He would denote:
I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
He viewed America through a critical lens because of the love he had for the country and his kinsmen, not because of some pseudo-theological doctrine that implies love. It was Baldwin that caused me to see the system of church for what it is not-the church. The system of church breeds contempt but church embraces an equality of disciplined love. To James Baldwin, I owe that type of perspective.
Rest in Power on your born day…