beyond the systems
A note from retired pastor Ron Simkins, with love. -Renée
Hi friends far and near. Renée asked if I would write a pastoral note about something I have been thinking about recently. As many of you know, New Covenant has always attempted to take seriously the Living God, the human Jesus, the Spirit of God among us, community based in seeking and trusting God, and serving God by caring actions involving life, servanthood, truth and justice. And, we have wanted to do this all in the light of allowing God to speak and guide through the Scriptures. Sometimes we have succeeded to a great extent; sometimes we have failed. Still, I am delighted to be a part of a community that keeps reminding ourselves that this is why we exist.
In that light, I will share one of the areas that I have been exploring a lot during the past couple of decades—how should we be interpreting the Bible? Of course, there is much more to say than I can say here, but what follows is often on my mind and heart.
The Scriptures through narratives, commands, guidelines, rituals, history, poetry, prophecy, proverbs, parables, and stories are meant to give us examples of how God has worked in the real world—not in an ideal world or through ideal lives. This means the Scriptures do not fit any of the systems we are all tempted to impose upon them—the real world and real lives never do, and certainly the Living God never does.
So, I was fascinated as I recently reread John Goldingay’s “Israel’s Life” the third volume of his Old Testament Theology. He said, “We can spot our agenda by noting the ‘isms’ that preoccupy us” (pg 331). That started me thinking about all of the “isms” that seem to dominate Christian thinking and arguments today. For examples: patriotism, internationalism, capitalism, socialism, environmentalism, Universalism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, fundamentalism, progressivism, pacifism, liberalism, and conservatism. I am sure you could add some more isms that are often promoted as the system that tells us what God wants.
Goldingay concluded his musing with this observation: “An ‘ism’ will be a preoccupation of ours that may find more or less confirmation or disconfirmation or elaboration in Scripture, but by definition it constitutes our agenda rather than Scripture’s.”
I have come to the conclusion that God didn’t save the Scriptures for us so that we could work out a system for understanding God, others, or ourselves. It seems to me that an honest attempt to hear God speaking to us through the Scriptures always leads to realizing that God is better than I think God is, God is more complex than I want God to be, God is more concerned about my character than I am, God loves people who don’t like me and those I don’t like, God is less concerned about my comfort than I wish, and that none of us has come up with a system that God is willing to conform to.
So, I pray for myself, and for us as a fellowship, that we allow God to keep transforming us toward the image of God that we see in Jesus while recognizing that this won’t fit any of our systems (Romans 12:1-2). Instead, we will experience more than we bargain for of God’s Spirit blowing wherever God decides, sometimes an uncomfortable reality, but the way God promises to pour out new life from above (John 3:5-8). Love to all. Ron S.