I visited a new small group this week with a few friends, and had quite a reaction to it. I don't want to make this post into a cynical diatribe, and I don't want censure anything to which I've only had a one-time exposure. SO I'm going to stick strongly to what I felt, emphasize that they're initial reactions, and hopefully give them some grace. Rather, give him some grace.
I say 'him' because it kind of seemed like a one-man show. To be fair, I think I just had different expectations, and came from the background of other small group that are discussion based. I vaguely agreed with the leader's conclusions, in part because they were so general (we must be in Christ, and not just say a sinner's prayer to be saved, we ourselves must be found in Christ), but quite a few things that he said on the way to those conclusions rubbed me the wrong way.
For example, he frequently mentioned how we can't trust our minds, how they are wicked and corrupt. He even alluded to the uselessness of professors/theology/books, etc, because you need to go right to the source--Christ. The Holy Spirit is our teacher (format: talking at us a while generally, reading I John 2:6 to the end of the ch, talking at us almost verse by verse, taking a couple questions at the end.).
He rejected the idea of spiritual seasons: eventually, you will come to a place where your spiritual walk does not change. Other things may change, like your job, living situation, etc., but God does not change, and you will comprehend his rock-like faithfulness.
He also said 'brethren' a lot. There were a lot of brethren in the room, but there were at least 4 or 5 'sistern' too. :) Ok, maybe that's a little unfair. The passage lent itself to that kind of talking, speaking to the "old men" and the "young men". I've gotten spoiled with my TNIV translation--I had "old men" and "young people" and "dear children" instead of "little children."
Before any gentle reader jumps to nazi-feminist conclusions, maybe I should add my view about the whole gender translation thing--in a nutshell--
I don't think you can get around the idea (I would even say perhaps, the truth) that language affects thought. What you read shapes you, from the ability to reason, grasp concepts, and enlarge your world and perspectives. This places importance on how gender is translated. If the Greek means anthropolous (sp?? it's been a while), then:
1. Your audience (all of it) needs to recognize that it is MANKIND--male and female
2. It should be translated as 'people'. Or something to that effect.
I think that people take it way too far, even changing the lyrics to some hymns (I heard a horrid example of trying to change a verse in "Holy, Holy, Holy," because it said, 'though the eye of the sinful MAN thy glory may not see," which is such a fabulous verse and my favorite). And the whole he/she thing is just a mess. But when possible, I think there is value in ensuring that everyone really does know that it is mankind, not male.
One more thing--it may be valuable to recognize that we're coming up against centuries of patriarchal dominance in theology, and so it's not simply a matter of clarifying language and the thought processes behind it, but perhaps even reversing some of it.
And just as a woman, I find that it does make such a difference to see 'people' and even, when I'm just reading the Bible, substitute 'women,' 'her,' etc. for the masculine. More personal. It also keeps me from letting men take all the heat--they meant me, too! :)
So there you go...I'd be interested to see if the above views qualify me as a feminist or what different denominations would think of them.
Back to the small group leader--like I mentioned above, I did agree with some of his conclusions--of course God is our rock and is unchanging. But of course our spiritual walks change! I mean, I see what he was getting at; it is valuable to have consistency with your habits of drawing closer to Him, and in the process of maturity, there are some things that you take more and more for certain--e.g. I do trust you, you do love me, I will live to glorify you.
But WE change, and it seems like at every turn, those same foundational beliefs are questioned and put to the test and re-learned in a newer, deeper way.
What would a person in a season of doubt, who can't hear God even though they are longing to, feel about his statement?
He said something to the effect of, "Don't let scholars or people tell you that there are spiritual seasons, ups and downs." That made me wonder if he had ever been in a serious relationship, romantic or otherwise (he is recently married...I wanted to meet his wife, but didn't get a chance to. I always want to meet people's wives. It's interesting). Of course there are ups and downs, seasons of breaking apart, seasons of rebuilding, seasons of seemingly-distance, and seasons of close intimacy.
And that leads me to the point where he seemed to really contradict himself: throughout the night, he said hundreds of things that were of himself (not from a book, not directly from the Bible, but just his thoughts offshooting from... whatever). He did this with all the forwardness and authority of one who was telling the gospel truth.
Yet at the beginning of the night, he cautioned us that whatever he said, and whatever any preacher might say, was not to be taken as automatically from God, but that you needed to ask God yourself what He was revealing to you. And ok, I'll give you that. But not to the extent that you should reject the insights of those who have devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures.
It was the classic 'just read the Bible for yourself.' Take it for face value. But without taking into account that you are a product of your generation and of those who came before you--you are reading it through the filter of the Reformation and American culture. And by studying theology or other pastors' sermons or listening to professors, perhaps we can be aware of our own biases and learn more. In contrast, the leader mentioned how he had refused to read a certain theology book because he was learning from the source--the Holy Spirit--and knew that he wouldn't get anything out of it.
Anyhow, to wrap things up, I wasn't sure how to respond. Apparently I hold an equally pompous position of thinking that I know exactly what's 'wrong' with him, and am much more enlightened. And it is interesting that we did have a few vital things in common--e.g. being open to and listening to the Holy Spirit. Not being satisfied to simply listen to sermons, but striving for direct intimacy with God (kinda like Glenn Packiam's series on "Secondhand Jesus").
But I just saw so many things that are so stereotypical, especially in...ok I'm going to unfairly slaughter a label here...the evangelical community. That leaves no space for cross-cultural awareness. Or women in leadership, frankly (heck, we're saved through childbearing, right? Paul says so!).
And I'm not sure how to respond. Do I cowardly go back to the groups of people that agree with me? Post a blog in safety, pretty sure that most of the people who might read it are also on the same page?
Or do I continue to go to the group with the mission to enlighten them all (how prideful is that??)?
I was going to ask a few pointed questions couched in gentility, e.g. "What do you think of seminary? useful/useless?" and " You mentioned quite a bit that the mind is wicked and deceitful...How do you feel we love God with our minds?" But then question time was over.
But I really don't know how to respond. There was some value in what he said, and some people seemed to get a lot out of it. Maybe it was what they needed to hear--maybe, at this point in their walk, they need someone to be 'god' for them and led them through what to think (even though he was telling them not to, he seemed, at every turn and in every mannerism, to be setting himself up as the sole authority on Scripture). WHO KNOWS!!
Now that I've gotten some stuff out and have come to this happy conclusion, I need to read and go to bed.