Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Christian Unity and the Nature of Salvation 2

Following on from my last couple of posts I’d like to look more at the idea of salvation and Christian unity.

Thanks to all who left helpful ideas as to what a protocol for the Christian life might be: I found them incredibly helpful and it was also very interesting to see what scriptural passages resonate with various friends. There is probably a fascinating study here into the circumstances which sear a passage into one’s consciousness.

In the last but one post I talked about Christian unity and how personal contact and mutual respect makes conflict between Christians difficult. But what of those situations where the contact is via e-mail or blogging? This exercise is a case in point: I have never met any of you who comment here and yet there is an openness to discuss and hear alternative perspectives. I experience a similar feeling when I comment on the sites I regularly visit: (all listed on the side bar). This, I suspect, is because we are a self selecting group and we blog with those we perceive to be sharing a similar world view. That does not mean we always agree, but we can hold those differences in creative tension.

The difficulty comes, when it comes, with the written word: we can not discern voice tone; we can not see non verbal cues or interpret body language; we are in the dark about nuance and often in the dark about humour, especially in a cross cultural exchange. We have different national characteristics when it comes to jokes and teasing and different levels of tolerance about what is the norm. It is a wonder that we do not miscommunicate more than we do, although I am sure we all have a legion of stories where it all went badly wrong and ended up with all out war by e-mail with each exchange becoming MORE STRIDENT.

I have been recently blogging outside my comfort-zone as some of you know and that looked to be working well and then it all went pear shaped.

In terms of Christian unity what I find difficult are those who do not remain open to an alternative perspective. Perhaps I am too tolerant and respectful of others, and I am clearly far too liberal for some people, but I find it deeply disturbing when someone confronts me with a theological issue and tells me not so much that they do not agree with me, which is fine, but that not only am I wrong, I am also clearly not saved because of the view I hold. This of course led to the exercise in defining a scriptural basis for what salvation means or requires which was in the last but one post. Even so, you can assent to all of those criteria we identified and still be bound for hell for not subscribing to someone else’s narrow world view. “I can not conceive of the possibility of being wrong, nor that you could be right because if you are right I must be wrong, and as I cannot conceive of being wrong it must be you who is wrong.”

This is a particular risk with written communication where there is no relationship. How many times have you rehearsed an argument in your head that was going to tell it like it is? How often did the conversation take place like that when you were actually face to face? It is quite hard not to see the humanity in others and quite hard not to be respectful of them in actual conversation: we tone it down, we are forced to listen and sometimes we find our own position shifting. At the very least we agree to differ. There is rarely an out and out fight.

I tend to feel that the phrase “I am not publishing your comment because I am offended” in the context of blogging is often one of the last resorts of those who are struggling in a discussion and I often speculate on whether offence has actually been given or simply taken. Similarly “You are banned from this blog” seems to me to be an admission of defeat on the part of the blog owner who is, presumably, feeling threatened. Alternatively it is a power trip: “You can only comment here again if you meet such and such a series of conditions.” So can we effectively engage people by commenting on their blogs? Should we even attempt to offer an alternative perspective? Is it destined to end in tears with people taking umbridge? A couple of blogs back I asked for views on whether a blog should be an evangelistic tool. "Can you imagine a priest/pastor who has a blog and has no interest in presenting the gospel to people?" (This was a question posed om another blog.)

It's all part of the same vexed question which has been occupying my mind of late.

Back to my college experience: we do not look at our discussions as about being right or wrong, or even as more right and less right. We look at the strong areas of commonality and it is clear that there is always much more that unites us than divides us.

Am I naïve in feeling that that is the way forward?

He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”