Theological Ninja or Sucker?

Today’s post is my contribution to the Rally to Restore Unity hosted by Rachel Held Evans. Our goal is to end “flippant dismissals” and raise money for Charity Water while we are at it.

When I first met Tim, I was 23 and searching for a new church–a place I could call home. Tim came off a bit weird to me at first. To call him unconventional would be an understatement.

He was loud, gregarious, politically incorrect, and even mildly inappropriate (according to Christian standards). He even offended me a few times.

This guy is the youth and college pastor,” I wondered? Really? Uh, okay…

It wouldn’t be long before my judgmental eye-rolls and deep sighs would be challenged. It wasn’t long before God gave me the proverbial Holy Spirit smack down.

What I initially failed to realize is that Tim was no one’s slave…except Christ’s. He didn’t bow down to the large church machine of the 10,000 person congregation in which he served.

He wasn’t a slave to any particular theological doctrine or praxis. He was enslaved to Christ Jesus. Ball and chain. Throw away the key.

In the midst of a conversation one day, the head pastor of the church where Tim served at the time asked him a fairly straight forward question:

“Tim, are you a Calvinist or an Arminianist?”

Tim responded, “I don’t know what that means.” The pastor chuckled, certainly thinking that Tim–the pastor to all of the elementary to college-aged youth of this mega-church–was just being facetious.

“No, really,” the pastor continued. “What are you?”

“I’m neither,” Tim answered. “I honestly don’t even know what those words mean.”

Now, some of us might scoff at Tim’s naivety. We might make a flash judgment and call him irresponsible, ignorant, or spiritually immature. How could he really not know?

This is how: He doesn’t care.

Tim was a devoted follower of Christ, dedicated and committed. He poured out his life to meet the needs of others. He had a heart to see all, and kids especially, come to know Jesus.

He was filled with the Spirit and Spirit-led, operating in full capacity for Christ. He didn’t know what “Calvinist” means because the definition of that word in no way contributed to him serving and loving others like Jesus.

Funny when we think of it…Jesus was never bogged by doctrine or theology. He skillfully and stealthily made others question their own theology without ever taking sides.

Jesus was a theological ninja. We, on the other hand, are often theological suckers.

We allow the debate to distract. We allow the diatribe to defraud. We allow our own fleshly concerns for correctness undermine the Gospel.

Tim got this and he never gave in to church pressure. He was far more concerned with walking the walk than talking some talk, more concerned with loving than pontificating. Nothing distracted Tim from the simplicity and profundity of the Gospel. Period. And no doubt, nothing ever will.

Tim is still around, serving Christ wholeheartedly. He has moved on from that church to another, but he continues to pour into the lives of youth.

Now in his sixties, his health deteriorated from diabetes and hours of dialysis each day, you would think he has slowed down, but he hasn’t. He still wears sleeveless T-shirts (a story for another time), talks boisterously, doesn’t follow the rules, and tells the best stories.

He recently told a story that encapsulates him and his love for God…

Tim was attending a church renewal meeting. A lady approached him and said, “It seems like Christianity isn’t that hard for you.”

Tim responded, “Yeah, I skip all the hard parts.”

I want to skip the hard parts, too. I want to be washed anew with the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel and Jesus’ love for each and every one of us. If people roll their eyes or chuckle at my “ignorance,” then so be it. If I were still trying to please man, I wouldn’t be a slave of Christ. Or, as Paul put it to the Corinthians:

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”

What has ever distracted you from the simplicity and profundity of the Gospel? Have you ever struggled with a particular theological doctrine? How did that help or hurt your relationships with others in the Church?

If you are interested in donating to Charity Water, one of the best charities out there, please visit their site. Please leave a comment below letting me know that you contributed to the Rally to Restore Unity. Blessings and fist pound.

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33 thoughts on “Theological Ninja or Sucker?”

  1. What has ever distracted you from the simplicity and profundity of the Gospel? Have you ever struggled with a particular theological doctrine? How did that help or hurt your relationships with others in the Church?
    ——————————

    1. When I was first brought into the New Covenant, I would get thrown off-track when people would tell me they were Christians and yet not act like one. (Right? Like what does a Christian really “act like”?) It was my spiritual immaturity at the time, since I was still just a newborn. I struggled with this while it was happening.

    2. Ha! Never! LOL! Oddly enough, it was the whole Calv/Armi debate.

    3. I wouldn’t say it helped or hindered. It merely served to put a label on me in the eyes of others and vice versa.

    I’m curious to read how others comment today on this post!

    1. Donald,
      I think hypocritical Christians upset me more than almost anything. No one in my family is a believer, besides myself. My family has continually over the years cited Christians not acting like Christians.

      It is frustrating, to say the least. However, we are all a bit of a hypocrite. I’m not claiming to live a perfect life, but follow after the One who did.

      My family likes to label me. There isn’t much I can do besides love them, pray, and be consistent in my actions and humility.

  2. Great piece Nicole and people like Tim are a real inspiration.

    What has distracted me sometimes in the past is when we elevate the traditions of our denomination above our relationship with Jesus. On occasions it seems that we can get fixated on issues that are about conforming to what we deem appropriate for our church more than focusing on how we are growing in Christ. At times like that, I wonder if Jesus just throws His hands up in the air in frustration and says, “When you’re ready to come back and focus on Me, I’m here!”

    I think the doctine I have struggled with in the past is eternal punishment in Hell (although I do believe it).

    Overall, I think these issues have helped my relationship with others more than hurt because it has helped in getting the right focus on what really matters at the end of the day. It has also been quite humbling (and sometimes necessarily so) because it shows me that I am not always right!

    To this day, I am grateful to those God brought into my life in my early years of following the Lord, who were there to remind me that above all else comes Jesus.

    1. Paul,
      You said, “On occasions it seems that we can get fixated on issues that are about conforming to what we deem appropriate for our church more than focusing on how we are growing in Christ.”

      That just about nails it for me. I really couldn’t say it any better.

      I too have struggled with the idea of eternal punishment. I would hope that at some point, each and every believer has.

      I hear people say “Jesus come quickly” and I think “Uh, no I don’t want Him to come quickly…” Too many people, including my family are yet to know Him.

      Thanks for sharing Paul.

  3. This kind of harks back to the post on Labels a few days ago. I was raised a Calvinist – HYPERCalvinist if I may be so bold. When I was in high school I concluded that strict Calvinism didn’t line up with the Bible, so I ran far and fast from that label. This, of course, put me at odds with many in the community in which I was raised.

    When I got to Bible college, I noticed that the serious theological students felt the need to peg everyone whose opinions they followed as being at some definable point on a continuum between Pelagius and Calvin. (Arminians were rudely referred to as “semi-pelagians”. Pelagius, as I understand it, is widely considered to be a heretic who taught that man was largely responsible for his own salvation.) If someone was so unorthodox as to not fit comfortably onto that continuum, they were dismissed out of hand as being “off the wall,” and not worthy of further comment or study.

    To this day, while my personal theology continues to slowly drift back toward the center, I still find that running into a serious Calvinist leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I suppose I need to get over that.

    I like Tim’s approach. He seems like my kind of guy.

    And, it was my privilege to donate a cup of cold water in Jesus name…

    1. Ed,
      Yeah, I guess I’ve had “labels” on the brain.

      Your comment has me thinking. Why do those studying theology desperately need to place others in a theological box?

      It just hurts my heart. We never see our Lord behaving in such a manner when we look to the scriptures. Maybe we should just study the Bible. Maybe it is enough.

      I wasn’t even familiar with the “Pelagius” term so your former peers would age thought I was downright dumb, I suppose. Wink wink.

      I will admit, that like you Calvinist can leave a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll be praying for you…you pray for me? Deal?

      Thanks for sharing Ed.

  4. First Nicole: I love ninjas. So when you said theological ninja, I got all excited! :) Can I use that term? Really, I love it!

    To more serious matters:

    I hate pockets! Since when is being a “Christian” not a good enough answer? I know that term has been abused, but I never answer people when they ask me “what kind of Christian, or what denomination” I’m part of.

    I think defending the doctrine is crucial, but only when the truth is being perverted.

    For me the calvinism/armenian argument has brought great distraction and struggle in my life. It’s not as crystal clear as it should be. Now, I have made my decision, but that will not define me as a believer or a son.

    The way I see it, some things are worth fighting for, others are not. I think we live in the generation of the “truth” persecution. That’s our fight and we must stand to defend it. With wisdom and piety, now with human wisdom or educational background.

    1. I was going to post a long comment but Moe pretty much nails it. The only difference is that I don’t give a flying pig crap about the Armenian/Calvinism debate (much like Tim.)

    2. “Since when is being a “Christian” not a good enough answer?”

      What an excellent point! So much is summed up in that short question! It’s a good question to keep tucked in our heads if we ever get distracted by theology. I like to debate and discuss, but I’m keeping this question in my pocket to remind me to stay grounded. Thanks Moe!

    3. Moe,
      Sorry it’s taken me a day to reply. I was sick with a stomach bug.

      Yes, you may steal “theological ninja.” Why does ninja just make everything cooler?

      Your comment is great. I so agree with what you wrote. I really don’t like debating theology unless it is necessary to preserve truth.

      Unfortunately, these days, I find that most people who want to debate theology are other Christians. The factions within the church are growing and that worries me.

      I love your point though, that we must defend truth with “wisdom and piety.” It will not be our debating skills or college degree that wins the day, but rather the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

  5. I still don’t know the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism. After reading this post, I feel like I’m better off keeping it that way.

    1. If you really don’t know the difference between A and C then don’t make the logical error Tim did and state that you’re neither.

      1. I was paraphrasing from memory a story Tim told. I’m not sure what he said verbatim. So if you’d like to pin the error of logic on someone, pin it on me.

  6. First of all, I have to say, what an awesome post, Nicole! And such a great discussion as well!

    I was raised Catholic. I was actually saved through the Catholic church (Teens Encounter Christ, Catholic style). For many years Catholicism dictated my faith. I considered myself Christian and comfortable with hanging with non-Catholic Christians, but I went to Mass on Sunday, I taught Catholic catechism, I made sure I went to confession regularly. Many called me a devout Catholic, I called myself a practicing Catholic. After I met Mark and we were trying to hash out how our life as a Christian couple would work I had to make the decision to leave the Catholic church. I’m trying to be brief as I discuss this here, the longer version of the story is here http://www.3-foldcord.com/2011/03/catholic-or-cath-o-lite.html.

    Anyways, to get back to your question. I knew to strengthen my relationship with my then-fiance I had to find a different church (we had already visited some) and I had to let go of my girlhood dream of having a Catholic Mass wedding (I know, who dreams of that? I did). It was difficult for me. I was leaving behind strong traditions and I had to let go of a lot of familial expectations. It was when I realized that none of those traditions or family members had anything to do with Jesus and my relationship with Him that I was able to relax and be comfortable with my decision. I wasn’t letting down Jesus, I was simply letting go of preconceived plans that had nothing to do with Him. Of course from this my faith has been strengthened, my marriage has been strengthened, and we had a wedding that was centered around Christ and we still hear how the ceremony touched the lives of our loved ones.

    There have been times when I am tempted to get into the scriptural inaccuracies of Catholicism when I’m asked by Catholics why I am no longer Catholic. But instead I tell them the truth. That no religion or denomination dictates my relationship with Christ and that my commitment to Him and His Word comes before my commitment to any church. I tell them that my marriage is a 3-fold covenant between my husband, me, and Christ and therefore we followed Christ as a couple and not just the traditions of my upbringing. When the focus is on Jesus, the labels and the traditions don’t really matter. It has been this ability to put the focus on Jesus that has allowed me to maintain relationships with people from my past and I hope be a positive influence on their faith.

  7. Skip the hard parts, I like that. Donald Miller had a solid post recently about how somewhere along the way, scholars ended up leading the church. The focus has shifted from living the Gospel to studying it.

    I long for the simplicity of the truth.

  8. I am so glad you posted this Nicole, The big Theologians today have done a lot to my relationship with Christ. I am so burdened by trying to live up to their standards of Christianity. I don’t want the List….Calvanist/Arminianist….egalitarian/complementarian….if I watch Christian preachers on tv or if I think they are all evil. The catagories are endless and exauhsting. I really would not say I am a “part” of Christian community for this reason. If there are things wrong with me can’t I just love Jesus and trust Him to change them. Why must we dive into theology and teach ourselves what we are supposed to be. Please don’t get me wrong, I understand and respect the importance of theology. It is such a burden these days and I believe too much of it scares people away from the church. Thanks Nicole !!! I needed this one!

  9. Love, love, love! I met with a pastor today who runs “church” type things out of a coffee shop and the occasional community center. It was a good nudge for me that he didn’t even know what “the love wins controversy” was, why? Maybe because he is too busy “doing” the gospel, than arguing about it. Good follow up…I’m still not sure the difference either…or how believing one or the other radically views how I follow Jesus’s teachings…..

    1. Jenn,
      Isn’t is so refreshing to encounter people who are walking with Christ, not spending so much time debating Him and His intentions.

      Theology has it’s place. I am not opposed to discussion and seeking truth. I am opposed to doing so at the expense of the Gospel or in any way that distracts from Christ. I think so much of the Love Wins debate did just that.

  10. I don’t want to skip the hard parts I want to understand the hard parts. I want to know what they are, where they come from, and how someone could decide one way or the other. I want to love God with all my heart, soul, AND mind. Carson’s quote, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith or delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; toward disobedience and call it freedom; toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the non-discipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” I don’t want to drift.

    As to the questions you posted Nicole:

    What has ever distracted you from the simplicity of the Gospel? Can it really be that simple. I do nothing? There really are just three options. 1. Works: The cross is not enough I need to do something. 2. Faith/Works: The cross is central but I still need to do something. 3. Faith: The cross is sufficient I can do nothing. I slip from #3 into #2 from time to time. I love the story in Mark 2 about the guys who bring their friend to Jesus to be healed. Jesus didn’t say he saw their works but he saw their faith.

    What has ever distracted you from the profundity of the Gospel? I think the question of why this way God? Couldn’t God’s plan for the redemption of His creation have been done in a shorter amount of time with less pain. But I’m not the author of the story, He is.

    Have you ever struggled with a particular theological doctrine? Theology is the study of God, and doctrine is belief, so having a true warranted belief about God and Jesus Christ is necessary. John 17 tells us that eternal life is knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent, I would have to say that struggling with theological doctrine is therefore essential. Maybe it’s the big words that scare some but even if you don’t know the big words you still struggle with who this God is and who is his Son. To say that you want to skip the hard questions is kind of like sitting on your grandfathers lap and slapping him in the face, it seems to be historically short-sighted. Right now, for me, the struggle is God and time. What is the difference between infinite and eternal? Is God infinite? How can a Triune God exist outside of time? How does the cosmological argument for the existence of God work with a Triune God existing outside of time?

    How did that help your relationships with others in the Church? I love hearing others in the body struggle with something I’ve struggled with and being able to share how I’ve dealt with this area of belief. That works the other way also.

    How did that hurt your relationships with others in the Church? I still have a hard time when someone is sure they have the answers to questions the church has been struggling with for almost 2000 years.

    1. Dave,
      I am looking forward to responding to your comment. However, my Internet is down and I am having to type this comment from my phone, which is no way to type. I’ll respond fully as soon as I am able.

  11. Another great, thought-provoking MR post! I am so proud of you, Nicole!

    I think another piece of information would be contextually helpful to your readers: Tim is an evangelist. His attitude is like Paul’s after he tried and failed to persuade the Athenians by entering into their highly intellectual philosophical approach. So when he left Athens and came to Corinth, his approach was very different:

    “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:1-5)

    Paul, a doctor of doctrine, determined to be ignorant in order to reach the lost. People in the world see our doctrinal differences as a good reason to stay away from our faith. Jesus told us that the sign of being His disciples was love for one another. It’s pretty hard for folks on the outside to see our love while we are debating on the inside.

    So, Tim is demonstrating the wisdom of Paul by choosing to stay away from debates.

    But Paul also wrote, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15) And he wrote, “when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” (1 Cor 11:18-19) This means that he expected differing views and ways of exercising faith, but that this was for the purpose of discerning who was right and who was wrong, so that the church would learn the truth and dismiss errors. Paul and the other apostles and prophets worked hard to keep bringing truth to the church–truth we are expected to know–while strongly exhorting us to walk in love and unity because we follow one Lord and have been baptized into one body.

    What has ever distracted me from the simplicity and profundity of the Gospel? Honestly, nothing. But I find that too many church-going people with whom I get to discuss the Gospel do not really know what the gospel is, and that is both sad and dangerous.

    Personally, I have encountered much rejection in the church because of truths I have learned from the Bible as taught by the Holy Spirit. But I have also enjoyed some wonderful relationships with men and women of good will who desire a close walk with Jesus, even if our “labels” say different things.

    1. rejectdad,

      I get the reference to the Corinthian church from Paul.

      However, what would you say to the Book of Acts Mars Hill dialogues that Paul was having with the pagans? True, it doesn’t say that he, or they, argued nonsensically, but it does leave room open for the possibility that he debated The Gospel with those chaps.

      Not looking for an argument, myself. I haven’t the time. But, I would be curious as to how you would parlay this with the Corinthian passage you used above. Is it one or the other or both?

      Paz.

      1. Donald,

        first, let me say that I have been enjoying greatly your contributions to MR. I have been able to forego leaving my own comments a number of times because you have already covered the base.

        Next, your conduct on this blog made your “Not looking for an argument, myself” unnecessary. You have shown yourself to be not a hostile debater, but an honorable, thought-provoking brother, IMHO.

        “I would be curious as to how you would parlay this with the Corinthian passage you used above. Is it one or the other or both?” I see it as both.

        The discussion on Mars Hill was exactly what I was referring to when I said that Paul “tried and failed to persuade the Athenians by entering into their highly intellectual philosophical approach.”

        What was the result of his preaching at Mars Hill? “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (Ac 17:34) The resulting followers of Christ (“some”) were few. What do we subsequently read about the church of Athens? Nothing. No later visits, no correspondence, no references. All of Paul’s eloquence at Mars Hill produced little for the Kingdom. I believe that it was for this reason that he changed his approach on his very next stop on his European tour when he next went to Corinth, “determined” to know nothing “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1)

        1. rejectdad,

          I agree with what you said about the failure of Paul’s eloquence to produce for The Kingdom in this instance. I myself like to look to the Corinthian passage about ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’. We are agreed.

          However…

          I still marvel at the eloquence and guidance of The Spirit as He literally spoke through Peter at Pentecost, making that simple fisherman into a grand public speaker of unequaled caliber (save for Jesus, of course) who was witness to 3000 folks being brought into the New Covenant, due in no small part to the words Peter spoke through the Spirit.

          Whenever I consider if I will fail to have the words or lack the ability to grasp the verbiage needed to pierce the hearts of men, I consider Peter in that wonderful moment in time.

          There’s encouragement in that whole affair.

          rd, I look forward to this continuous dialogue with you and with so many others here at Modern Reject. No joke. I like it here. I don’t have to “dumb it down” and I can speak openly without too much worry of being misinterpreted! :)

          1. Amen, brother! We are indeed agreed.

            And look again at that Pentecost sermon! To this Jewish audience, Peter starts by quoting Scripture to explain the phenomenon they are witnessing, and then immediately after the Scripture is completed, he goes right to Christ crucified and resurrected. Then comes more Scripture to support the resurrection as the predetermined work of God, and then once more the word of Christ crucified.

            The content of Paul’s address at Mars Hill, by contrast, was philosophical banter primarily about their own gods and the nature of the Divine, capped off by declaration that judgment was coming and that God had resurrected a man.

            At Mars Hill, Paul never mentioned the name of Jesus.
            At Mars Hill, Paul never mentioned the cross.
            At Mars Hill, Paul persuaded a few.

            At Pentecost, Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ.
            At Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the plan of God through the cross and that his hearers were responsible for nailing Him to that cross.
            At Pentecost, Peter persuaded thousands.

            Paul eventually figured that one out. :D

            Bless you, Donald!

            Nicole, look at the environment you have created. Look at the caliber of Christians you have attracted here. Look at the quality of the discourse, especially when there is disagreement to any degree. Once again let me say how proud I am of you. We love you!

  12. “Nicole, look at the environment you have created. Look at the caliber of Christians you have attracted here. Look at the quality of the discourse, especially when there is disagreement to any degree.”

    Hear, hear!

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