In my previous blog I suggested that one of the key questions we as Christians should be asking is, “How do I grow in my faith and knowledge of Jesus?”
I became a Christian when I was 17. It wasn’t long before I found myself being swept along by the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement which was making significant inroads into the main line denominations. Very few today would argue that this influence has been all bad and thankfully there seems to be less of ascribing to the devil those from either side of the theological spectrum by those from the other side.
In my youthful enthusiasm I read all the books I could and attended all the conferences and events that were on offer. I didn’t want to miss out on anything that God might have for me. Like many I found myself in awe of the spiritual power and influence being exhibited or spoken of by particular men and women in the movement. I wanted to be a man of God and I wanted to impact the world for Jesus. I also wanted to be a hero like those I was reading or listening to.
Often, on the basis of their stories and claims, I would unthinkingly imbibe their theology assuming that people who seem to be so imbued with the Holy Spirit would also be theologically trustworthy. And of course, many claimed to have received their theologies directly from God himself, so who was I to question God and these mouthpieces of his. Whilst I also read the Bible for myself regularly and systematically, nonetheless, I would all too readily read it through the lenses (hermeneutic) I was being given by these exciting and ‘charismatic’ teachers. Sadly, I hadn’t really taken ownership for my own faith and sadly I all too readily dismissed or reinterpreted the Scriptures that didn’t line up with the theologies of these ‘teachers’.
When I went to theological college, I was then subject to a very liberal and critical approach to the Scriptures which no longer automatically assumed that the words of the Bible were God’s words. Whilst I was quick to challenge and critique the interpretations of my theology lecturers, I still failed to do likewise with many of the popular and seemingly blessed charismatic teachers. I didn’t apply what the feminist writers called ‘a hermeneutic of suspicion’ or for those who are unsure as to what a hermeneutic is, ‘a lens of suspicion’. Whilst we might not wish to read everything with a view to questioning or challenging it, nonetheless, even Paul would tell us, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.”
It is not surprising that after a number of years into ‘ministry’ (I put the words in brackets to denote that ministry is not really limited to the ‘ordained’ or the ‘paid’) I sensed the Lord calling me to simply preach his Word and then as a part of preaching his Word to preach through the Gospel of Mark. This, of course, forced me into an intense study of the Gospel and even more importantly into a deeper understanding of the one of whom the Gospel is written about. Time and time again I found myself being forced to re-evaluate my theology. Time and time again, I had to acknowledge that much of the stuff being touted in the best sellers in Christian bookstores had little to no basis in the Bible itself.
I could give many examples of how my theology was being re-arranged and turned upside down, but I will start with the first and arguably most important challenge.
I had taken a week’s retreat to pray and fast. I began my study of Mark’s Gospel and was immediately arrested by the simple summary of Jesus’ message in chapter 1 verse 15: “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News.” Basically Jesus is telling those who would listen that the problem with the world and people is ‘sin’ (we are all completely messed up) and that the answer is Jesus (we can’t do it by ourselves and need a messiah). As I reflected on Jesus’ words I realised that whilst I would have acknowledged the veracity of these words in my head and with my lips, in my heart and in my life, I didn’t really believe them.
As someone regularly involved in prayer ministry and counselling, I had come to believe that the problems that people faced came from unresolved trauma in childhood and that the answer was to work through the traumas with God’s help, of course, and using good spiritual principles such as forgiveness and even deliverance to eventually bring a person to freedom. In many ways I had unwittingly fallen into a sort of Christian Gnosticism in which healing required right knowledge over and above a simple awareness that without Jesus we are lost (I am not denying the good that can be found in counselling or prayer ministry). In him is everything we need whether we feel it or not and whether our lives are more together or not.
On that first week of studying Mark’s Gospel I became aware that I had lost sight of the very message of the Gospel itself and been side tracked by other messages. I had begun to doubt that Jesus himself is enough and so I had felt the need to find other props, even Christian props, that would help me cope with the difficulties of life when Jesus didn’t come through in the ways that I expected or had been told he should. Simple faith in Jesus did not seem enough for me. I had come to believe the lie that I needed a deeper wisdom or a deeper knowledge of the sort that only the popular gurus of the Christian church could provide.
As should be expected I repented and asked God’s forgiveness and reaffirmed what I had affirmed when I first was saved that, ‘Jesus, you are all I need. In you alone is salvation and life. Everything else is secondary.’