I’ve been working on writing a new book and thinking a lot about our paradigms lately. Paradigms are funny things. We all have one and they color how we understand everything. How we interpret life…each other…God. It’s the fishbowl we’ve been swimming in. It’s our “normal,” even if there’s nothing normal about them. And, because of our paradigms, we often don’t see the obvious truth right in front of us.
Ronald Timothy said this about paradigms:
“Paradigms can be so strong they act as psychological filters – we quite literally see the world through our paradigms. Any data that exists in the real world (or even in the Bible) that does not fit our paradigm will have a difficult time getting through our filters. We are quite literally unable to perceive the facts right before our eyes. Thus, our greatest strengths can become our greatest weakness by not allowing us to see both the need and the opportunity for change. The people who create new paradigms are usually outsiders. They are not part of the established paradigm community.“– (Ronald Timothy, Following Jesus: Our Cruciform Example)
Paradigms are how we make sense of the world around us, which is good. But they can also hinder our growth as human beings if we stay rigidly stuck in them.
And this is especially true as we follow Christ. His kingdom is always advancing. While His written word never changes, our understanding of His Word must. Theology and doctrine are critically important, but not more important than growing in our knowledge of Christ. Holy Spirit continues to reveal what Jesus has already given us.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15 NIV)
Jesus was an iconoclastic outsider in many ways in His day. He was constantly challenging and deconstructing the theological paradigms of His followers. While He never actually broke the Law of Moses, He totally upset the Jewish leaders’ understanding of it by interpreting it in a way they did not learn from their teachers. While the people He ministered to, who had open hearts to receive this new paradigm, rejoiced, most of the leaders did not and had Him crucified. All because He represented a paradigm shift from their religious expectations.
So, it’s critically important that our hearts remain open to what God is doing on the earth today, otherwise we could end up on the wrong side of things. Our current paradigms probably will be challenged. And it may just be God doing it, even though we may be tempted to think He’s not. But as Jesus told His religious accusers:
19 Yet when the Son of Man came and went to feasts and drank wine, you said, ‘Look at this Man! He is nothing but a glutton and a drunkard! He spends all his time with tax collectors and other affluent sinners.’ But God’s wisdom will be visibly seen living in those who embrace it.” (Matt.11:19 TPT)
In other words, we can see if something is from God by the fruit. And the fruit always looks like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal.5:22-23)
As I said before, practice the art of faithful questioning. Keep growing in the Lord and don’t put yourself in a doctrinal box, and especially don’t put God in a theological box based on what you’ve been taught and not on knowledge. It can be a very dangerous thing. The last time God was put in a box He said if you touch it you’ll die!
And if we stay in our box, we may stop growing and live out a diminished existence that God never intended for us to live. In that regard, I will close with my favorite passage from the Message Bible. It says it all about living a life of dynamic growth, adventure, and filled with purpose and joy that Christ meant for us.
11-13 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! (2 Cor.6:11-13 MSG)
Which Christian doctrinal boxes would you say are “maleable” or subject to interpretation? Just asking for your opinion on which ones might be consider flexible.
I see most of the flexibility being anthropocentric in nature. In other words, in how we perceive and experience God and grow as human beings who are following Christ. We even see this type of tension in the internal dialogue within the Old Testament. For instance, the priests or leaders perceiving God one way and the prophets telling them they’re wrong, or have missed God’s heart. Walter Brueggemann says there are at least three voices in the Old Testament in his classic work, “Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.” In fact, this internal dialogue is what makes the Old Testament so profound and interesting, giving us many facets of human nature. I wrote about this in my post, “How I understand the Old Testament.”
But keep in mind, Christianity does not depend upon correct arguments, total agreement, or even doctrines and theology. Doctrines and theology serve the revelation of God and our relationship to Him, not the other way around. They only serve to explain our relationship, they are not the relationship itself. So, these things in theology do change as we grow in our knowledge of God.
Yes, the Parable of the good Samaritan sums it up well, how we care for others decides who we are, amen, fine post, thanks
Amen. Thanks for your comments.
the more we put in practice the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, the easier life becomes, there is no simpler wisdom, blessings, and he did not encourage celebrity or ego, He gave all credit to His Father, amen, never to himself
Congratulations on the new book and the writing, Mel! Paradigms, awesome.
I’ve been having dreams of being in church trapped inside a plexiglass box. Nobody can hear me and I can’t really move about. It’s not unlike your pic of the girl in the box. I had a great revelation a while back, it’s not really me in the box at all, it’s the Holy Spirit! He’s not physically trapped in that box, but He’s simply not willing to move about and speak without our invitation, without our welcoming Him, without our embrace.
Our church is currently going through a transition, looking for a new pastor, perhaps even a new paradigm! People are afraid though, they don’t want to rock the boat, God can be messy, comfort zones are appealing, etc, etc.
That’s very true. I think about those times in the gospels where it says Jesus would’ve passed on by (walking on the water – Mark 6:48), or when He would’ve just left the two on the road to Emmaus before revealing Himself(Luke 24:28-31). In both cases, they would’ve missed their encounter if they hadn’t called out or asked Him to stay. Jesus only explained parables to those who cared enough to ask Him.
I pray you find a good pastor (preferably, one who rocks the boat. LOL!) Just remind everyone that nothing of any significance ever happens in your comfort zone. 🙂
Agree! Confirmation bias is epidemic these days. The more information we have access to, the less we actually use it to expand knowledge. It’s mostly used to confirm what we already believe. It’s what I call “Google it until you’re right!” syndrome. The one place you would THINK it wouldn’t be is within Christianity but it can be as prevalent there as anywhere else. I love your warning against putting God in box. That is a very wise advise!
This is sadly true, whether in the church or outside. We look for people that confirm our conclusions rather than trying to grow in our understanding. I think part of it’s fear, part of it’s that many are taught what to think rather than taught how to think.
Thanks for your comments.
This is good Mel. I have been encouraging people in my church to get out of their boxes (I usually say comfort zone) ask questions, try new things, and dig deeper in the Word. Too many Christians, I think, just sit and listen without ever really growing in the faith and becoming disciples.
Real growth happens outside of the box. IMHO.
Exactly. I agree, I don’t think anything significant happens in our comfort zone. We get too complacent, fear or inertia sets in. We’re not really growing at all.
Thanks for your comments! Blessings.
Really good, Mel. I think many are rightly concerned about deception in these last days, but this can cause an oppressive fear of seeing how Holy Spirit is working. To some, taking the words of Jesus literally is out of bounds.
You make a really good point, Bill. Thanks for your comments. Blessings to you.
The fish bowl metaphor is interesting. We are constantly, mysteriously suspended in the waters of God’s love, but have come to take it for granted . So many institutions (denomination, government, political party, culture, etc.) have their own vested interests in making sure that we see only the fish bowl that they have imagined so that we’ve become blind to the water that supports us and gives everything meaning.
“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’ David Foster Wallace
Very true, tsalmon. The “fishbowl” helps us make sense of things but also blinds us to such manipulation as you mentioned. Love your story, too. 🙂