Friday, 14 February 2014

Theological and Spiritual Freedom

It will be obvious from previous posts that I believe part of being a pilgrim on the journey of discovery involves a large degree of theological freedom. That is, it means being willing to explore different perspectives and not to be locked into the accepted orthodoxy of your group or tradition. Being free to question, challenge, explore. Such freedom is not without its dangers or challenges. Freedom is dangerous in many ways - witness the aftermath of the Arab spring, for example. It can be tempting to want to retreat to the 'safety' of theological dictatorship or conformity - believing what we are told or what everyone else believes, without question. But I believe the value of freedom is such that it is worth learning and attempting to negotiate its challenges and pitfalls (and there are many) in order to enjoy it - that's true of social, political, spiritual or intellectual freedom.

I think that this freedom of the pilgrim, the explorer, is actually part of a wider picture and fuller experience of freedom that the Holy Spirit wants to bring us into, and it's a vital part of what he is saying to the church in our day. Many are talking about how fear has led to control but that, in contrast, love leads to freedom. When we know how loved we are, we are able to be honest. When we know God loves us even when we don't understand or have struggled with some of the things we thought we were meant to believe and could not question, then we actually become free to be honest about our questions, and about what we think are actually better perspectives even if they are not what we thought we were supposed to believe.

By spiritual freedom I mean the freedom from fear, or from law, from anxiety, past wounds and memories etc. or anything that dominates our life and incapacitates our spirits. God is set on setting us free. And it is truth that sets free, not just 'spiritual' experiences. Such truth is more than just academic theological propositions. But it does involve theology - reflecting on truth as God reveals it. So being willing to review our current beliefs and explore new perspectives is closely connected to our spiritual/emotional freedom. I slowly had to come to realise that I was locked up by stuff for many years, partly because I didn't think I could believe certain things that I needed to in order to start the journey of becoming free. And to some extent, certain things I believed kept me bound. I am finding that my journey of spiritual freedom is taking place alongside this theological exploration. We are changed by changing the way we think (Rom.12:2).

When it comes to theological freedom - the openness to review and revise our current beliefs and assumptions, and to explore other beliefs and perspectives - there are potential pitfalls. We can stray into the arrogance of the 'new convert' if we change our position on something, or the intellectualism of the over-thinker allowing 'knowledge' to make us proud, into independence, subjectivity or just into plain heresy. But we can't let fear of the pitfalls set our agenda. And those in the fortress will always use fear against those who try to get out of it.  But we do need safeguards, so here are some suggestions.
  1. keep Christ at the centre of everything;
  2. keep love for God and others (not just right beliefs about God) as primary;
  3. maintain humility and openness to listen and learn from others, including those with whom we disagree and those we are theologically moving away from;
  4. stay in community and engage with fellow pilgrims on the journey;
  5. seek to listen and respond to the Spirit, in authentic and fresh ways and not just with learned behaviour;
  6. stay rooted in the Story of Scripture but willing to review how we have understood it (more on this soon). 
Finally, truth sets free.But one of the paradoxes of the Scripture is that spiritual freedom actually involves a new servitude or slavery - to God, Christ, righteousness and obedience (see Romans 6:18-19, 22; Eph.6:6; 1 Pet.2:16). Our slavery is not to accepted orthodoxy but to radical obedience - to living out what we learn as expressions of the love of God and love of others. Our freedom is for the purpose of serving in love (Gal.5:3)  - and this is true of theological freedom as well as spiritual freedom. Fresh theological thinking is not an end in itself to stimulate intellectual curiosity. It is to serve the church in its calling to witness to and manifest God's beautiful and different kingdom.

No comments:

Post a Comment