Monday, 3 February 2014

What Do I Mean By Pilgrim Theology? Part 2

I gave a slightly rambling explanation of what I mean by pilgrim theology in my last post by explaining how some recent reading and thinking (and perhaps some older but latent attitudes) have moved me in this direction. In this briefer post (hopefully) I want to try and capture it in a more vivid way.

In doing so I will use a contrast that I used at the end of an earlier post, critical of fundamentalist trends, and that is implicit in the review of Bauman's book referred to in my last post. It is the contrast between the Fortress and the Pilgrim's Path.
[I acknowledge that this involves some caricature - I exaggerate to make the point - and please realise that I am using it to identify certain trends, currents and attitudes; and not to attack or criticise any particular group. I am also aware that there are other models that can be used to speak about our relationship to truth, e.g. witnessing, proclaiming, being transformed by etc. In this blog, I am focusing on how we think about truth, i.e. do our theology].

In the Fortress approach, the focus is on the warrior for Truth defending it against what s/he considers the present attack on it - that might be from secularists, liberals, postmodernists, etc. (or just the unfamiliar and those not in our group). It implies that we can be quite clear and fairly certain and absolute on what that Truth is and we need to build a wall around it. We need to guard it and our group/movement are the most reliable guardians of that Truth. We draw very clear boundaries and police them so that we can determine who is in and who is out. No room for disagreement or much diversity of opinion at all; in fact who's in this 'guardians-of-truth' group is determined by agreement on certain beliefs. One of our main concerns is to raise up the next generation who will guard this truth and pass it on to future generations without any change! We often fire verbal bombs at other groups who think they have the truth or those woolly pilgrims/refugees, as we find that often attack is the best form of defence when guarding the Truth. If not doing that we can sit around complacently congratulating ourselves on our grasp of the Truth and sneering at those others who don't get it like we do.
The Pilgrim approach is quite different. Although the essential gospel does not change, our understanding of the beliefs that relate to it, and of the Bible, certainly does. We therefore genuinely honour those who have trodden the paths before us but we do not idolize their interpretations and understanding; we are willing to develop and change, to forge new paths or mend old ones. We keep moving forward and are willing to explore and consider new ground, or approaches, not for the sake of novelty but to stay open to learn. Openness is key and we hold our current understanding and beliefs with an open palm. We love the companions along the way, engaging in the conversation of pilgrims, willing to learn from widely diverse traditions. This does not mean that there are no wrong paths to take (and some swamps or cliff edges) and some people it'd be best not to follow; but we don't allow our fears of such to set the agenda. Critical reflection, self-awareness, staying in genuine conversation with others' perspectives and an openness to the Holy Spirit to lead us are far better safe-guards than fear or standing still and building a fortress round our current location. And also, one of the best guides for this journey is the painfully honest realization that if we are not learning to love more and love better, then we cannot say we have the truth.

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