Get More Rings in Your Tree

Get More Rings in Your Tree from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

The Gospel Coalition has a number of good videos and this one is worth watching and not so much because of the people they name, who actually influenced them: when all is said and done they only name a few! Rather, what I found most valuable are the reasons why they urge us to read, watch or listen to a variety of Christian thinkers, leaders, and noteworthy historical figures, after reading our Bibles. The panel is mainly addressing preachers or leaders, but I think their advice is sound for any Jesus follower. After all:

God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers… (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28 ESV)

It’s very common nowadays on blogs,  Facebook, Twitter and other social media to see Christians quickly overreact, sometimes violently, when  a well-known Christian personality is quoted, whose views lie outside of a reader’s denomination, stream of Christianity or, worst of all, outside of their experience or knowledge of Christian history and culture. In fact, I’ve done that a few times myself! Of course, we all know there are plenty of examples of people not to listen to. If you are evangelical, orthodox, pentecostal or confessional for example, why would you bother with Pelagius, Marcion, Arius, Harold Camping, Paul Cain or John Shelby Spong? Aren’t there enough good, solid teachers in those traditions to listen to, without wasting our time with those whose teachings are clearly out of bounds?

At the same time, can we call a truce on people who confess the same foundational Christian doctrines that all believers have affirmed down through the ages? Let’s look at a few examples.

I can’t help but think that my relationship with Jesus has been enhanced and enriched because I’ve read Luther. I’m not a Lutheran and I’m aware of things Luther wrote that I just cannot abide and others which I’m fairly certain he regretted saying/writing. But, he has positively influenced me in what he and I would agree on, as well as in things we would disagree on: and, both of our disagreeable viewpoints would fall within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Here’s a contemporary example: I am a continuationist, but not a traditional Pentecostal. I appreciate a lot of what Michael Brown is saying, doing, and writing. The fact that he runs in the same stream with some pretty questionable characters is no reason for me to flip out when someone quotes him. And, I’m not convinced by the cessationist views of someone like Richard Gaffin or R.C. Sproul, but we’re on the same team and I’m glad to run with them. In the past couple of years, the charismatics, continuationists, pentecostals and cessationists have been engaging in some vigorous discussion! I own them all as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Some of my favorite commentaries or reference works are by Christians in the Arminian tradition and I am happy for writers like Ben Witherington, I. Howard Marshall and Grant Osborne. As a complimentarian Christian, I know a number of egalitarian Christians I’m thankful to have in our corner, too: Michael F. Bird, Gordon Fee, F.F Bruce, Roger Nicole and Craig Keener come to mind.

I have probably been most influenced by Anglicans, Baptists and Reformed Christians. But, are they the only people I’ll be reading, watching, listening to and citing? No. I want to have a lot of rings in my tree. I don’t want to cloister myself away in some Christian ghetto and miss out on the variety of blessings Christ has placed in His church for my growth and His glory:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10–11 NIV)

Peter’s admonition is to serve up God’s grace in its various forms — this is accomplished through the members of Christ’s Body, the church.  But, I think another implication of this passage is that each of us is to receive God’s grace in it’s various forms, as well. Even if I don’t always agree with, or even like, some of the people God has graced me with!

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