Reflection on an Inquiry into Your Beliefs

Those of us who teach theology are used to raising quizzical and suspicious looks when we teach and preach. We are approaching the faith in what is (unfortunately) an unusually critical and constructive way, looking for ways Christian doctrine might be better articulated so that it more clearly proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that does not always hear in our traditional language the message we intend to communicate. Sometimes others' suspicions are well founded, because articulating the faith in a new way might actually compromise it. Other times what is being protected is an older form of the tradition, not the tradition itself. Sometimes the outcome is agreeable to all parties, sometimes not; sometimes everyone's worries are calmed, sometimes not.

If you get in the habit of teaching the faith, be prepared for some scrutiny, be open to faithful correction, be charitable in honoring other forms of healthy faith, be just as charitable in identifying unhealthy faith, and be firm in respecting doctrine that is true.

In McLaren's last chapter, Dan Poole discovers that the church he pastors is opening an inquiry into his beliefs. His community has grown suspicious of the new ways he is describing the faith it holds dear. I have friends who have been put in the same situation, especially when they have rejected modern categories in favor of postmodern ones.

Imagine someone in your local church or circle of friends has come across a paper or an assigned reading or overheard a conversation this semester (or perhaps more than one) that has provoked the same kinds of questions. Write a letter from your community to you, expressing those specific reservations. Then write either a response, or a transcript or report of the exchange that results. (If you are not a person of faith, then you might frame the exercise in terms of friends or parents who do not have to be Christian to be concerned about whatever changes they have been seeing in you.)

This assignment does not demand that you accept the course materials or your professor's opinions. If you want to side with the community against the course materials or me, that is fine. Then your role would be to demonstrate understanding and well grounded criticism. Or if you want to defend us without siding with us, that is fine too. In that case your main role would be to "translate" the material from the idiom that troubles your community to an idiom that might reassure him or her, without necessarily endorsing the material itself.

Please appeal (at least parenthetically) to readings, class time, conversations with students, and/or written assignments as they are relevant to both the inquiry and your response.

Please keep your paper three pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers.

Remember, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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