What the Other Guy Says
Lately I’ve been reading a devotional book written by a Coptic Christian monk entitled The Communion of Love. It is a challenging read from a man who lives in radical devotion to Christ. It is not, however, an easy read.
It makes me uneasy because the author, Matthew the Poor, takes obedience to Christ and a God-centered life to a degree that I must confess that I do not. It is not easy to read because he is speaking from the heart of a branch of Christianity that is foreign to me; that is quite simply hard to grasp. I find myself reading some of the passages over and over and getting, at best, a sense that I think I know what he is driving at.
Sadly, it is also a book that many of my fellow evangelicals might warn me that I should not read. This is because, while he is gentle, some of his observations can be seen as critical of some things that we evangelicals hold dear. For example, he says this about the practice of studying the Bible: [Bible study] is a matter of determining the truth, summing it up, and defining it as closely as possible, so that the mind may absorb it and store it away.” He clearly does not think this is a good idea. Yet, for evangelicals studying the Bible is the heart of discipleship and Christian growth.
No wonder he is seen as dangerous. Make no mistake, he loves his Bible. I’ve never seen a book with more Scriptural quotes. But his point is that what we call Bible study puts our minds in control of the text; that no matter what we say, in the end the human mind is in charge. He compares this to “spiritual memorization” where we submit our understanding to the Holy Spirit and let the text guide our minds. My evangelical mind, after a lifetime of practical Bible studies, struggles to even grasp the idea of spiritual memorization. Hence, I am told by some, I shouldn’t try, something could go wrong. I am better off not reading things that might lead me astray.
One of the distinctives of modern evangelicalism is the fact that I am told I need to get my information from trusted scholars; from those I already agree with; or those the one telling me this already agrees with. I am warned that to step outside my evangelical walls is to invite danger. I need to be afraid to do this. We need to read those who differ only to refute them and even that task is better left to a trusted few.
This fear-based warning is based on the slippery slope concept; that if I admit even one minor thought through my mental door there is nothing to stop me from sliding all the way into heresy or unbelief. Examples are quoted of people who took this road to ruin. Maybe it is my long-dormant 1960s rebellious self that is driving me but I’ve decided to step out onto that slope, be it slippery or not.
Heck, I am not even sure it is a slope. Maybe it is just a path. Maybe other expressions of Christianity have something to teach me and my fellow evangelicals. Maybe by stepping out into the Coptic Christian path, at least for a time, my faith will be enriched when I return. Maybe, even if I end up believing exactly what I believe now, a fate that seems unlikely, I will be the better for it.
A few weeks ago I read a book written by a charismatic Christian. It wasn’t a polemic about the sign gifts or a rebuttal of what neo-Calvinist evangelicals have said about him. It was simply a book on being closer to, and more like, Jesus. I think I have survived it without losing my salvation.
When I finish the book I am reading now I will seek another from a different stream of Christian faith and am open to suggestions on what that might be. I am really beginning to think that there are other men and women in the Christian family, following somewhat different paths, that have something of importance to teach me.
So I am going to spend some time with the other guys. I hope when I come back home my own evangelical tribe will let me back in.