Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Be Doers and Not Just Hearers

James 1:19-27
James tells us that we should be 'doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves'. This may be a great comfort for those who find sitting in church increasingly unbearable. Perhaps its also good fodder for those who want to take out the easy targets. Of course it's quite possible for someone to hear without listening, just as it is to choose not to integrate what we hear into our daily lives.

Such transitions do not happen automatically. There is often a time lag between when our ideas change and when our behaviour changes. We test our new knowledge against our experience to see if it fits. Frequently (and particularly under pressure or stress) we can find ourselves acting in ways that are not consistent with what we now know, because our behaviour is still based on assumptions which we have in our minds long since given up. Consider the subject of global warming for example. I believe that this is a reality that we all need to take seriously. But I'm also pretty sure that changing the light globes in my house is little more than a token. I've been painfully slow to transition my practice so that it matches my beliefs.

James is also pretty clear about the kinds of things we should be doing. 'Religion that is pure and undefiled' involves caring for people in distress, particularly those most vulnerable. What matters in one's lifestyle is 'right living', 'right action' (orthopraxy) in relation to the rest of the community - to live as an agent of God's compassion to the world. True holiness is not so much absence of bad things, as presence of compassion, especially for the most needy in society

Finally, 'keeping oneself unstained from the world' is not about avoiding engagement where we get our hands dirty. It is about refusing to surrender to the dominant values of society. For James, the world’s values represent greed and covetousness. Those who choose to follow Jesus will demonstrate radically different values - sacrifice, compassion, generosity, hospitality. But significantly, they will live this radical alternative in the world, not apart from it. Ironically, keeping ourselves 'unstained' will often mean getting our uniforms dirty.


David said...

Better to not listen so you cannot hear. Not hearing and so not doing. Then you no longer deceive yourself.

Who needs God to turn away from the world? Minimal interaction with the world is sufficient. Why demonstrate any alternative values? In the long run we're all dead.

God doesn't speak and I can't hear.

Goodbye God.

JDK said...

Has been a while David but things don't seem to have changed much for you. Just out of interest, what is it that inspires you?

Regards, JDK

David said...

It's all just a waste of time. Like God, who is one big waste of time, but obviously not of space.

What does God do, anyway? Apart from causing mental illness and keeping superstitious people preoccupied with cognitively incoherent mind junk?

JDK said...

So the alternative is despair? I think I'd rather be judged superstitious or delusional and at least be a part of trying to make the world a little bit better.

David said...

Might depend on what's more important.

Do you want the cold, harsh truth, or a comforting myth?

A theological belief system is not only a poor substitute for truth, not matter how elusive truth may be, it's intellectually lazy and fundamentally dishonest.

Are you saying belief in Christian mumbo-jumbo is your primary motiation for good works?

My observation of Salvos is that belief reduces to lots of noise about social concern, useless rituals like prayer, and peurile practices like drooling at the mouth and a Hitler salute at "church" on Sundays, singing mind-numbingly stupid songs with repetitive lyrics, and listening to "New Idea" new-age styled pop-psychology-junk, except it's not quite as in-depth.

JDK said...


Do you really believe all religious people are intellectually lazy? You consistently describe all Christians in the same narrow way, even though I would think that your experience should have illustrated by now that such generalisations are not universally valid. Your hyperbole doesn't take into account any of the work done in our social services, without which any analysis of The Salvation Army is fatally flawed.

One could easily respond to your accusations by questioning whether the strategy of consistently knocking down the 'straw man' is in fact another version of intellectual laziness...

Regards, JDK

David said...

I don't find all Christians to be theologically vacuous. Funnily enough, those (but not all) in the reformed or Calvinistic stream seem to be more informed, more interested and better able to provide rational answers. I'm not sure at this stage whether this leads to better Christian practice, but preliminary results suggest it does.

My working model at the moment is that because Salvos have an apparently poor standard of theological training, and training that is performed as far as I can see, by fundamentalist nut-jobs, it results in poor orthopraxy. Salvos put a lot of effort into community good works, but I think they are undermining themselves with their fuzzy and intellectually lazy approach to theology.

JDK said...

I think we're coming closer to consensus on this subject. I won't deny that TSA has some theological benchpressing to do in general, however there are less 'fundamentalist nut-jobs' conducting training than you think.

On holidays now for a while, but hope to post something vaguely interesting fairly soon...

Regards, JDK

Nicky said...

Hi David,

The Salvation Army may have a diversity of belief, some well thought through and some not so well thought through, however, the basic exhortation of all the laws and all the words of the prophets as Jesus so aptly puts it, is; to love God and love one's neighbour. I don't find him asking us to be scholars (even though I think this can be helpful). Many Salvos I know and work with and worship with endevour to do this.

I'll ask you again, David, (as you still haven't answered me), what are you doing to make the world a better place? (other than trying to justify yourself and destroy people who do want to make the world better).

I really hope you find some peace,