Reflections on Theological Summit 2017

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Well, we are finished another EFCC Theological Summit. 120 of us gathered in Okotoks and many dozen more assembled at 10 live stream locations from Ottawa to Vancouver Island to be inspired and challenged by Dr. Mark Yarhouse as he walked us through two of the most challenging issues of our day: Sexual and Gender Identity. I don’t know about how others experienced this time – but I was deeply moved and challenged regarding what speaking truth and love means in our culture today.

Here is what I found particularly helpful:

The Three Lens View

1.) Integrity Lens:
This lens views people through the Genesis 1 and 2 storyline: God designed us as male and female. This is a core truth that we cling to as Christians. We don’t believe that physical sex and gender are unrelated. Hence we cannot condone same sex marriage or agree with the current thinking that gender is entirely a social construct and is unrelated to physiology – we do not believe that binary categories are inherently evil as many in our culture seem to hold. God’s good design is just that – good.

2.) Disability Lens:
This focuses on the Genesis 3 storyline. Yes, God designed male and female, but the fall has left us broken and confused. Our response ought to be compassionate ministry and care to broken individuals who are unclear about their identity and what they should build that on.

3.) Diversity Lens:
Lastly, the diversity lens, which our culture promotes so loudly, elevates individual choice above all, and believes that celebrating the way a person understands their gender or sexual identity — even if it is different than the majority — is the morally-correct option.

As a local church elder, practicing therapist and professor of psychology, Dr. Yarhouse is uniquely positioned to explicate all three lenses.

Call to Abandon “Culture War” Rhetoric

If we watch the nasty culture war between right and left wings in the US, we can get drawn into a very unhelpful pining for the “good old days” when everyone in the culture held Christian values. Firstly, was there ever a day in Canada’s history where we all held Christian views? And second, who cares? Is that really our calling — to make sure that our neighbours all think and live morally like us? No.

We are gospel people. We introduce others to Jesus Christ – who is Messiah and Lord.

The early church did just fine living their faith in a loving manner, with a winsomely different set of values and morals from the rest of Roman society. They did not seek to control the culture – they lovingly and subversively showed people a better way. Read Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity: How the obscure, marginal, Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries” to understand how the early church lived out its faith. I believe that it’s “show and tell” time for us as evangelicals, not “run and gun” time.

Guarding Our Tone

Lastly, I loved Dr. Yarhouse’s gracious tone.  He didn’t leave us with the sense of “those people” that is so easy for us to hold towards a group we feel are pushing an agenda on us.  Yes, many are pushing an agenda on us. Yet we ought to be careful in adopting an attitude that mirrors that of the Pharisees (remember the Pharisee and publican praying in Luke 18:9-14?). In that vein, I was proud of the spirit in which our EFCC family asked questions during the Q&A times.  It matched the spirit and tone with which Dr. Yarhouse graciously answered those questions.

My Only Regret

I wish that there were more lay people there and at our live streaming sites! This is a topic that all of us need to engage – all of us know someone wrestling with identity issues. May I gently nudge pastors to not attend the next one alone? In May 2019, Dr. Scot Mcknight will lead us to consider the nature of the gospel and the church. Perhaps we assume that theology is for pastors.

Let’s get past that assumption — theology is intensely practical!

We are all called to care for victims of the fall – and we are all called to live out the gospel and be the church, so please invite your lay leaders to the next Theological Summit in 2019.

So Many People Deserve Gratitude

In closing, please allow me to thank the many people who made the Theological Summit possible. Our friends at Okotoks EFC did a fabulous job of hosting. Dave Acree, our Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst, envisioned and planned the days. Our Home Office staff made it possible from processing registrations to organizing travel details to making all the technology work without a hitch. Thanks to all who invested in a rich two days of learning what it means to minister in a challenging culture!