Have I Picked and Choosed from Church Traditions Like They Were a Buffet?
Though committed to the Anglican tradition, I openly acknowledge having deep resonance with my generation’s postdenominational impulse. The plain truth is that I’m a mutt of Christendom. Over the years a number of more systematically-inclined pastors and friends have disapproved of this. They’ve criticized the manner in which I approach christian traditions, especially the corresponding theological affirmations and practices. It’s said I’m inconsistent and far too individualistic.11.Years ago one well-intentioned mentor chided, “You’ve too much confidence in your ability to sort through it all. You need to be formed by a particular tradition. Join a community and allow yourself to submit to others instead of being judge and jury.” Touching upon the same sentiment but from a slightly different angle, a peer recently suggested, “I look at it as almost arrogant to craft my own spirituality from a buffet of beliefs… Picking and choosing from different traditions is a quick way to foolish inconsistency and contradiction.”
Two thoughts immediately come to mind. First, this chiefly highlights personality differences. I don’t think it any coincidence that the persons leveling such criticisms are consistently Js on the Myers-Briggs whereas I’m a P. Second, it has long seemed to me such assumptions fail to do justice to, or perhaps to simply accurately represent, my life’s narrative. They’re seeing my theological beliefs as a puzzle rather than a story, and in doing so misattribute negative motives.
After having been born and raised in Pentecostalism, I spent about a decade within, or exploring from without, 17 distinct traditions.22.In approximate order: Lutheran, Baptist, house churches, Free, Covenant, Reformed, Bible-churches, Presbyterian, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Restoration, Holiness, Vineyard, Emerging, Anabaptist, and Anglican. Yet rather than becoming one of these embittered people who’s one-sided in his criticism of every tradition he or she perceives isn’t the one, true church, I long ago recognized that every tradition has areas of profound insight and sheer blind spots. So I’ve intentioned to humbly learn from each.
Hopefully my faith has evolved, matured, and deepened as I’ve sought to glean and synthesize their apparent strengths while mitigating their weaknesses.33.To give just a handful examples, my…
- Openness to the supernatural comes from Pentecostals.
- View of Scripture’s centrality comes from Baptists.
- Appreciation of tradition comes from Catholics.
- Ecclesiology is essentially Anglican.
- Evangelistic paradigm comes from Methodists.
- Local church polity is significantly Presbyterian.
- Sacramentality is largely Reformed.
- Ethics are mostly Anabaptist.
- Views of heaven/hell resemble those of Orthodoxy.
- Missional outlook is drawn from the Emerging Church.
- Ecumenism comes from Bible churches.
- Non-competitive spiritual ethos comes from Free churches.
- Church-state perspective most closely fits a Lutheran conception. No doubt many others will disagree, but from my perspective this isn’t haphazard picking and choosing like some sort of church traditions buffet. Rather, it’s my life’s story of imperfectly seeking truth, beauty, and goodness wherever it’s found. It’s not arrogant, passive cynicism but rather discerning, active hope.
Has this approach been uniformly positive? Of course not! Quite to the contrary, it has been consistently difficult. I’ve made mistakes, and my principle refusal to acquiesce and conform has resulted in much heartache and turmoil. It’s painful and it sucks. I’ve snotted all over many shirts. To this day I often feel overwhelmed, misunderstood, and lonely. But at the end of the day I’ve never sacrificed my conscience, intellectual honesty, or principles. To me that’s more than worth it.
Returning full circle to the Anglican tradition, on this front I’ve simultaneously faced the polar opposite criticism from the postdenominational crowd.44.Isn’t it ironic… don’t cha think? That is, by committing to one tradition I’ve sacrificed my integrity and openness to reconsidering my beliefs, opinions, and perspectives. On that point, they’re wrong. I’m an Anglican not despite my tradition but because of it. To the chagrin of many, I dare say there’s no christian tradition more flexible on adiaphora.55.Adiaphora literally meaning “things indifferent,” but in practice meaning those doctrines that are important but non-essential. For example, I know Anglicans who are Arminians, Calvinists, Open Theists, and Don’t-give-a-damn-ists.