Working Towards an NDP Theology

The following is an article which was published October 2012 in the Tyndale University College student publication, the Canon25.

I almost lost my faith.  Twice.  The first time was when I started Tyndale.  The second time was just now when I started my Masters program at a small Mennonite seminary in rural Indiana.  Both times I came close to losing my faith, but both times I had a very different definition of faith.

I was 18 years old when I began attending Tyndale, and despite that by that point I had been attending a General Conference Mennonite church for 5 years, I had only claimed the Mennonite faith for myself one year prior to coming to Tyndale.  The excitement of my new found faith, my love of being different, and my love of going against the grain won over.  I have to say that my downfall is that I love being the center of attention.  Which is bad, I know, because that’s one thing the Mennonites wish they could beat (oh wait, they are pacifists) out of me, but have never been successful at.  See, even now, I am writing a controversial article on being Mennonite just because I know that I am one of the few dyed in the wool Mennonites to attend Tyndale.

Anyways, Tyndale taught me a lot.  In fact, it was at Tyndale that I truly gave my heart and soul to Christ.  It was at Tyndale that I learned that despite the fact that I entered the school very liberal, that there was something to say about actually following the Bible.  I made many wonderfully sincere and genuine friends here and often find myself missing Tyndale.  I miss the fun that we had living in the dorms, our profoundly deep chapels, and most of all our praying culture.  I really miss praying for others and having them pray for me.  I really miss the small groups I was a part of including the Douloi groups* that I was a part of for the past three years.  I also miss the fact that at Tyndale people really held me accountable in my faith walk.  I really miss living in Toronto, the church I attended, and the volunteer opportunities I had there.

I almost lost my faith a second time.  I have been attending a Mennonite grad school in Indiana for almost four months now.  Perhaps my next article will be able the differences between Canadian and American culture since I am learning that there are a lot.  Anyways, I digress.  The point is that the school I attend now is very liberal.  I find myself wrestling with what I believed prior to Tyndale, what I learned at Tyndale where my first introduction to academic theological and biblical courses shaped me, and what I currently believe.  It is indeed a challenge to be back among liberals who believe differently than I do about lifestyle choices.  It is hard to maintain the roots I had at Tyndale.  Despite the fact that there is so much I love about my new school and the town I now live in which has really grown on me, I do find myself in a struggle. 

And herein lays the problem.  I am working towards being an “NDP” Christian.  I know all about the separation of church and state and I am not implying any political connotation, though I really could not help myself.  I am simply saying I wish to find a middle ground – somewhere between stifling conservatism and far out liberalism.  I am trying to wrestle with what I believe. 

In my Theology class we have been exploring Christology from a variety of angles.  Here I have been exposed to Asian Feminist Theology, Black Liberation Theology, Womanist Theology, and a host of other theologies.  The truth is that at Tyndale my worldview was shaped by white middle aged men.  I never had a female professor teach a theology, Bible, or ministry course.  My study of Theology at the graduate level has got me to really think about who God is and how I view God.  I am learning to see God not just as a white middle aged man with a beard, but to see God as a Latino, a Hispanic, a Jamaican.  God transcends cultural and ethnic boundaries and yet so often we see God through the lens of our North American society.  God transcends gender, but yet we become offended if someone wants to say God is a woman and yet we often do not know why we are thus offended.  This is something I have really been struggling with.

Tyndale really believed in the authority of Scripture, but whereas my grad school is liberal we do interpret everything through the lens of Christ.  It is too bad that many conservative Christians view social justice and biblical doctrine as two separate things.  I argue that they are not two different entities, but are enmeshed with one another.  I remember reading a book for Christian Theology at Tyndale entitled “Liberalism and Christianity” in which the only basis was that liberal Christianity has ceased being Christian and is something different altogether.  This book went on to talk about how the only thing the liberal church cares about is social justice.  I argue that as Christians social justice is the crux of what we are to be doing.  What point is there to have a faith if we are not going to be sharing it with the world?  Living in North York seemed at times to be living away from the true shadow of Toronto.  In a lot of ways we were sheltered, unless we intentionally chose to work among the homeless or with Urban Promise as I know many have.  Here in Indiana I am living in a dangerous community among the broken people.  I am living like one of them.  I am ministering at their level.  There are a lot of immigrants in Toronto, but somehow I never got to know them until I moved here and am living among them.  We take the teaching of Jesus literally to love both neighbours and enemies and to be reconciled for the crimes we have committed against each other and against nature.  In this way, I would argue that if by liberalism one implies being hung up on social justice then liberalism has not ceased to be Christianity, indeed it is Christianity incarnated. 

I do not mean to knock Tyndale down at all.  Tyndale does have a place in my heart because of the people who attend this school.  Tyndale is a praying culture and I really do miss that.  My seminary is not have a praying culture, but we are very much a doing culture.  We do not spend time talking about the fine points of theology unless those points will motivate us into action.  We try to be the church to those who need us the most rather than just going to church.  I believe Tyndale has a lot to offer as a school, but I also wanted to give you something to think about that is outside of the Tyndale comfort zone.  I welcome dialogue.  For questions, comments, rants, or interpretive dances please send me an email and we can discuss further:  Until next time, I continue to strive towards that happy medium.  Towards that NDP Christianity.  


4 thoughts on “Working Towards an NDP Theology

  1. Hey, just a quick question… you don’t define the term “NDP Christianity” or “NDP Theology” in your article… I get what you’re saying (and agree whole-heartedly… to the point that conservatives call me liberal and liberals call me conservative)… but I’m not sure what “NDP” stands for. Clarify?

    • Hey Robert, thanks for raising this question. It is a classic example of how I wrote to a specific audience and thus did not define for audiences that weren’t a part. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. NDP is the New Democratic Party in the Canadian parliament. It’s a socialistic party – neither Conservative nor Liberal. It is somewhere in the middle. At first I felt rather uncomfortable using political terminology (and a part of me still does), however, given that we frequently use “liberal” and “conservative” to denote philosophical and theological leanings, I thought it might be okay. Basically, I was trying to get the point across that I am working for a “middle ground” – a theology that is neither leaning to the left nor to the right.

      • Gotcha. Being a Merkin and not a Canadian, the term was lost on me.

        For myself, I call it “The Third Way”, borrowing from classical Anabaptist ideas… Neither Protestant nor Catholic, but a Third Way.

        If you haven’t run across Brian McClaren’s “A New Kind of Christian”, I’d recommend reading it. You might not agree with everything in it (I know I didn’t), but there is a visual image in it that resonated with me.

        If you think of “conservative” and “liberal” as a spectrum, a line, with the extremes at either end, people can place themselves along that line somewhere based upon how “conservative” and how “liberal” they are. McClaren asked the question, “What if what is REALLY what we’re after no where on that line but, instead, some point no where near that spectrum, neither liberal nor conservative but something wholly other”? Not a direct quote, but my paraphrase.

        There is a lot of the Christian experience that defies the dichotomies of the spectrum, either politically, theologically, or whatever… Arminian or Calvinist… or is it something else? Low Christology or High Christology… or something else? You get what I’m saying?

        So, yeah… look for that middle ground, definitely… but consider, perhaps, as you look into more Anabaptist type ways of thinking (and at AMBS you’re sure to find a lot of that), think about whether or not what you seek may not be found in a spectrum defined by human experience, but, perhaps, something else…

  2. Thanks, Robert. You raise some very interesting and helpful suggestions here and I will definitely check out Brian McClaren’s book. I have heard lots about him and have always wanted to read his writings, but just have never gotten around to it – so many good books, so little time for seminary students. I’ll have to put it on my summer reading list 🙂

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