Just up the road from our house is a plaza or strip mall, a collection of 20 or 30 stores. This plaza has two large wings and right in the joint between the two wings is what must be the worst retail space in the city. At least, those of us who live here know that it is the worst retail space in the city. Aileen and I have been in this area for the past 15 years and in that time we have seen business after business try to make a go of it there, and not one of them has lasted for more than a couple of years. Several have lasted just a few months.
When we first arrived it was a family diner, but quickly the diner went out of business and was replaced by a fish and chips joint. Just a few months later there was a big notice on the door from the landlords saying that they were owed tens of thousands of dollars, and that the store had been shut down. Then it was a Lebanese restaurant, then a sandwich shop and, as of last week, an all-day breakfast place. And I know I am forgetting a couple of other iterations along the way.
The strange thing is that this store looks like it is in a great location. There is a long plaza stretching out on either side of it, with store after store. There is a lot of parking available, and a few attractive and well-trafficked stores just down the way. And yet, for some reason, this one storefront seems to be a retail black hole. It is where businesses go to die, where entrepreneurs go to blow their money.
Before every new store opens, the old sign gets hauled down, and paper covers the windows while the store receives a renovation. Every time I see another “opening soon” sign, I want to go and bang on the door and tell the people, “Don’t do it!” I see them walking in and out, full of excitement, and I feel a bit of dread for them. I know they’ve got a business plan that looks bulletproof, and they’ve convinced the bank to loan them some money to get started, but I want to tell them about all those other people who have followed the same plan and utterly failed. And eventually the inevitable happens.
Every time I see that “opening soon” sign I find myself thinking about people whose theology reminds me of this restaurant. I hear them tell me about some great new theological innovation they have discovered, or some great truth the church had been hiding from them. Or I see them gain a public profile and then their books begin to quote certain authors or hint at certain ideas. And I feel that same sense of dread. And I want to tell them that others have tried this and that it hasn’t gone well.
Others have tried to reconcile God’s knowledge and all the tragedy that happens in this world through various shades of Open Theism, but it has not gone well for them and they’ve soon smeared the very character of God. Others have been convinced that “inerrancy” is too strong a term and that we have to leave some room for minor errors or for certain cultural corrections, and before long they’ve rejected not just the inerrancy of the Bible, but also its authority. Others have become dissatisfied with hearing from God through the Bible and have demanded more; they have begun to live their lives by promptings and whisperings which they ascribe to God, and so often their lives have descended into personal and theological chaos. I see them setting up shop, thinking they are doing the right thing, but all the while they are walking into disaster.
And this is one of the reasons God places us in church communities where we are surrounded by people who are that much wiser and that much more mature than we are. He surrounds us with people who have tried things and found them wanting, or who have witnessed other people trying things and being led astray. He surrounds us with people who can speak with loving authority and experienced firmness of all of their attempts and failures, and who can guide us back to the straight path. He surrounds us with people who are wise enough to detect the first signs of wandering, and who love us enough to warn us of the consequences.
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