The Value of Acceptance

aWe just want to be accepted. This is often the cry of humanity. And far too often the response (directly or indirectly) of the Christian church is: You are not accepted. Or more often: You must change in order to be acceptable. What do I want most as a former leader at ubf? I want to be accepted. I want to be known and accepted for who I am, not as some Shepherd X caricature, or as some sinner who needs to change into some preconceived ideal image. I don’t want to be known as some agent of Satan or as someone defined only by ubf. I want to be me. As Ben rightly stated in his recent article about my books, ubf will always be a part of my life story. Wherever I go I accept that ubf training formed much of who I am.

Accepted!

Today I received word that I am accepted into the next Reformation Project cohort. It felt so good–too good. I am so excited and so happy! This means I have to start going to church and reading a ton of material, but I am so ready to get going on this. So I will begin attending our family’s local Baptist church this Sunday.

I owe a huge thank you to those who sent in recommendation letters for me! Thank you so much for believing in me regardless of our doctrinal differences. This makes three cohorts in a row for me. I really enjoy this cohort style of learning and growing in faith.

Vantage Point 3 Cohort

In 2013 I attended Grace Community’s leadership cohort in Detroit, MI. This utilized the Vantage Point 3 “The Journey” material and was excellent. I had a personal encounter with the Triune God and found my authentic self narrative. Here is  a link to the program my wife and I participated in:  http://vantagepoint3.org/our-processes/the-journey/

ACT3 Cohort

In 2014 I attended John Armstrong’s ACT3 Cohort in Chicago, IL. This was an amazing learning experience, and one that changed me forever. I gained respect for theology and connected more with historic, orthodox Christianity. The reading material was very good and deeply impacted all of my own book writing. This cohort inspired me to be an author. It was so exciting to spend time with the likes of John and his friends such as George Koch. I loved speaking with James Danaher as well. I learned that accepting a person is not the same as accepting their doctrine. There is much value in relational unity and staying in the conversation. Here is a link to the ACT3 program:  http://www.act3network.com/cohorts/

Reformation Leadership Cohort

In 2015 I will be attending the Reformation Project cohort in Washington DC. I have already made new contacts and new friends through the application process. I am really excited about the next 4 months, culminating in a four day conference in our nation’s capital. Here is a link to Matthew Vine’s cohort:  http://www.reformationproject.org/conferences/apply

Final Thoughts

We know we are forgiven in Christ. Do we also know we are accepted in Christ? Do we show grace but withhold acceptance? Do you have someone in your life who accepts you completely? Do you accept other people completely? How can we better see that love resolves the paradox of accepting my self–my true, authentic, glorious, ugly, crazy, messy, wonderful self? What do the Holy Scriptures teach about acceptance?

18 comments

  1. “Sincere” Christians are sadly some of the most exclusionary groups of people I have ever met. I know this all too well because I have personally excluded people simply because: they dated instead of waited, they wouldn’t study the Bible with me (probably because I was way too pushy!), they wouldn’t come to ubf (but would go to their own “nominal” church), they wouldn’t answer the Bible study questions or write testimony, they wouldn’t come to a ubf conference, they wouldn’t obey me, and this list can just go on and on! To think that I was so exclusionary for about a quarter of a century of being a so-called “loving Christian” who is supposed to love God and love others!

    What you wrote here is excellent Brian, thanks!: “I want to be accepted. I want to be known and accepted for who I am, not as some Shepherd X caricature, or as some sinner who needs to change into some preconceived ideal image. I don’t want to be known as some agent of Satan or as someone defined only by ubf. I want to be me.”

  2. This reminded me of a quote from “Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller.

    “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

    Acceptance from God is unbelievable. I still can’t wrap my head around it. I can’t even accept myself and God knows me even better. How can God know all that I am and still accept me? No other relationship is like that. Wow! I really don’t understand it.

    • I’ve learned that acceptance goes deeper than our understanding. Our emotions often indicate when we are being accepted. And actions speak louder than words, so behavior also indicates acceptance even when we don’t understand.

      I spent so much time in the past trying to be acceptable to myself, to God and to others. Now my soul rests in contentment because I surrendered to grace, and accepted my self as I am.

      I find much peace in numerous OT promises, such as this one: “As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.” –Ezekiel 20:41 ESV

    • And another in a few more verses later (this whole chapter is amazing)

      “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” –Ezekiel 20:44 ESV

  3. Thanks for sharing the verses. I agree that acceptance goes deeper than our understand, but I don’t understand what you mean when you say,

    “Our emotions often indicate when we are being accepted. And actions speak louder than words, so behavior also indicates acceptance even when we don’t understand.”

    What do you mean by emotions indicating when we are accepted? We have to feel accepted to be accepted? And whose actions are you alluding to ours or God’s? I don’t see the connection between the understanding, emotions and actions.

    • I’m not trying to say anything complicated, just that how we feel is often (not always) an indication of whether we are accepted or not. And behavior many times impacts how we feel.

      “What do you mean by emotions indicating when we are accepted?”

      Not always, but often, how we feel is an indicator of how we are being treated. For many years I suppressed as much emotion as humanly possible. I ignored any emotional indicator, and as a result my emotional IQ is rather low. Because I ignored my own emotions for so long, I have a hard time knowing how my wife or friends feel or how I make them feel. So my relationships have been very strained and unhealthy. For our overall health, we cannot ignore emotions. I’m not saying emotions are our only guide, but that they are vastly more relevant than I ever imagined.

      “We have to feel accepted to be accepted?”

      I would not say we “have to” feel a certain way. But if a group of people constantly invokes feelings of guilt or self-loathing or lust or violence, I would say I’m not really being accepted. If I routinely feel rejected, is there any way to be accepted?

      “And whose actions are you alluding to ours or God’s?”

      I’m only speaking about our actions. I have no desire to surmise what God would do.

  4. forestsfailyou
    forestsfailyou

    I would like to think I accept others, unfortunately I often find myself not accepting others in my heart, especially if someone or some group has hurt of offended me. Forgiveness is hard

  5. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Congratulations, Brian! I hope it goes well with the new cohort. Reading how you’ve been getting involved in these different groups and learning made me joyful.

  6. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    ubf will always be a part of my life story. Wherever I go I accept that ubf training formed much of who I am – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/01/08/the-value-of-acceptance/#sthash.uPKyyhFv.dpuf

    This is one thing about my life which I find very difficult to accept. I was in UBF for fifteen years and left last October. I thought that I had maintained my identity and freedom. I thought that I was different from those who had changed and conformed into shepherds. Only after leaving UBF am I beginning to see how much I was changed by UBF to be a UBF man, how I gave up myself and freedom, and how I became someone who was hurt and hurt others in the same ways. It’s humbling and humiliating. One reason I’ve avoided discussions here is that I’d like to just move on and forget these last fifteen years.

    I also see now how I pained my family to accept me as a UBF shepherd. Now I want them to accept me as a someone different, as someone who isn’t excited to go hear someone teach me how to be a good person or to be blessed for an hour every week, who would rather enjoy time at home, who wants more from a church to be the body of Christ in the world rather than a chore and place with that one great teacher, and who wants many other things. It’s also a pain to them because they feel that I’m not being fair. I ignored their requests to be accepted as people incompatible with UBF for a long time. I’m sorry to them and think it’s time to accept them and serve them rather than make demands to accommodate me.

  7. In light of all the social media “pain” discussions, I want to highlight my point here: acceptance. Why do self-appointed shepherds feel the need to change people? Why can’t our genuine stories and facts of ubf history simply be accepted?

    I cannot explain this fully, but after leaving ubf and going through the painful shunning/exit process, who was it who accepted me? As odd as it may sound: the LGBTQA community accepted me. Coming out of a bible cult is remarkably similar to coming out of the closet.

    I am really excited to be part of the LGBT allies and community who are working toward affirming, inclusive Christian theology. The 2015 Reformation Project D.C. cohort is well underway.

    You can read more about this project here: Support the 35 reformers for inclusion in 2015

    If you want a cool lion T-Shirt, support me here: Faith.Hope.Love T-Shirt to support BrianK

    Grace and peace everyone.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, this gives a helpful background to your parable

      http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/02/19/flying-from-new-york/

      The story is not hypothetical, but something that you actually experienced.

      You have touched on a dissonance that I have seen in conservative evangelical churches. They will preach a gospel that says “God loves you and accepts you as you are. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone.” But as a community they won’t enact that theology and accept people into their family on the merits of faith alone. They will be nice to you, but at the same time they will constantly send signals that full acceptance is something you must earn by jumping through additional hoops that may vary from one church to another. They will treat you like one of their own as long as you are making progress on jumping through those hoops. But as soon as you say, “I’m not jumping through that one” the waves of coldness start to roll. They start to look at you with those suspicious eyes and start to question whether that faith in Jesus you professed is real. They think it must be fake; it cannot be real, because anyone who is truly in Christ must be willing to jump through those hoops, because those hoops are from God.

      I think that sometimes God might place hoops before us, not to make us prove our worthiness but to draw us closer to intimacy with him. Or, on the conviction of what we learn from Scripture, we may decide that there really is a lifestyle change that we to make, and as a personal decision we fashion the hoop and jump through it ourselves because we sense that God is beckoning. I think Jesus does call us to a lifestyle of spiritual discipline that produces godly character. But some church leaders are busy running hoop factories, churning out their own one-size-fits-all versions. They may think they have the God-given right and duty to do this, but they do not.

      Christians disagree on many issues. But can we at least agree that God fully accepts into his family anyone who comes to him professing faith in Christ, and if God’s acceptance is complete and unconditional, then the church’s acceptance should be the same as God’s?

    • Indeed Joe. My life may look like a bunch of broken, unrelated pieces but those pieces fit together to tell an amazing story. Each of us is like that, in fact.

      Yes we should show unconditional love as God does and has. Ironically it is not so difficult. Just accept people. Such Messianic love I think has more to do with stopping something or letting go of something than it does with gaining or learning something through training.

      Although it pains me to admit this on a ubf-related blog, I am including a look at John 4 in my second affirming theology book (as I continue to explore what I call the theology of lambheartedness).

      I urge everyone to read John 4 again. Did Jesus say one word about the sinfulness or wrongness of the woman’s lifestyle? Did he segregate Himself from her after she revealed her highly immoral and ungodly lifestyle? Did He express any hint of offensiveness?

      No.

      Our Messiah was too eager and too excited about the gospel! He cared nothing of this woman’s lifestyle choices. What He did care about was 1) her facing the reality of her life and 2) her meeting the Messiah. Such love is at the heart of lambhearted theology.

    • Joe Schafer

      I guess what I’m trying to say is this.

      Many churches think that the engine of discipleship is withholding acceptance until people meet certain standards.

      But the opposite is true.

      The engine of discipleship is accepting people as they are because that is exactly what Jesus does.

  8. Joe, I think holiness is at the heart of both the ubf/ex-ubf struggle and the church/lgbtqa struggle.

    You article about the Theology of Gross! was literally a game-changing event for me.

    Reading that showed me how to include holiness into my theology. Before then all I could think about was grace and peace. Now I can boldly speak about holiness.

    God is holy, and holiness is to be “set apart”. But we so often misunderstand holiness as “keeping our self clean” and as a form of segregation that excludes people who are “gross” in my mind.

    That may have been a fine OT understanding (perhaps) but such “holiness” is really “holeyness” and has no place in our lives after the cross and the resurrection.

    Holiness, as I understand it now from the NT Scriptures, is now revealed more deeply and clearly: being set apart to engage in this messy world. To be holy is to overcome our disgust factor and love our enemy, our stranger, and anyone who disagrees with us.

    I am practicing this (hard as it may be) in this new cohort. And the dialogues have been breathtaking!

    • Joe Schafer

      I’m so glad that your dialogues have been fruitful. Let me know when you are in DC and maybe we can meet up.

      Holiness is a really interesting word. I won’t add to your reading list. But the book Relational Holiness by Lodaal and Oord really made an impact on me. They unpack the various concepts of holiness that are floating around in the church, and the make a case that ultimately holiness is not a characteristic of a single individual, but a quality of that person’s relationships. It made me realize that I had very little understanding of what holiness really is. God’s call to holiness is not fundamentally a call for me to obey any list of commandments but a call to right relationships with him, with others, with the created world, and even with myself.

    • I will certainly try to do that when I travel to D.C. in April (the week of 4/13).

      I will check out that book, there is so much to learn! Yes holiness must have to do with relationships and even communal quality if what I learned about unity and love is true, and I think they are (relational unity and Messianic love).

      Somehow in the last 500 years the church seems to have got caught up in defining holiness as individual cleanliness and purity, and we lost sight of our communal witness.

      I hope to be a small part of remedying that gulf by having dialogues with non-affirming people. I really am not out to persuade the world any longer (my days of doing that are over). I make no claim that my theology is right for everyone–just that I am building my own theology and learning how to interact with those who disagree with me.

      Right now on a daily basis I have dialogues that are about 50/50 (about half are affirming and half are non-affirming). I am trying to show love and charity in all these, and that takes a belief in my self and in God and in whomever I dialogue with.

    • Joe Schafer

      The trend you cite over the last 500 years is rooted, I think, in two related phenomena.

      1. The ascent of western individualism (which, I believe, had a great deal of good in it that we must never forget).

      2. A decline in Trinitarian thinking; Christians held on formally to the doctrine of the Trinity, but in their minds began to think of God as a monad.

      Lesslie Newbigin traced #2 to the influence of Islam. During the Middle Ages, a renaissance of sorts occurred in the Muslim world. Muslim scholars began to study Greek science and philosophy, and Christian scholars helped them in that effort. The Muslim education project was so successful that Christian thinkers began to instinctively latch on to Muslim non-Trinitarian understandings of God. The relational nature of God was diminished, and people began to imagine holiness as an attribute of a monadic deity rather than a quality of the three-in-one Godhead.

      I wish I could remember where Newbigin argued this. That quote is really hard to find. But I found it fascinating.

    • Joe Schafer

      I hope to be a small part of remedying that gulf by having dialogues with non-affirming people. I really am not out to persuade the world any longer (my days of doing that are over). I make no claim that my theology is right for everyone–just that I am building my own theology and learning how to interact with those who disagree with me. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/01/08/the-value-of-acceptance/#comment-16660

      Brian, those are some of the most encouraging, inspiring words I have read in a long time. God bless you in that effort.