The Hills are Alive with Dying?

(Apologies to my wife who loves the Sound of Music)

the hills are alive with dying

The phrase “a hill to die on” originated as a war time expression. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer (a place where you can track the usage of words or phrases over time) the phrase was used originally in the second world war. It was used again, but only about half as often, in the Vietnam war period. Otherwise, it hasn’t seen significant use until more recently. Modern day usage has spiked. Beginning in 1990 (interestingly just as the Cold War ends), usage moved from virtually none to over three times as much as its previous peak in the second world war. It peaked in 2017 and has only edged off slightly since. Apparently, we think we have a lot of hills to die on. But should we?

I would suggest we need to reduce the number quite a bit.

In theology, humans do the work (not divinely inspired, but hopefully guided by the Spirit) of attempting to make sense of God’s revelation. This is complicated work, since revelation was given to a specific people, at a specific time, in a specific culture and language, addressing specific issues, all of which are highly foreign to us. We read someone else’s mail. We do this with our own set of assumptions and blind spots as we come to the text.

Our theology attempts to interpret the revelation in the text in ways which shape and inform our context.

Even our “essentials” carry some of this contextual bias, let alone the “nonessentials.” Case in point, compare our EFCC Statement of Faith with the previous one. Some of the issues have changed and the ordering certainly has. Or compare it to some of those from evangelical churches in Africa. Some of the articles look virtually the same. Others are quite different. Some of theirs have whole articles on miracles, Satan, demons, unity, spiritual warfare, equality of faith across race, gender, and class. None of these issues has a whole article, or even at times a mention in our statement. Why? Different context, different issues. I apologize for the brevity here; whole books are written on certain aspects of this paragraph.

As we continue to think about moving from “Argument to Discussion,” this issue of context and the hills we choose to die on is important. Let me add one more issue. The next generation. As a former youth pastor; the next generation has always been near my heart. For me, Philippians 2 resounds with echoes of the future. How can we encourage the faith of those who will lead the church tomorrow? How do we put the interests of those yet to come ahead of our own? What “stuff” do we need to lay aside for the sake of the next generation? What faith and the church look like tomorrow might be quite different and we need to be okay with that. More than okay! We need to empower our youth and kids to move into the future with a robust faith that will address their issues, not ours. That may be very difficult for us. Especially if we are dying on too many hills. So, can you ask with me, “which hills do I need to abandon to see the church not only survive, but even thrive, in the next generation?” We haven’t even begun talking about how many of our young people are confused and hurt by the rhetoric we lob at each other (speaking of arguments) as we attempt to hold hills, including the ones we actually need to hold.

We live in time. We have a past. We glean, gather, learn, and contextualize from the past. We are in the process of seeing Christ redeem our past. We hope into the future. We prepare for it. Yet we live in the present. It is a present that has come from somewhere and is on a journey to somewhere else, probably not in a neat linear pattern, however. We are not, as James K.A. Smith says, nowhen Christians. We inhabit time. Soon it will be someone else’s time. Let’s attempt to set the stage for them to inhabit it well.

Neil Bassingthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst