December 14, 2019

Standing on My Own Trap Door? or “I’ll Take My Christocentric Theology To Go, Thank You.”

Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.

• Ignatius of Loyola

  • God is love. God loves his own glory most of all. God is holy. God pursues his own holiness most of all. God loves human beings. God manifests his glory by saving persons who find their joy in his glory.
  • God is merciful and compassionate, to the praise of his glory and grace. God is righteous. He is a covenant-making, law-giving God. God manifests his glory in the perfect justice that upholds his law. His mercy and holiness are not at odds, but are perfectly joined together.
  • God saves by forgiving sin and imputing righteousness. The imputation of his righteousness is the core of justification by faith alone. The imputation of Adam’s sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness are the double-sides of the Gospel message.
  • The Bible is inerrant, giving us God’s sufficient word in human language. The Bible is without error, and the evident erroneousness and limitation of human language and communication does not hamper the inspiration or effectual spiritual use of scripture.
  • By studying the text of scripture, we may have the mind of Christ and the will of God for all things that pertain to life and faith. We may apply scripture in any area of life with confidence in its truthfulness, including science, politics and law.

• • •

And on and on I could go. I wonder how many readers are already up for a fight? These are the theological arguments, assertions, debates and declarations that make up the evangelical world today. Any one of the above sentences could branch out into a dozen or a hundred other related assertions.

I can’t recall the author (someone in the Wilsonite compound, I think) but I once read someone who portrayed evangelical Christians as people using all their abilities to get other people to agree to evangelistic sentences. The sentences mattered very much; more than almost anything else. Correctly worded sentences, turned into prayers, lectures, books and so on.

Miroslav Wolf said that Christianity carries a life-lived along side its truths-claimed. Saint Francis — and many others — have suggested that the life-lived communicates far more profoundly than the truths claimed, especially if it’s a matter of which shouts the loudest.

One blogger recently lamented the callous behavior of knuckle-headed cage phase Calvinists, and also lamented the theological cynics who act as if theology doesn’t matter. Having been one and constantly suspected of being the other, I liked what he said.

He makes a good point. The knuckle-headed cage phase Calvinist has theological problems as well as human relationship problems with manners, maturity and civility. My experience tells me that the two are more related than we like to think. The person who says that theology and those who live to obsess over it are an unmitigated good seem to be, uh….a bit overly optimistic.

Take, for instance, the seminary student who discovers that one theological system has all the answers he’ll ever need. All he needs is to buy the books, go to the conferences and check the websites. In more than a few cases, it would be best if he simply stopped his education and went home until he’s willing something to learn again. While he’s certain that he’s right, and he’s correcting his professors and working to overthrow any teacher who doesn’t subscribe to his hobby horse theological system, he’s useless as a student and probably off balance as a human being. The wise and the know-it-alls have no reason to learn from those who can’t/won’t/don’t see the light. (Yes, that’s me in the corner….losing my religion…)

The real problem is whether our know-it-all student is still devoted to Jesus and to what Jesus means in his life. No doubt he’ll say that it’s for Jesus’ sake that he’s hassling his professors, pastor and friends. It’s for Jesus sake that minutia now matters more than his anniversary. It’s for Jesus’ sake that theology stirs him and evangelism/church planting need more study. But does Jesus matter? Period?

The competition to make theology the main thing and just about the only thing is quite real. I have two recent letters from an IM reader distressed that I admire John Lennon as an artist. I assured him that I do not admire Lennon’s atheism, but a piece is still out of place. What’s of real interest to me is why my faith and loyalty to Jesus have to be screened through what I think of John Lennon.

The blogosphere version of the game is to select a few paragraphs out of someone’s blog, write your corrections, evaluations and insertions, then turn the comment threads loose to say the really nasty stuff. The public statement will be “here’s an area of disagreement.” The actual title of the show is “So and So Can’t Possibly Believe This and Really Be A Christian because theology matters.” Theology does matter, but how does it matter? How does it matter among those of us who say the same creed, love the same Bible, believe the same Gospel (even if we emphasize different parts of it in differing ways?)

A recent critique of Calvinism suggested there is an aversion to Christocentric theology. Don’t let that one slip by you. It’s a major league charge. I believe there’s an aversion to Christocentric necessity among theology fans of every camp. I don’t believe we can possibly get anywhere past what God has revealed in Jesus, and by Jesus I mean Jesus, not the character currently appearing in someone’s systematic and complete theology under that name.

We can discuss all sorts of sentences, but we can only know God in and through Jesus Christ. By Jesus Christ I mean Jesus of Nazareth, New Testament revealed, Old Testament concealed, actual God-Man Jesus of the Creeds. Not Jesus dressed up as a speaker at your favorite conference or a professor at your favorite seminary or Jesus hovering over your blog nodding with approval.

Jesus gives us the Bible. The Bible gives us texts. Texts give us words. Words give us something to fight about, to make more sentences about and to write more texts about, taking us back to something/someone we call Jesus. But are we on the right path?

This circle is inherently unavoidable, and extremely dangerous. But a devotion to Jesus should make the wide path of circularity avoidable and the narrow path of following the Trinitarian God possible.

I’m more than ever determined to make Jesus the center, the substance and the unavoidable conclusion of my theology. And when it comes to equipping my students with an understanding of the Bible, I’m going to be sure they understand the relative importance of the recipe, the cake and all subsequent opinions of either one.

I figured out long ago that my place in the world of internet theology is going to be decorated with posts saying that I’m throwing out babies with bathwater and I’m sacrificing truth at the expense of unity, etc. The fact is that I’m as theologically opinionated as the next person, but I’m more impressed with Jesus than I am those who write, talk and preach about him.

The single most unnerving thing N.T. Wright says is his frequent confession that he’s fairly sure he’ll one day conclude about a third of his theology was wrong. How you feel about that statement probably says all that needs to be said about the entire subject.

That means I’ll find something critical to say about everyone (starting and ending with me), just to remind myself that there’s only one Jesus who reveals the God who can’t be known otherwise (John 1:18.) And I don’t believe that when the Samaritans believed in Jesus (John 4), the appropriate next step was to set up polemic and apologetic ministries to straighten out the Samaritans on everything they believed that was wrong. Believers in Jesus one day, dangerous emerging liberals the next.

Those Samaritans (and Corinthians and Protestants and Catholics) DID believe plenty that was wrong, and Jesus spoke to it directly, but he wasn’t selling his big book of right answers. He was saying “All of the questions and answers stop right here with ME. I’m the revelation. I’m the temple. I’m the Kingdom. I’m the Messiah. Game over.”

Do I think some theologians get this better than others? Absolutely. My affection for Luther, Capon, etc. is well known and I don’t apologize for it. Do I think any of these points are worth arguing today? Of course. I’ve read Galatians. I know what Paul said about the Judaizers, who looked right at Jesus and said “Nah…..not enough.” Do I put any of my own arguments with fellow Christians on the level of believing in Jesus? Well on that one, I’m going to be very, very, very, very cautious. I’m prepared to err on accepting many of my brothers and sisters who are devoted to Jesus before I’m prepared to proclaim myself the “reformation police” and demand to see a written essay on your theory of imputation before I let you pass.

So, once again, someone can say there’s all that postmodern, emerging, touchy-feely suspicion of truth itself. I’ll answer that Jesus is the truth. The Bible is true. The Creeds are true. The Solas are true. And you’ll say there’s much to argue about to establish all of those things. You may be right, but one thing I’m sure of: The Great Commission wasn’t about theological argumentation, but about proclaiming the Gospel, planting churches and making disciples. As theology helps us do that, it’s useful. When “doing theology” replaces that Great Commission, something is wrong.

When I replace the Great Commission with the Great Ongoing Polemic To Prove My Theology Isn’t Wrong, it’s time to pull over and check the map and see if I’m anywhere close to where I think I am.

Am I standing on my own trap door when I say “Jesus isn’t identical to anyone’s theology and someone says “Without theology, who or what is Jesus?” Possibly. That’s another argument that can go in circles forever. Count me as one who’d like to find a place to stop, rest, and as the carol says, “Now let us all with one accord sing praises to the heavenly Lord.”

Comments

  1. Thank you for this.

    I’m glad that I don’t have to write that paper about imputation of righteousness, because I really don’t know what I believe.

  2. Michael, I am happy to stand with you on your trap door.

  3. I think this is your scariest message…and possibly the most true.

    I certainly find it sanity-making. I want to love God, and most Christian systems to do that scare me to death in their final implications and potential condemnations and variance regarding what one must do to be saved.

    Jesus (of the Scriptures…wrestled with daily…not of a theological system) terrifies me, also. He isn’t predictable, doesn’t give easy answers (except when he does), and can’t be pinned down. But I still love him.

    Thanks for reminding me that maybe that’s all it needs to be about.

  4. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Knowing Jesus inspires and motivates me to know more about Jesus. I.e., Knowing God leads me to knowing about God which in turn leads me to make Him known to my neighbor.

    Relationship with Jesus motivates and inspires theology and polemics.

    Granted, there are some who (seemingly) care more about theology and polemics than knowing Jesus, but I wouldn’t make the implied inference that theology and polemics interferes with anyone’s relationship with Jesus.

    You and Al Kimel can stand on the trapdoor together. I’ll submit myself to the Living and Written Word.

    Pax in Christ Alone.

  5. Take, for instance, the seminary student who discovers that one theological system has all the answers he’ll ever need. All he needs is to buy the books, go to the conferences and check the websites.

    This is the same problem Islam has had for the past millenium (except a strict Muslim only needs ONE book and nothing else). And the Wahabi and Khomenists are so firmly in their Cage Phase they never want to leave.

    “He who was born in a cage
    Yearns for his cage;
    With horror I understand
    That I Love My Cage.”
    — Yevgevny Yevtushenko

    The Great Commission wasn’t about theological argumentation, but about proclaiming the Gospel, planting churches and making disciples. As theology helps us do that, it’s useful. When “doing theology” replaces that Great Commission, something is wrong.

    My writing partner is a burned-out rural pastor. He has told me horror stories of pastors’ widows eating out of dumpsters. When pastors’ widows have to go dumpster-diving to survive while the MO SBC fights the Battle of the Booze (again!) and any mention of “Evolution” or “Harry Potter” or “Pre-Mil/Post-Mil” guarantees an anathema-laced theology Holy War (again!), something is also very very wrong.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    My post above should read:

    “… but I wouldn’t make the implied inference that theology and polemics *necessarily* interferes with anyone’s relationship with Jesus.”

    P.S. It is also the case that sound doctrinal theology has helped Christians throughout the centuries to fulfill the Great Commission. Furthermore, loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength is one of the greatest commandments. So isn’t theology a fulfillment of loving God with all your mind?

    And with regards to Titus 1:9 exhortation to refute unsound doctrine… isn’t polemics then a fulfillment of a biblical commandment?

  7. >You and Al Kimel can stand on the trapdoor together. I’ll submit myself to the Living and Written Word.

    The insinuation that you stand on the Living and Written Word while I am not speaks for itself. Is that what you derived from the post? I’m rejecting the Bible? Wow.

    MS

  8. How you do theology and how you do polemics are the answers to that question.

    Obviously, I don’t believe that all that goes under those labels is useful or Christ glorifying. I’m suspicious of myself when I find myself loving Jesus more by splitting hairs and finding fault with those who disagree with my interpretations. God didn’t call me to be Barney Fife.

    MS

  9. Thanks for this excellent post.

    The opening quote you share is so gripping to me. I am by nature a person who is ready for a good theological conversation and once was eager to “win” others to my camp. But lately I have found myself called to a ministry of drawing all people back to scripture and then to Christ. In some cases this has confirmed in them theological positions that drive me crazy.

    I have to grit my teeth sometimes, but as I see Christ evident in their life I know that I have contributed to a greater good than I would if I had tried to produce my theological clone.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    “Obviously, I don’t believe that all that goes under those labels is useful or Christ glorifying.”

    Neither do I. And I said as much.

    “The insinuation that you stand on the Living and Written Word while I am not speaks for itself. Is that what you derived from the post? I’m rejecting the Bible? Wow.”

    No such insinuation intended. If that’s what you derived from my post, wow.

    Pax in Christ alone.

  11. “A recent critique of Calvinism suggested there is an aversion to Christocentric theology.”

    I suppose you mean modern Calvinistic theology? McGrath (in Iustutia Dei) makes the case that Calvin’s soteriological approach to the atonement and theology introduced Christocentrism to Protestant thought.

    Christocentrism is an approach to theology, but not a replacement for theology. We must not merely tear down, but know what we are building in its place. One may talk of theology in a civil or uncivil manner, but merely to dismiss it is unhelpful. Christ, the Great Commission and your deconstructionism are all theological whether you want them to be or not.

  12. Doctrine developed over 2000 years. However, Christ is constant. The earliest Christians, who did not even understand the Trinity, were no lesser than we. Why? Because they had Him.

    If we are not careful, we can build a wall of books between us and Him. Looking for His will is good. Trying to understand salvation is good. Just be sure that you are humble enough to admit uncertainty.

    Good post.

  13. It’s a clear misrepresentation to suggest that I felt the Great Commission isn’t theolgical. I’m not an idiot.

    I said the way we do theology can get in the way. For example, arguing theology to the point that needless divisions replace unity for church planting and missions support is an obstacle.

    Theological types need to understand that endlessly equating “doing theology” with doing all the Bibl commands is getting rather old. Is anyone weary of being told we need more theology of everything and more theological polemics so we can be sure we’re doing everything exactly right? Is anyone surprised that the much less theologically fascinated are miles ahead of us in church planting and evangelism?

  14. “We can discuss all sorts of sentences, but we can only know God in and through Jesus Christ. By Jesus Christ I mean Jesus of Nazareth, New Testament revealed, Old Testament concealed, actual God-Man Jesus of the Creeds.”

    I believe in this Jesus with all my heart…at least up to “the God-Man” part.
    I am a unitarian. I used to argue with Trinitarians using the same scriptures that they used to argue with me.

    No more…I love them and believe their faith in Christ (according to their understanding, background and logical conclusion) is as valid and precious as mine (according to my understanding, background and logical conclusion…God help me I cannot do otherwise)

    I am refreshed to read your post and hope that it applies to me as well; for I have found that healthy dialog among my Christian brothers and sisters seems to stop when I reveal that I do not subscribe to the Orthodox definition of the Trinity.

    I am immediately dismissed as “lost”, or “deceived” or “dangerous”.

    Usually I just keep my mouth shut, but then I feel totally “other” among the people with whom I want to share fully.

    I earnestly hope, Michael, that your exhortation would apply to “heretics” like me as well, and that my earnest faith in Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, would be enough to allow me to be extended the hand of fellowship that seems to be denied all to often.

  15. Truth Unites: You can offer a meaningful translation of your sentence that while Al and I stand on trap door while you stand on Jesus and Scripture. You can be as wiseacre as you like, but you plainly made the contrast.

  16. Craig: I appreciate the sincerity and reality your faith in Jesus s you understand him. But the rejection of the trinity and the creeds that confess the trinity is going to be a fellowship breaker within historic Christianity. We aren’t remaking the faith; it’s making us and we all stand in a trinitarian river.

    I can accept you as a fellow believer in Jesus on your terms, but I couldn’t accept you as a member of any church I would identify with.

    As I said, I respect your conviction and your conclusion. I assume you would do the same for those of us who confess that Jesus can only be understood as the Second person of the tri-personal God. It’s my place to love you and rejoice that you desire to know Jesus. It’s your job to appreciate that your Jesus and mine have fundamental, not superficial, differences.

  17. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    I-monk, you’re engaging in an argument with me. How about this? I’ll be *HAPPY* to stand on that same trapdoor with you and Al Kimel as long as that trapdoor allows me to submit to the Living and Written Word of God. Are you cool with that? I am.

    Jared Nelson writes: “Christocentrism is an approach to theology, but not a replacement for theology. We must not merely tear down, but know what we are building in its place. One may talk of theology in a civil or uncivil manner, but merely to dismiss it is unhelpful. Christ, the Great Commission and your deconstructionism are all theological whether you want them to be or not.”

    Jared expresses why I winced on rare occasions during my reading of MS’s generally good essay.

  18. Truth: I’m not being argumentative with someone whose first sentence in the exchange said he was standing with Christ and the Bible and I was not.

    The “trap door” analogy seems to be escaping some of you. I am referring to the circularity that we all engage in when doing theology.

    Jared’s comment is fine. It has nothing to do with what I was saying, but it’s fine. He apparently took exception to a critic (Malcolm Yarnell) who recently suggested that Calvinism was not as Christocentric as we may think. In my experience with Calvinism and Calvinists, that’s a valid question. Josh S’s pieces on Lutheranism and Calvinism here at IM pointed out that Calvinism is much more rooted in philosophical issues than Lutheranism.

    The supposed either/or of theology vs the Great Commission doesn’t exist in my post. The abuse of theology at the expense of the GC does.

  19. “It’s your job to appreciate that your Jesus and mine have fundamental, not superficial, differences.”

    I agree…and I can live with those fundamental differences knowing that the historicity of Jesus’ actions (obedience, sacrifice, resurrection and imminent return) are substantial elements upon which we agree. In my view this is much more substantial than speculations about His nature and/or substance.

    I accept that, rightly or wrongly, we DO “stand in a trinitarian river” and so, culturally, the onus is on me to assert my deeply held convictions with wisdom and with love – if for no other reason than to foster mutual respect rather than knee jerk reactions.

  20. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    o I-Monk writes: “Craig: I appreciate the sincerity and reality your faith in Jesus s you understand him. But the rejection of the trinity and the creeds that confess the trinity is going to be a fellowship breaker within historic Christianity. We aren’t remaking the faith; it’s making us and we all stand in a trinitarian river.

    I can accept you as a fellow believer in Jesus on your terms, but I couldn’t accept you as a member of any church I would identify with.”

    I-monk, I can’t help but make the observation that you are engaging in theology and polemics with Craig.

    o I-monk writes: “How you do theology and how you do polemics are the answers to that question.”

    Implicit in this statement is that someone is going to *JUDGE* how another person is doing theology and/or polemics. Question for you: I-monk, do you regard yourself as the authority who should be the one to make a JUDGEMENT on how someone is doing theology and/or polemics?

  21. Truth: “We can discuss all sorts of sentences, but we can only know God in and through Jesus Christ. By Jesus Christ I mean Jesus of Nazareth, New Testament revealed, Old Testament concealed, actual God-Man Jesus of the Creeds.”

    Michael affirms the truth of who Jesus is, as revealed in Scripture and summarized in the creeds. He’s not saying make your own Jesus; rather, (at the risk of stating the glaringly obvious) I think Michael’s point was simply that theology must be approached with humility. Perhaps another way to state it would be: Follow Jesus, even in the way you talk about Him.”

    For what it’s worth, I think his interaction with Craig reflected that attitude. “I love you, here is the truth, I love you.”

  22. Nicholas Anton says

    It seems to me that rather than beginning with Jesus Christ, and the individual who truly knows, believes and trusts in Jesus Christ, we start with an umbrella organization, or nominclature, whether Protestant, Catholic or whatever, that proclaims itself to be the church, bride of Christ. In lieu of that claim, everyone somehow officially attached to that organization or name is reckoned to be a follower of Jesus Christ, from devout Christians to rank atheists. Then, because of that official attachment, these people are considered true believers, and out of bounds for evangelism. After all, aren’t the Mennonite wife beating and daughter molesting bishop, the Anglican atheist priest, and the gay Catholic pedophile priest our brothers and sisters in Christ? Aren’t the non church attending, ignorant unbelieving multitudes, including practical agnostics within these organizations that carry a Christian nomenclature because of technical membership, believers on account of their church recognized credentials and status? Let me suggest, no!
    It is not I who defines what a true believer is but God, in Scripture. The question asked in the New Testament is never, “when have you believed”, but rather, “DO YOU BELIEVE”? The object and quality of saving faith is clearly mapped out in Scripture by Jesus and His Apostles by The Gospel, in The Gospels and Epistles; both as to what it is and what it is not. True faith does not entail belief in an institution, program or process, but in The Atonement of The Historic Jesus Christ. It is not demarcated from unbelief by “belief” and “profession” alone, but by lifestyle as well. Paul states; 2Co 5:17;
    Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And while I cannot attain that righteousness by my own works, I can claim it by Faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.
    True believers are those who qualify according to God.

  23. Am I the only one who does not feel in the least edified by theological arguments?

    I get What I-monk is saying and agree a great deal with his points.

    Theology is important, but it is a dry, dusty tome in times of crisis. Jesus is Living Theology–the kind that actually does something through the actions and love of His followers, rather than engaging in endless talk, speculation, and the parsing of verbs.

    Seeing Christians tear into each other gives a more convincing argument for atheism than for Christ.

    I wish I could say that I had never been sucked into argument, polemics, and rhetoric in the service of a theological point, but alas I would be lying.

    May I do it less and less.

  24. Michael, thanks for this post.

    I can hardly stand theology anymore. It has sucked the life right out of me. Years of reading, studying, receiving an M.Div., theological banter, etc. has had a damaging effect on my relationship with Jesus.

    I’m sure that there will be some here who will scoff and ridicule such a notion. But when I came to Christ 23 years ago, it was ALL about Jesus. Over the years this has changed. Now it seems that it is all about “being right.” For many years I ‘ve argued with the best of them. It’s strange, but somehow my god became “knowledge about God,” rather than God himself.

    You asked, “Is anyone weary of being told we need more theology of everything and more theological polemics so we can be sure we’re doing everything exactly right? Is anyone surprised that the much less theologically fascinated are miles ahead of us in church planting and evangelism?”

    I for one am VERY weary. Endless theological debate has burned me out. Reading some of the comments on this post turns my stomach. I can hardly take it any more. I’ve had to stop.

    So to save my faith, I’ve given up theology for at least a while, maybe forever. I’ve even had to take a short Scripture break. I can’t even read the Bible and just listen for the voice of God without analyzing the text theologically and struggling to get it right. Because we can’t have any uncertainty or mystery, can we? So the Bible sits for awhile and I am just praying and thinking about the Lord.

    I’ve also decided to write out my core beliefs. Well, it seemed that my core beliefs were already compiled in a little thing called the Apostles Creed. So I have adopted that as my statement of faith.

    And I’m even doing something that I haven’t done in years – I’m reading a novel! There was no time to read a novel in the past – I spent all my time (and alot of it too) reading theology or books on Christian living. You know, I think it is time to stop reading the books and time to just start Christian living!

    This is hard because I love Jesus and the Bible. But this is where I’m at. I’m hoping when all is said and done, I can get back into the Bible just for the joy of it. And that my relationship with Jesus will be stronger than ever. As you put it, I’ve pulled over and I’m checking the map. Thanks again for the post and for listening.

  25. Michael, is this post of yours perhaps a midrash on that delicious verse in ECCLESIASTES that says, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh”? 😉

    Tho I fully relate to your concerns expressed here, my only question is, as the culture grows more and more inimical to the Gospel (even winsomely presented), as it more and more resembles the S.U. in this respect, and as even the church itself—fraying under the wear and tear of decades of apostasy and RomperRoomism—seems antagonistic even to the mere DNA of the True Gospel, won’t the gauge of what’s an “acceptable” way of talking theology get less and less tolerant?

  26. I have no qualms about theological essentials. They need to be studied, communicated and even debated. But we have a situation now where discipleship, evangelism, etc is being redefined as theological debate. Theological pundits are evangelical celebrities. Books and Publishing are an empire. This has become a life to be lived, complete with t-shirts. And at the end of the day, there are serious questions of needless divisiveness (see the FV debate for example) and a replacement/deplacement of church planting, evangelism, mercy ministries, etc.

    I realize that Tim Keller is claimed by a lot of these people, but I’d suggest they look at what Keller has done, what he emphasizes, how he does it, etc.

  27. I have found that the theology I am attracted to usually has an appealing heart behind the words. After all, it is the condition of our hearts which will sink or save us, not the accuracy of our propositions.
    Mr. Spencer, I see your heart as one seeking to be like Jesus’ heart and because of that I can appreciate your comments on theology vety much.
    Thank you for comtinuing to post in all weather.

  28. Overall, I agree with Michael. I’m tired of, as a Calvinist, the answer to everything being the five points. It’s not the answer to everything. I’m tired of discipleship being seen as “are you infra, supra, or just confused?” Sometimes you don’t want a systematic answer…you just want living water for a few days and the systematics will come later…

    Then again, we need systems. I have friends whose brains tear themselves apart over their “assurance” because they don’t want a systematic answer. One day it is “we have peace with God through Christ”, the next day “be ye perfect”, and they are vexed.

    Christ bleeds into biblical doctrine through His word, and it becomes a succinct statement of what 40 or 50 texts teach us little bits about. Those doctrines become our soul in times of trouble. I think that is very helpful, and can lead to worship. But then we can make a system to silence about 40 or 50 texts…and that’s a source of great trouble…

    Theology can become a pile of rubble in the middle of the narrow way, or it can be a bridge over a washout…it just depends on where we are going with it.

  29. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Terri writes: “Am I the only one who does not feel in the least edified by theological arguments?”

    To your rhetorical question, the answer would be “probably not.”

    Yet I would politely caution that you do not extrapolate your personal displeasure with theological arguments as something that will happen to all Christians, nor that it be suggested that theological arguments will inevitably result in a burned-out relationship with Christ as happened with Scott above.

    There are folks such as myself who are edified greatly by theological debate and who also grow closer to Christ as a result of theology and polemics. Would you deny folks such as myself this joy that Christ has given?

  30. Damn it! Literally!

    Can’t anyone make a statement without people automatically taking a portion, taking it to an extreme, and then bashing the entire piece/author?

    As far as I can tell, IMonk isn’t declaiming all theology – rather a preoccupation with it which breeds diversity. He isn’t saying there can be no judgments, or that all theology must be accepted. Theology and polemics is good insofar as it does not truly divide the body of Christ.

    Which part of that first quote did people miss?

    “Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it….”

  31. >…who also grow closer to Christ as a result of theology and polemics.

    Polemics as an encounter with scripture seems obvious as a means of grace.

    But polemics as such is a means of “growing closer” to Christ? With no counter-balancing concerns for my own pride in being right?

    We certainly differ on that one.

  32. I think the genius of Michael’s post is that it seems to say a lot about something very important, but actually doesn’t say much at all because it is so ambiguous. In other words, it is difficult to know what he is actually arguing against (which is genius because it can then serve to communicate to people on different levels).

    I think fundamentally Michael is trying to say orthodoxy should never be separated from orthopraxy. And I would agree. The Puritans defined theology as “the art of living unto God by Christ.” Right doctrine should never be separated from right living. But due to temperaments and past experiences, we all tend in one direction or the other. We should must discipline ourselves to strive for the ideal of integrity, doing what we confess and confessing what we do. We cannot know the person, Jesus Christ, well apart from a rigorous devotion to biblical-theological study. And we must know him well, in order to walk with him well. But we also cannot do biblical-theological study well apart from a heart-affecting walk with the person Jesus Christ. And we must walk with him well in order to know him well. There is a beautifully organic symbiosis in the Christian life that requires our utmost care and attention.

    I am certainly not perfect. I admit my tendency is toward the knowing rather than the walking. But I’m trying my best to walk with him in integrity, to live a life of true repentance.

    Jay

  33. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    “With no counter-balancing concerns for my own pride in being right?”

    Given your confession that you take pride in being right when you engage in polemics I certainly agree that you need to have counterbalancing concerns against your prideful self.

    But here’s the straw-man that I’m identifying: Theology/Polemics Pride

    I firmly and respectfully disagree with this sweeping generalization. Theology and Polemics DOES NOT and NEED NOT NECESSARILY lead to sinful pride, and in fact, can be Christ-glorifying.

    Christ-Glorifying! Praise be to God!

  34. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    My formatting did not come through on one sentence above.

    Let me rewrite it as this:

    But here’s the strawman that I’m identifying:

    Theology/Polemics Equals or Entails Pride.

    This is not necessarily so.

  35. Memphis Aggie says

    Enjoyed this post – and NT Wright deserves respect for his humility. I have to go look him up now, maybe I’ll learn something. I like your point: it’s not that theology isn’t important or even crucial, but rather that it’s role is supporting rather than central. Perhaps for a few gifted souls (not me, for certain) theology is their calling and thus could be central for them among their works.

  36. Rob Rumfelt says

    To paraphrase C.S. Lewis:

    It’s sometimes good not to be a great theologian. It’s easily mistaken for being a good Christian.

    – From “Reflections on the Psalms”

  37. Truth wrote:

    Would you deny folks such as myself this joy that Christ has given?

    Seeing how I have no personal power to deny anybody anything, I don’t see the question as relevant.

    I will see your polite caution and raise you one more: Make sure your joy isn’t based in “winning” arguments and decimating your theological opponents.

    That kind of joy is best to be avoided.

  38. I think I’m approaching my limit as well.

    It’s only a slight exaggeration that, increasingly, I want to say, “I’ll listen to you only after you tell me which Mt 25 work you’re involved with — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, going to the prisoner. If you’re not involved in any of these, then you have nothing to say to me.”

    Or I could just be feeling particularly exasperated today.

  39. Are people talking about two different things here?

    Here’s a line that I think sums up the whole post: “When I replace the Great Commission with the Great Ongoing Polemic To Prove My Theology Isn’t Wrong, it’s time to pull over and check the map….”

    Notice it does NOT say “When I replace the Great Commission with theology, it’s time to….” It’s talking about arguing over theology to the point that it divides. It’s not bashing the development of one’s own deepening understanding of theology. There’s a MASSIVE difference between growing closer to Jesus, learning more about Him, and discussing it with others who want to discuss it with you, versus looking for points of disagreements in the statements of others and actively seeking to correct them. The first is theology and polemics, the other is divisiveness.

    What immediately happened here proves the point of the article – people come in and start arguing about imputed assumptions on particular phrases instead of looking at the whole piece and taking it to heart. I can almost predict what the response to that is – “but if there are points of error within, they must be pointed out and corrected!”

    Go back, look at the first quote.

    Truth Unites And Divides said “Theology and Polemics DOES NOT and NEED NOT NECESSARILY lead to sinful pride, and in fact, can be Christ-glorifying.” I agree absolutely! The problem is that he’s demonstrating the way in which theology and polemics can be use to be argumentative and divisive.

  40. Great post!

    A while back you posted this one, which is very similar in tone:

    https://internetmonk.com/archive/dumb-up-brother-a-spirituality-of-ignorance

    I have actually printed that one out and carried it with me to read and reread.

    Keep up the good work.

  41. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Terri wrote: “I will see your polite caution and raise you one more: Make sure your joy isn’t based in “winning” arguments and decimating your theological opponents.

    That kind of joy is best to be avoided.”

    Terri, thanks for the advice. Would your advice, perchance, be based on personal experience?

    😉

  42. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    (1) WebMonk, do you think your comment unifies the Body of Christ?

    (2) What M. Jay Bennett wrote. But if that’s an accurate summation, it’s a fairly obvious statement.

  43. I know you’re busy, but given the content of this post I think you’d find the critique of theology and dogma found in these podcasts interesting (they’re not very long):

    See “Theology as a Way of Life” (July 19) and “The Tragedy of Dogma” (Aug 2) at the following link:

    http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/carlton/P10/

  44. I was criticizing you for divisiveness. Whether or not that is divisive itself, is a matter of how it’s given and received.

    I tried to make sure that I didn’t sound like I was doubting your salvation, orthodoxy, or personal walk with Jesus — just your behavior at the moment. How will you receive it?

  45. I just love it that, re: the quote at the top of Michael’s post, the most polemical of Catholic figures — we would think — says we should start from trying to presume good faith on the part of our disputant counterparts, rather than assume any questioner or challenger is an apostate until directly claimed otherwise.

    That’s all i’m sayin’ . . .

  46. Excellent post, Michael. Sounds like you need some new e-friends! So many people here seem to take themselves so very seriously. I can relate.

  47. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Take a look in your heart WebMonk.

  48. I am on a journey – raised as protestant/evangelical/charismatic/word-of-faith/… but now bending more and more towards orthodoxy. I started to read the early fathers, and that gave me a lot of answers to the questions generated by the “postevangelical wilderness” 😉

    I will also recommend the link proposed by “Brad in KY”.

    I like your posts, and read them regularly…

    My best regards from Norway.

  49. You are all blessed by the fact that I’m reading this right before church and so I don’t have time to type a long, admiring treatise. 😉

    So, I’ll just say two things:

    1) Michael, wow! Way to go! Stunning (in a good sense) post!

    2) Part of what you wrote, reminded me of something that Rich Mullins used to say: “I don’t think the Bible was given to us to prove that we are right. I think the Bible was given to us to prove that GOD is right, and the rest of us are just guessing.”

    (That quote, BTW, is off the top of my head. So I may not have the wording exactly right.)

  50. Really, really excellent. This is something we have to carry around with us and repeatedly recall, or we will start preening ourselves before the funhouse mirror of our own theological sideshow. Thanks for the “reality check.”