November 26, 2020

You Need To Get Rid of Some Of Your Theology

Some of you won’t like what I’m about to say, but trust me, I’m not shooting at you. I’m not shooting at anyone. I’m trying to be pastoral, if there’s any hope that I have any pastoral instincts left.

Here’s the word: Some of us need to let go of some of our theology.

***bottle flies through air***

No, seriously. Some of us need to get to the trash can and empty out some of what’s in the theology file.

***tomato in flight***

Some of you people have got some seriously bad theology, and it’s stinkin’ up your life.

***pitchforks and torches sighted***

I’m telling you this for your own good. Some- not all- but some of what you’re holding on to so tenaciously is messing you up. It may be messing up your life, the lives of others and its going to spread to your children and those you minister to.

***angry voices***

Looks like I better get this said before the rocks start flying.

I believe what Christians believe. It’s what my life is founded on.

My Christian faith is like a map. It tells me where I am, who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going and what it’s all about.

But I don’t believe everything Christians teach. I don’t believe everything I used to believe. Maybe it’s my own critical, skeptical nature. Maybe it’s the “sola scriptura” Protestant in me. Maybe it’s living awhile and drawing some conclusions. Maybe it’s learning something about what matters.

Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit.

Or maybe, as some of you will conclude, I’m some kind of post modern jellyfish who quits the team when things get tough. One of those post-evangelical emerging liberals who prefers a big hug to a good systematic theology lecture.

I don’t understand our loyalty to things that make God so unlike the one who revealed God on earth. Why we take on whole planks of Christianity that Jesus wouldn’t endorse or recognize.

Personal reference. When I discovered that God wasn’t going to stop something that I believed with all my heart and mind he had to stop, I was really pulled up short. My “map” was well worn with 30+ years of telling who I was and what God was supposed to do for me.

And now, I was discovering that my map was flawed. I’d believed it, and I had a choice. I could deny what was happening around me, in me and in others.

Or I could throw out some theology.

That meant admitting some of my teachers were wrong. Or at the least, didn’t know all there was to know.

It meant that some of what I was sure God had showed to me wasn’t God at all. It was me, or someone else.

I was wrong. My theology was wrong. My collection of Bible verses was wrong.

I hadn’t quite arrived. I didn’t have all the answers.

Part of my misery in the situation I was facing was my collection of theology.

There’s a moment when you realize things aren’t as certain as you thought they were. It’s a scary moment, and you want to blame someone. This collection of verses, statements and opinions was supposed to keep this from happening. The right theology was supposed to keep the sky from falling; it was supposed to keep the trap doors from opening up under my feet.

It makes more than a few people angry to hear that following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting. It’s less like writing down the right answers to a test and more like trusting yourself into the hands of a doctor. It’s less like standing on concrete and more like bungee jumping.

It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.

Some of you have been beating your head against the wall of your bad theology for years. You’ve beaten your head against that wall until you aren’t a very pleasant person to be around. You’ve made yourself and some other people miserable. You’ve been like the Pharisees: you gave others the burden you’d chosen to carry and more. You’ve taken your misery and made others more miserable.

You’ve blamed others. You’ve silently accused God. You’ve sat there, arrogantly, insisting that you were right no matter what was happening. You’ve sought out arguments to assure yourself that you were right.

But the whole time, there was the trash, and some of that trash was theology that needed to go.

I’ve thrown out some of my theology, and I haven’t replaced it all. As much as I would like to know the answer to some questions, I’ve concluded I’m not going to know the answer to them all. I’ve concluded that lots of the theology I’ve been exposed to and taught falls considerably far shorter of perfection than I ever imagined. Some of it hasn’t served anyone very well. Some of it was nothing more than my way of jumping on a passing bandwagon.

The other day, someone who knew a bit about me wrote me to question why I didn’t believe in “limited atonement.” He wanted my verses and my theology. He wanted me to debate, and if he won, to adopt his theology.

I couldn’t explain myself very well to this questioner. My reasons aren’t all about verses. They are about who God is; who I believe God shows himself to be in Jesus. It’s biblical, but it’s also existential. It’s about the shape and flavor of truth, not about who wins the debate.

I can’t bend my faith into the shape of a “limited atonement” Jesus. And I can’t explain that. I only know that I needed to throw that away, because it was shaping me and my world in a way that was taking me away from Jesus.

I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s inside of me that, ultimately, his song has to ring true. If you can’t hear it, that doesn’t mean I don’t. Having everyone else tell me all about the music was taking away my desire to sing. And I am here to sing, not study music.

I’m pretty sure my questioner wrote me off because I wouldn’t sign up. That’s OK. I respect him, but here me clearly: I don’t need my theology — my opinion of my theology especially — to be that important. It’s unhealthy.

I believe a lot of things. I could teach through a course on theology without any problems. But the difference between myself now and myself in the past is that much of that theology is less essential than it used to be. It does not equal God and I won’t speak as if it does. I won’t pretend that my own thoughts about God are the place I ought to stop and announce what God is always thinking and doing.

Hopefully, it’s going to be a lot easier to have a theological housecleaning. In the future, I don’t plan to fall for the flattery that I’ve never changed my mind or said “I don’t know.”

I know. That’s me. The way too emotional, way too flexible, over-reacting Internet Monk. Baptist one day. Calvinist the next. Catholic tomorrow. Talking about being “Jesus shaped,” whatever that means.

And that’s my trash can in the corner, and what you’re smelling is what I finally threw out.

It was long overdue.

By the way, guess what? I’m still here, believing. Following Jesus, loving Jesus, wanting more of Jesus than ever before.

I don’t recommend my path be your path. I only ask if you’ve opened yourself to the possibility that a spiritual renovation in your life can’t keep all the old junk. Yes, you may upset someone or some important, self-validating group. You may, for a moment, wonder if you know who you are and where you are. It may frighten you to consider that Brother so and so or a sincere family member were wrong.

You may not be excited to discover that all that accumulated trash does not equal God.

I hope that soon you are excited. I am sad to see and hear some of you involved with a God that increasingly holds you hostage in a theological extortion scheme.

That’s not the God who came to us in Jesus. It’s not.

There’s more. He is more. Your journey is more.

Comments

  1. Very nice post, IMonk. There is something absolutely refreshing about hearing someone say “I don’t know it all – and neither do you.” We see through a glass darkly, and to try to pretend otherwise is foolishness.

    Rock on!

  2. “I only want to abandon all theology after talking to the Lutherans about the sacraments.”

    I’d like to hear more about this. Lutherans do theology seriously because God’s Word is serious. Your way, often found in evangelical churches, just avoids talking about Scripture when it’s hard to understand. Lutherans delve in, but stop at God’s Word, and where Scripture leaves mystery, Lutherans leave mystery. They try very hard to avoid the infiltration of worldly reason (sin) into theology. Sacraments are a great example of this.

    Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God [be justified] unless he is born of water and the Spirit” and go and baptize in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Lutherans do that. We believe it conveys grace [justifies] because Christ said it does. Not because of the water, but because of the mysterious power of the Word. Without the Word, it is nothing. With the Word, baptism is a work of the Holy Spirit conveying grace and grow in faith.

    Same with Communion.

    Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood(CC) has eternal life, and(CD) I will raise him up on the last day [is justified]” and to take and eat, this is my blood shed to forgive your sins.
    There it is, real presence, giving grace by eating, all because of the power of the Word. So powerful, that taking it wrongly caused Corinthians to get sick and die.

    It is weird, shocking really, to human reason. But it’s a beautiful thing with the Word.

  3. When i get so full of my theology that i quit seeking Jesus. i lose.

  4. I although think of theology as a lens to help us understand God. Some lenses are better than other–none is perfect. But it’s when we mistake the lens FOR God that the trouble begins.

    A nice quote from Soren Kierkegaard’s Provocations:

    “Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

  5. Andrew said, “I’ve been encouraged by the concept of the church Fathers that a ‘theologian’ is not someone who has amassed a great deal of information about theological topics, but someone who has the true knowledge of God that comes from holiness and prayer. I think that this is what we’re getting at here. Less ‘theology’ and more true theology.”

    Brother Lawrence comes to mind. True theology is where we live, not how well we can argue a position.

    And there is no “theological extortion scheme” in the presence of God.

  6. Isn’t God the great iconoclast, continually shattering all our images of Him, every time we try to confine Him to our own pet theories. The only defining limits we are allowed to put on Him, ultimately, are the ones that He Himself has given us in His own self-revelation. Anything beyond that, any system we try to put together to make the pieces fit more neatly is just our best guess, and while we need those guesses to try to make sense of it all (and to realise that some people have actually changed some of the pieces), we need to know, always, that He is bigger, more good, more loving and harder to comprehend than any of the systems we try to confinr Him to.
    Now we know in part ..

  7. I am thankful I can read my Bible and know the Lord will speak to me-I do not need a theological system-I am thankful that when I pray I know the Lord hears me-the Lord is good.

  8. “It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.” – that’s a Gem!! 🙂

    If it helps, T.F. Torrance gave me the best answer (so far) to the whole “Limited Atonement” mess and a history lesson to boot.

    http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/an-introduction-to-torrance-theology-a-review/

  9. I’m just finishing up my first year at seminary. I love this post, because it gets at what I’ve been feeling here. One of my favorite classes is Systematics I. I spend nearly 3 hours on Friday mornings debating out some of the more mundane and useless things I have ever encountered, and come to the conclusion daily that there is virtually no one in my current congregation who would be interested in having a conversation about perichoresis and its ramifications for Latin American political structures. But this class, because it is so exhausting and mind boggling at times, drives me right back to Scripture. Over and over again, in the papers I write, in the comments I make in class, I find myself appealing to Scripture, to the actions and character of Jesus, and of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob witnessed to in the Old Testament. Anything that drives me to Scripture like this class does gets high marks from me!

  10. I love systematic theology. It’s been my favourite subject at university but it hurts my head and it hasn’t done my grade average any favours. Maybe I just love an argument. It has also shown me that the more I know theology, the less of an understanding I really have. A few pieces of jigsaw coming together simply reveals that the picture is far bigger than I had realised.
    It has helped me though. It has helped me define my faith and my approach to ministry. But it only does so in dialogue with scripture and other believers (eased with a liberal dose of prayer). Whenever my ‘certainty’ has become too much, someone or something has come along to remind me that my understanding is severely limited.
    And sometimes I get prompted to just stand back and say, “Praise God!”
    Another great post Michael.

  11. Ideally, theological matters should be approached with humility — meaning that we should grant ourselves the simple mercy of being wrong now and then (or if we’re really humble, more often than not). When theology is coupled with intellectual arrogance and a control-aimed agenda, what we get is religious dogma and a man-made image of God fashioned after flawed human logic. There is no way we are ever going to wrap our finite minds around the whole council of God, and to claim that one has encapsulated all truth within a theological framework is either the peak of vanity or the utter depth of insanity.
    But we can know God as a person named Yeshua (or Jesus if you’re Greek), and we can enjoy the inexplicable mystery of His Spirit living inside of us. I’m not saying that we don’t need theology at all. At best, theology gives us some rational points of reference to link with the spiritual reality of Christ within us and a way to communicate that reality to others. At worst, it replaces that reality with religious systems of thought control.

  12. GratefulForGraces says

    Anna A – Thanks, that helps! 🙂

    iMonk – I’m sorry, and am not trying to push any agenda. I wrestle with knowing – then acting on – what is good theology, because I see wildly contradicting teachings on what I would think would be the most basic of Christian beliefs, and the consequences are all over the map.

    Joseph – Your point is spot-on. I do believe that there is truth that we can have (even apart from the Bible) and it’s important to know it. But when we make the statement that God would make his truth perfectly clear to us, we have to ask why there are so many of us that contradict one another. Is it where/how we look for truth or is it our own blindness/sin?

    So maybe I’m using the word “theology” wrong. I would boil it down to simply having a right belief in God, which should result in our living a more holy life. Unfortunately one doesn’t necessarily lead to another, but I take comfort that I’m still in the midst of my journey.

    “Common human courtesy is defined by your adherence to my version of Calvinism. Deviate, and you’ll be shunned.”

    I get your example, but is it the belief in Calvinism that’s wrong, or is the person just a jerk? I know many Calvinists that are devout and wonderful people. But does that make Calvinism (or any other theological belief) true?

    Okay, I’ll shut up now. Thanks for hosting the discussion, iMonk.

  13. Again, beautiful thoughts.

    Following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting.

    We fall into the trap of thinking the Bible is to be viewed as a prescriptive rule book. But it’s not. Not in any way. Just as the Son of God was incarnational as fully God and fully man, so the Scripture is incarnational in being fully from God and fully from man. And that is beautiful – God telling His story through humanity to capture the heart of humanity. It’s all God-breathed and infallible, but not a rule book. It’s poetry, drama, story, wisdom, and God doing quite scandalous things.

    I think one great writer said it this way one time – Aslan is no tame lion.

  14. …….go toward the light michael!…go toward the light………….!

  15. Michael,
    Thank you for the examples.

    I stopped attending Sunday services about a year ago, in part after the declaration by a guest speaker that our physical ailments were God “busting us in the gut” for our sins. Guilt as a motivator – what fun. I couldn’t believe all the head nodding that was going on when he said it either.

    I still maintain a strong personal relationship with one of the pastors and some of my old choir-mates. During this time, I’ve gotten rid of some of my theological garbage, and in discussing these things with my friends, I’m struck by THIS piece of theological trash: Let go of a belief generally accepted by your denominational friends, and you are looked upon as broken and in need of repentance.

    Nothing that a good old book from Lifeway can’t fix (and I’ve been given three so far).

    Oh, and as quid pro quo for what I asked of you:
    I’m a former US Army officer, but I cannot abide the intertwining of the Christian faith and patriotism as theology.

  16. I gave a big AMEN early in the discussion, and I stand by that. But as Tevia said in Fiddler on the Roof “On the other hand”…

    Our faith, how we choose to relate to Jesus, the things we do in his service, depend on our theology. Our theology determines whether we see God as a loving father or masochistic coach. Our theology determines whether our evangelism means building Hell Houses for teens, or living among the needy. Our theology about theology determines what kind of blogs we write and how we relate to those we disagree with.

    I think one key is knowing what are the core issues to hold firmly and what can be held loosely. Maybe this is another instance of the weak conscience and the strong conscience. Those with a weak conscience are easily offended by much those with a strong conscience have no problem with. This situation is like the ethic of tolerance in secular society – the hardest thing to tolerate is intolerance. And it’s hardest to be gracious and humble with the proud and intolerant.

    I apologize for meandering a little. But what we know and believe, our theology, does matter. So does what we do with our theology.

  17. Thank you SO much for posting this. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I came to many of the same conclusions just a couple days ago.

  18. matt redmond says

    I couldn’t explain your post… so I threw it away.

  19. This whole thread annoyed me last night and I couldn’t figure out why. I went to bed annoyed about the blog post itself and all the comments I read and really couldn’t put my finger on what was annoying me. I then thought of something that C.S Lewis said about how people were eating food long before they understood how food satisfies the hunger and helps the body. I will tell the truth that I’m not much convinced that we have that information now, which is why I am immediately suspicious of scientist who are too confident of themselves or what they have discovered. I am later further annoyed at them when I find out that something that they have been confidently promoting for years turns out to be nonsense.

    It seems to me that this whole thread was running along that line of people talking about how they were so sure of something and out there convincing people that they had that answer and now have come to a point of saying ‘Well we really don’t know what we’re talking about.’ I will distinguish you guys from the scientist in saying that at least you are admitting it, the scientist never will. I will also confess that I am just as guilty as anyone else.

    We really are the dufflepods you know.

    Lost in the wilderness

  20. Hi I-monk,
    I don’t know if this relates, but I love a comment
    from Fulton Sheen, in his book, Lift up your Hearts. “Faith is like a microscope, in that it enables us to perceive deeper meaning in truths which we already know; it gives a new dimension of depth to our natural knowledge.”
    I think as our faith grows, we grow up in our thinking too. A lot of times, it means going away from our safe “literal” understandings, and letting
    our faith go deeper. It’s like when we grow in our knowlege of the world, we throw away some of our old theories, and grow in our understanding. I think God is pleased.

  21. “After this year, if I still have a theology at all, I’m hopefully addicted. I only want to abandon all theology after talking to the Lutherans about the sacraments.”

    I was hoping to see a smile after that remark. Lutheran sacramental theology and piety is among the simplest and most devotional in Christendom. It’s as simple as the little word “is.” We draw our identity from our Baptism which is our rebirth and renewal in Christ; and we draw strength, comfort, and hope from the Supper which is our Lord’s sacrificial Body and Blood. We actually do very little theologizing on the sacraments, and when we do, it’s only in the face of denials.

    To the OP: There are times for a tough-minded faith, and then there are times for a tender-hearted faith. There are many times when I have told people to put down the theology books, internet, etc, take out the Bible, read, pray, worship regularly , commune, go to confession, and leave some of the unsolved problems for another day.

    In this regard, you have given some sound advice, Michael.

  22. ” Words strain,
    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
    Will not stay still. ”
    Burnt Norton, T.S.Eliot

    We can know things and stake our lives on them, but I suspect Godel’s theorem applies to theology too; and all of our models have gaps here and there.

    Must we be baptized, take communion, trust in Jesus as the second Person of the Trinity, etc? If we know these things, yes, but one of my favorite people in the Bible is the thief beside Jesus, who couldn’t do anything anymore but trust the helpless man next to him.

    Our big problem is that the world is full of nonsense that will pervert the gospel message and warp the practice of the faith. If we pare theology down to the barest minimum (a kind of “thief on the cross” theology) what seems to take its place in worship and practice is the culture’s current fasions. The “Prayer of Jabez” stuff is consistent with some “bare minimum” theologies in use; which may be indictment enough. And we’re warned to watch out for wolfish false teachers.
    So a bare minimum theology winds up with some addons.

    But if we don’t keep a reign on our models they accumulate cruft and, relying on slippery words, become confusing. And of course, they help supply reasons why “so-and-so is not a real faithful Christian.”

    I suspect that no theological model or attitude will dispel this tension, and we’ll eventually find ourselves screwing up in one direction or the other. “Do our best to understand, do our best to love, do our best to obey, do our best to be humble, and pray for mercy when we get the “season” wrong.” (That’s a model too 🙂 Addons are an exercise for the reader)

  23. AnnaA, struck me more as leaving the Dominicans for the Salesians 😉

    Michael – argh. Do these people not have the Book of Job in their copy of the Bible? Did they somehow miss the moral of the story, whereby God says “Suffering in life NOT = My wrath and righteous punishment of eeeevil sinner-type person”?

    Seriously, at times, the worst enemy of Christianity is Christians.

  24. This all makes me think of Jesus fully revealing Himself — for the first time — to the Samaritan woman at the well — one of those who worshiped what they “did not know.” And after telling her that, and that the Jews knew what they were talking about theologically, He told her that even His own “theologically correct” people were coming to the day when they would be on the same level playing field as everyone else of having to “worship God in Spirit and in Truth.”

    In the adulterous state she was in — I believe she even thought Jesus was hitting on her at first — without changing a thing on the outside, became the most successful evangelist in the Gospels; the whole town came out and believed.

    I am floored by the story — always have been. But where’s the systematic theology …? I’m sure someone has one that they think fits, but I beg to differ.

  25. May I suggest an image?

    Think of theology as a solar system. In the middle of the theological solar system is the Son of God.

    The Nicene Creed and the Ecumenical Councils function as the limits. If you “exceed” those limits with your theology, you reach escape velocity and move away out of the “solar” system and are no longer Christian, even if you use the name Christian. For instance, think of the Unitarian/Universalists, etc.

    That leaves quite a few possible orbits around the Son of God. Some of them, like Pluto, are so far away that they are in danger of leaving Christianity and their “orbits” are eccentric. Yet, everyone who has not reached escape velocity is still within the radiance of God’s mercy.

    Our goal is to be like the planet Mercury, to have the closest orbit around the Son of God. Hopefully our lives are lives of learning and growth, and we are moving slowly closer to the image and likeness of Our Lord. But, even if we move away in our theology, that does not mean that we have “left the solar system.” In a sense, to mimic the child’s game, it only means we are getting “colder” instead of “hotter.”

    Now, this image leaves a lot of things out. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the centripetal force that tries to pull us in. And, it does not take into account humility, good works, faith, correct disposition, etc. But, maybe is is a helpful image that gives us the freedom to do theology.

  26. Radagast, in regard to teaching your class: the best instruction I ever got (as in the most helpful in a concrete sense) was when I was twelve years old and preparing for Confirmation – we were taught the Ten Commandments and how they applied.

    Things like “How would you break the Eighth Commandment (Catholic numbering) “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”?”

    That it wasn’t just telling lies, or committing perjury – how many of us are going to be in the position of standing in a witness box in court, after all? But things like gossip, rumours, back-biting; even remaining silent when others were doing these things was agreeing with them. Either speak up in defence of the person or leave, but don’t just sit there and let it go on.

    You could do a heck of a lot worse than to make sure your students know the Ten Commandments and get examples of how we can break them, even if we think we’re not doing so.

  27. cheryl u says

    I am just wondering about something here. II Timothy 3:7 speaks in a very negative way about certain people that are “ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    Doesn’t that imply that it is certainly possible to come to a knowledge of the truth? That is not saying that we are there yet! But to just say that there is way too much mystery and not even trying to reach that point doesn’t seem to me to be the answer at all either.

  28. >>It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.

    THANK GOD!! If Jesus wasn’t then I wouldn’t have stepped within a 100 yds of church ever again. Sometimes it is the very perceptions that I once had of God, either through my own bad theology, or someone else’s that keeps me from conciously stepping into the Gospel with every breath.

  29. Kenny Johnson says

    Jonny Keen,

    Everyone has a theological system. Even you. The question is… do you have a good one or not? If you have an idea about who God is, who Jesus is, whether the Bible is inspired word, etc. You have theology. Even if you don’t believe in God, I believe you have theology.

  30. Ed,

    Sometimes, but certainly not always, our physical ailments can be God busting us in the gut for our sins. The bible has examples of that, but I agree, being “right” wouldn’t excuse a person from great suffering. the bible is full of “good” people who suffered horribly.

  31. Larry Geiger says

    Theology doesn’t work.
    Faith does.
    Theology can guide us to a path but our faith must be worked out. If you are throwing theology out, then that theology has never been worked out in your life. Theology illuminates our life but it is not life.

    We need to spend more time outside books and blogs and more time with people. Theology is dead, of no avail, when it does not intersect life. If we spend too much time reading, studying, theologizing, then we are upside down and there is a bunch of stuff in our brain and not much in our heart.

    All good theology, all true theology becomes crystal clear when we are serving someone. Limited atonement is irrelevant theology most of the time. God did not ask us to judge who we serve, but to serve those in need. Regardless of their theology or our belief about their salvation. As a matter of fact, he commands us to serve those (our enemies) furthest from atonement.

    The only theology that will be real to you is the theology that has been worked out in your life.

    “There are many times when I have told people to put down the theology books, internet, etc, take out the Bible, read, pray, worship regularly , commune, go to confession, and leave some of the unsolved problems for another day.”

    To this I say put down the theology books, internet, Bible, worship, communion, confession, and put on your shoes and go serve. Do you need the address of a nursing home, soup kitchen, pregnancy counseling center, hospice, scout troop, little league team, prison? Someone nearby will be glad to help you find it. Just ask. Solve some problems today.

  32. Whenever I get to feeling bogged down by too much Theology (either uninvited or self-imposed), I do a quick test: Would this knowledge be useful if I was dropped in the middle of a jungle in New Guinea and had one week to witness to folks who had never heard of Jesus?

    Don’t get too analytical about the analogy. It’s just a device I use to pull myself out of a broken man made cistern that won’t hold water.

  33. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I stopped attending Sunday services about a year ago, in part after the declaration by a guest speaker that our physical ailments were God “busting us in the gut” for our sins. — Ed

    Then back in November 2006, God went all Chuck Norris/Samoa Joe on me when my Diverticulosis infected into Diverticulitis and perfed into Peritonitis? Something the abdominal surgeon in the ER told me was 100% fatal before the 1930s and even in 2006 gives you a semicolon?

    How does THAT differ from Zeus sending down a thunderbolt? Or Chalchiuhtotolin striking you down with disease? Or Karma or Kismet doing the same?

  34. Kenny Johnson says

    Larry Geiger,

    How do you know that going out and serving instead of studying is the right thing to do — without theology? How do you know that following Christ’s words to serve is what we’re supposed to do without theology?

    I understand your point. But we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. As I already said. We all have theology. The question is… Is it good theology or is it bad theology. How do you know?

  35. H U G

    Becasue none of those guys can do those things, but God can.

  36. Fr. Ernesto — I like the image, but not as picture of “theology.” Theology is the human understanding of God. The Truth is God’s understanding of everything including we humans.

    Only God knows who is the “mercury” and who is the “pluto” and who is the asteroid who is claiming to be a planet but is just about to burn up in of his or her own friction with the atmosphere of real humanity.

    I know that the real Understanding exists — but I hope I never again claim to come close to apprehending it.

  37. An hour before Jesus came upon the Jacob’s Well would any “theologically correct” person been able to predict that the Samaritan woman was about to bring the message that saved the town …?

  38. K Bryan says

    “And I am here to sing, not study music.”

    Beautiful. Simply… Beautiful.

    This essay sums up what I have been thinking and doing over the past few months much more eloquently that I could have ever written. It sums up why I have left the SBC and moved to a Lutheran church.

  39. As a yet-to-be-former-Calvinist, I hear every word you wrote, Michael. My “Limited” layed down, and i felt I was freed to love more. It’s a scary thing to lay down long-held beliefs, yet very freeing. I can now chase after the Jesus that loves me with swifter, unshackled feet. I look forward to more that He has for me to release, in spite of the grimace on the faces of others whom I still love.

  40. Good post. I think God gave us all brains, and He wants us to use them. Thinking, asking, questioning, being skeptical, is all part of us being smart. God wants us all to think, and question everything. It’s certainly would be no fun being a robot.

  41. Radaghast says

    I do wonder though.. if we were to throw all theology out the window (I know you are not advocating this Michael) and just listen to ourselves (or at least what we perceive to be the Holy Spirit), I wonder how long it would take before we had a Christianity that was unrecognisable to us? (My bet is no more than two generations tops). Opening a can of worms here…

  42. The trouble behind the distinction between Truth and theology is that, given what is normally said, then one has no way to know Truth. All we know is what was reported to us by the Old Testament prophets, the Apostles, the assorted writers of the epistles, and the Tradition received by the Church. Unless one claims direct and immediate knowledge of God, then everything one knows about God has been given to them by human beings. They were inspired of God to write Scripture and pass on the Traditions, but they were still human beings.

    Even if one throws out the Tradition received by the Church, one still has the problem of Scriptures which, as St. Peter said, the unstable distort. One cannot describe Jesus, who He is, whether He is God, and the Holy Trinity without resorting to theology. One has to further resort to theology to defend the New Testament as over against the Old Testament. Even stringing together a set of verses is to leave out another set of verses.

    That there is a Truth that God knows perfectly is accurate. That is not the problem. The problem is that the minute one preaches the Gospel, how to come into a relationship with God, and the implications for your life, one is theologizing, that is one is stringing together verses from disparate books in order to make a logically consistent message. That is theology.

    To say that, in theology, only God knows who is theologically close or not is to say that we cannot know Truth. It is true that some of the Eastern Church Fathers would agree, in a sense.

    It is, however, true that we cannot know who is relationally close the God and who is not. Someone might have a deep hidden serious sin and be very capable of hiding that sin. We can appear to be holy and yet be whitewashed sepulchres with death inside of us. But that is a different matter than theological knowledge.

  43. “Our goal is to be like the planet Mercury, to have the closest orbit around the Son of God.”

    Last time I checked, Mercury was too hot to sustain life. I guess all analogies break down at some point.

    ; )

  44. Kenny Johnson
    Do I have a “theological system”? Good question. I really do not know for sure right now. For many years I held to a Reformed covenantal system of theology (classical Calvinism/17th cent. English Puritanism Westminster Standards). About six or five years ago I realized classical Reformed theology was unbiblical on its understanding of covenant, Torah and sacraments-I tell people these days when they ask me if I am Reformed, that I am Pauline/New Covenant. I am not a Baptist. I seek to follow the teachings of the Bible-I seek to live a life of prayer-I am an evangelical-I believe God is bigger than a theological system-I like the Eastern Orthodox view of God-I like reading St. John of the Cross and John Owen. I am seeking to follow the Lord Jesus. I want to be holy as God is holy.

  45. Rick J. Penner says

    One of the historical differences in spiritual practice between the Christian West and the Hindu/Buddhist East has been the West’s attention and appreciation for the mind as a tool to be used in the search for spiritual, scientific, and cultural truth.

    This is different from the East’s emphasis on inner experience and visionary or meditative sensibility as the primary guide to deep reality.

    In the East the tradition has preferred quests that “quiet” or “stop” thought so that pure “being” or “the void” will predominate in trained states of attention and guided action. Zen Buddhist tradition, for example, denigrates scriptures and books; the emphasis has been on direct master-to-student relationships in the learning of spiritual practice.

    The East’s greatest thinkers did not study nature or human activity with the intention of applying ideas or observations to changing or improving the present or to applying the results to mental learning. Instead, they sought to “go beyond” the everyday reality and find enlightenment or release in internally-based journeys that dissociate the individual from ego-consciousness.

    Meanwhile in the West the major Western religious leaders in the ancient world and the Middle-Ages supported intellectual study and the application of training of the mind to invention, the study of the past, of nature, to building cities, to building ships and roads, and eventually to science itself.

    The West’s spiritual heritage derives originally from the cultures of two sources, Jerusalem and Athens, and it was further guided by the Roman emphasis on law and organization. Plato and Aristotle were essential ingredients in the mental arsenal — where Greek thought joined Hebrew respect for scriptural revelation. This support for mental reasoning and the mental construct of imaginative literature and scriptures lead to the Christian sensibility of the use of the mind to the flowering of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

    Therefore, theology is an important component of the Western religious experience. It is a basic belief that God’s revelation to us appears in narrative forms of human speech and thought – whether oral tradition or in writing – and that this communicates spiritual truth.

    Moses heard God speak from the burning bush. God called prophets with his voice. Jesus himself spoke. His words were meant to be listened to and pondered. The kind of lives we lead in response to Christ is the whole point — but we can’t begin them without first hearing him speak to us. The gospel writers wrote. The message must be delivered to us because we don’t have it naturally within ourselves.

    Meditative or visionary states are not required. Special personal revelations or experiences are not needed.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalms 1:1-2).

    Therefore, I think your attack on theology is overblown and even impractical. Yes, people will abuse anything, and sometimes they will abuse theology – arguing over intellectual points without respect for the search for truth and how we ought to live and be. People will let their egos drive their argumentation to ridiculous heights — sometimes trying to “win” over obscure points in unimportant ways.

    But this is not a practice of theology that is supported by any of the great theologians.

    It is good that we study and ponder and lovingly pour over the scriptures and discuss their meaning with others.

    It is good that we ruminate and brood over the meaning in these texts and even find disagreements with others and listen to other points of view. There is nothing wrong with theology if we keep ourselves humble and do not use our study to “fight” others.

    It is good that we think about the words of Jesus and the prophets and the Psalms.

    Sinking ourselves into the Scripture, in this way, is a wonderful way to live.

    I respectfully disagree with your de-emphasis on theology. Turning onto the road of Eastern consciousness leads to a rather bleak and empty search for the “real” experiences – and these only confirm one’s ego but do not provide the content of narrative richness of the scriptures and thinking about the scriptures and conversation about the scriptures.

    We aren’t so pure and dynamic and Christian that we can live the right life just by trying all by ourselves. Though that is the offer that post-modern reality constantly presents: you can think it all through all by yourself!

    We need the words of God in our hearts to keep us going day and night.

    Rick Penner
    Burbank, CA

  46. Rick — “Therefore, theology is an important component of the Western religious experience. It is a basic belief that God’s revelation to us appears in narrative forms of human speech and thought – whether oral tradition or in writing – and that this communicates spiritual truth.”

    And what did they spend all that time in the desert doing — reading treatises on the Torah …? Moses didn’t even have a Torah or anything else to read. When “Elijah” comes and “turns the hearts of the children back to the Fathers” just which Fathers is being referred to — Aristotle and Plato …? Augustine and Aquinas …? Luther and Calvin …? Or is it Abraham, Isaaac, Jacob and Joseph, who had nothing but the still small voice of revelation that they alone heard and followed. Jesus Himself spent forty days fasting in the desert. What — does that mean He only went to scholarly Christian blog sites on His Ipod for all that time …?

    “The East’s greatest thinkers did not study nature or human activity with the intention of applying ideas or observations to changing or improving the present or to applying the results to mental learning. Instead, they sought to “go beyond” the everyday reality and find enlightenment or release in internally-based journeys that dissociate the individual from ego-consciousness.”

    In the context of a person who has had the True Law of God written on his or her heart and whose soul has been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit this “going beyond” definitely is the way to go. I could back this up with plenty of Scripture, but I’m going back to bed to see what dreams God gives me, if He so chooses.

  47. >Turning onto the road of Eastern consciousness leads to a rather bleak and empty search for the “real” experiences – ….

    Rick Penner:

    Your conclusion that my suggestion to throw out bad theology is an advocacy of Eastern religion at its worst amounts to one of the most bizarre misrepresentations of my writing in the 8 years I’ve been at this. Talk about running down a road I was nowhere close to! This is “Ken and Ingrid” analysis at its best.

    You make some good points, but putting me into an advocacy of Easter consciousness is an absolute invention.

    ms

  48. Michael, I like the idea of “Easter Consciousness” always aware of the Resurrection and its consequences in our lives and in the lives of those whom we touch.

    But, you are right about not advocating “Eastern consciousness”, you are NOT doing it.

    GRIN, sometimes typos can make good sense.

  49. “But this is not a practice of theology that is supported by any of the great theologians” – Rick

    Saying that theologians support the practice of theology is like saying gun ownership is supported by great hunters.

    This discussion has not been solely about the abusive use of theology, but also about whether or not some theology is in and of itself garbage.

    I’m guessing that Martin Luther and John Calvin might make your list of great theologians – but there are plenty here who’d say their theology wasn’t so great.

  50. Rick –‘Meditative or visionary states are not required. Special personal revelations or experiences are not needed.”

    Everyone you would cite as a theological source gained the knowledge you would call your own through special revelation. Even the Apostles who lived and walked and talked with the Lord in the flesh for three years had to wait until they received special revelation from the Holy Spirit before they understood what He was doing and what He was talking about.

    No one can barge their way into the Kingdom of God’s Truth through literary study alone. It all comes through prayer, meditation and revelation.

    Some people have to read about it first, it seems.