[Heads-up: this will be a lil’ bit of a rant.]
As promised, here’s the continuance from yesterday’s post. Hmm… I wonder if having a part I and II would allow me to get all official-sounding and call it a series? “Continuing my series on the nature of theology…”
Anthropomorphisms […], flowery descriptions of biblical text & concepts, & the use of too many words are some of the greatest tools you can use to confuse the general body of Christ. I’ve noticed that most theologians enjoy debating the Word, and enjoy dissecting it to pull the most out of the text that they can. […]
There is nothing wrong with these things, because it is a biblical concept mentioned in Proverbs 25:2 . “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and it is the glory of a king to search it out.”
While debating with such an “intellectual” language, it’s also not real inspiring, or edifying for the rest of the body.
Basically the guy who posted was concerned about two big things: 1) The super-intellectual, overly complicated dimension of theology, and 2) the debatist spirit surrounding theology.
I’ma overlap a little bit from yesterday’s post, but I hope this will be helpful to somebody.
Firstly, let’s look at point 1 — the intellectualism. Is theology meant to be as intellectual and complex as it has become? Yes and no. Yes, because there are many genius scholars who love Jesus, and when they write, it will natural come out as really intense complex scholarly stuff. No, because theology has so often been relegated to just the intense scholarly stuff that goes over the heads of 99.9% of the human population. Yes, because God wants us to engage our brains as we talk to Him and learn about Him (because He wants our whole self). No, because all the wisdom and philosophy of human academia can’t even hold a candle to the glory of God. Yes, because there are so many layers to the nature of God that we will always be searching for more understanding. No, because the gospel is simple and accessible to everyone.
Well, thanks a lot, Amanda. That was helpful. Or not.
Basically, here’s my point. There is a very valid dimension of super-intellectual theological study (see Richard’s comments from yesterday to hear some more great reasons as to why). Answering the above question, there is totally a place for antropomorphisms, flowery language, and verbose dissertations (if you’ve read much of my stuff, you know I am far from opposed to verbosity). However, I do agree that so much of the time, heavy-duty theological study is done without any heart reality attached to it. As a result of this, many believers have unconsciously, but incorrectly, relegated theology to something that only post-graduate students can even touch — so most believers disqualify themselves from understanding any of it at all.
The goal of this post, as well as yesterday’s post, is to try and demystify the idea of studying theology. So many more people can get into it than they give themselves credit for. Theology is not primarily a tangle of metaphysical ideas. It’s firstly and foremostly the study of God.
Looking at point 2 above, and the debatist spirit that surrounds theology… In my observation, this is really closely linked to taking theology as solely a mental exercise and not a heart reality. I’ve had a bit of a brush with this myself, especially the first time I looked at eschatology. I was 13 or so at the time — up until that point, I didn’t even know eschatology was a word — and my first introduction to it came in the context of a massive debate. Emails, attitudes, and insults were flying, and both sides were using the exact same scriptures to try and substantiate opposite points. I was so confused and spooked by the argument that I inadvertently became a “Pan-Millienialist,” not having the slightest clue what to believe about the end times, but not really caring, because I thought it would all somehow just “pan out” in the end. My thinking was that Jesus was coming back however He chooses to, regardless of what I believed, so I should just not worry about it and move on. Not exactly the best plan on my part. (I’m refraining from chasing the bunny trail of the significance of studying the end-times — that’s for another post.)
For the next few years, every time I met with the word “theology,” it was always surrounded by debate. Literally. Every single exhausting time. I’m a pretty laid-back person, and so being around the arguments drained me. Theology became almost an offensive word to me. “Theology — I’ve heard of that. That’s what all the smart people argue about. That’s what causes church splits. We should forget about theology. Let’s just worship Jesus.” I had a little bit of a right idea about it and a whole lot more of a wrong idea about it.
Again, I must stress it — theology is not about arguing. It’s about studying God. If it becomes simply a debate excercise, we’ve missed the point.
Now, I definitely have no problem with the idea of taking a difficult theological concept and having a good-natured debate over it. I’ve had several energetic discussions with my friends regarding different topics where we didn’t agree with each other’s conclusions, but we could walk away from it still loving and respecting each other, because it never sank to name calling, making assumptions, or passing judgment on each other’s mental capacity or walk with the Lord. Discussion is fine — good and healthy, in fact — but a little humility and preferring of one another goes a really long way.
So where does that leave us? Firstly, I firmly believe that all theology should have a good foundation in scripture. If you’re trying to study out a concept, but are getting confused, always go back to what the scripture says. I have to do this quite a bit studying eschatology — when things begin getting speculative and over my head, I go back to what I know for sure from the Bible. Jesus is definitely coming back. We’re definitely going to be here the entire time until He comes. He’s definitely going to set up a kingdom on the earth. Once I find my scriptural “center” again, I’m ready to take a breath and jump back into the theories and postulations.
Before we go to “what does Dr. So-and-so say,” and start comparing it against “But Prof. Somebody-or-other says something different,” our first course of action should be to read the scripture like crazy and get a good handle on what God has to say about it.
I’ll say it again. Theology. It’s the study of God.
Secondly, theology needs to be approached with an attitude of prayer. I love Misty Edwards’ chorus where she sings, “I don’t want to talk about You like You’re not in the room.” Again, theology is not about studying vague concepts. It’s the study of God. It would make sense to talk to the One we’re seeking to know more about! This does a number of things for us — It keeps us humble, not so caught up in our own smarts that we miss the main point. It keeps us from burning out, as we actually encounter the Lord while we study. It keeps us grounded, not getting so far off in left field that we lose focus of who God is and how He deals with us.
Thirdly, theology needs to be approached with a heart of humility. We’re all learning, everyone from the two-week old new Christian to the seasoned Bible scholar. We all have things we can learn from each other, and we all undoubtedly have an area or two where we are off. If learning and discussing theology becomes a vehicle for us to validate our own scholasticism and prove ourselves right, again, we have again missed the point that theology is about studying God. Rather than ripping each other to shreds over our theological standpoints, it should drive us to love each other, to develop a camaraderie with each other, and to learn from each other. And of course, the ultimate goal is that it should drive us to love Jesus more. This doesn’t mean we can’t strong opinions on certain points, and this doesn’t mean we have to like or agree with every theory that breezes our way. This does mean we walk in meekness, preferring each other above ourselves and conducting ourselves in love. Entering into a theological debate doesn’t somehow give us license to suspend the fruit of the Spirit.
Does the general understanding of theological study need to change? I absolutely believe so. But even as we work towards a change, we must be extraordinarily careful not to wind up in the same sort of attitude we’re trying to resist. If we find ourselves saying, “Those guys are all just argumentative and judgmental! Who do they think they are? Good thing I have a better revelation and more maturity than to sink to that level….” Guess what. We just did sink to that level (supposing our assessment of their character is even true in the first place). Humility and meekness hold true straight across the board — even, and perhaps especially, when we’re dealing with people whom we feel are not themselves being humble or meek. The goal is not just to be right. The goal is to be closer to Jesus, and to communicate to other people how to do the same.