Getting Theology Right

Posted on January 22, 2013

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The most important current social discussions is the issue of biblical interpretation. What is the Bible? How is it to be read? Who does it speak to? And who gets to speak to it? These are all questions whose answers are lurking below the surface of most of our ethical and social debates. They are the reason that many people cannot find common ground in the specifics; because they disagree on the fundamentals.

And since often these fundamentals are unspoken (or unknown even to the self), the following is my attempt at clarifying what could be considered one of my “core beliefs.”

You can’t get theology right.

You can be theologically orthodox (you agree with a lot of people). You can be unorthodox (you don’t agree with many people). You can be certain or unsure. You can have a complex or simple theology, but you can’t be right. At least not in mathematical sense of a right answer. Trying to find the right theological answer strikes me as akin to trying to find the “right” relationship with my wife. Or saying a beautiful painting is right. Or a laugh is right. It requires a sense of perfection that is non-sensical, bordering on idolatrous.

This doesn’t mean I believe all truth is relative.

Not everything is subjective. There are still things to be said about God, the world, the church, and our roles and responsibilities. I have written before about how I believe that the good news speaks to all people, regardless of when or where they live. I only think that a lot of ink has been spilled writing about the “capital-T” truth that borders on gibberish. History, culture, and the beautiful diversity of viable options based on personalities render the following list beyond the scope of theological certainty.

how to raise your children

the role of women in the church/home/workplace

the role of men in the church/home/workplace

human sexuality

the best way to run your finances

the role technology should play

and many more

Again, this does not mean that the Bible, or theology, or any individual cannot add to our understanding of these matter. They can and do. And it is my hope that in the future the best and brightest minds keep engaging these ideas. It is the desire for certainty and the sense of finality that I object to. Perhaps my objection arises because I have seen plenty of instances, both personally and publicly, where theological certainty is used as a cudgel rather than a comfort.

But before you begin labeling me as a liberal, post-modern, subjectivist, let me paint a picture of where I find the solid ground upon which to make judgements, decisions, and evaluations.

1. God is big, mysterious, and will always remain so. Whatever we say about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, there is a fundamental unknowability to God. While I believe we can trust God’s revelation to us (the Bible, general revelation, and the Holy Spirit), I also believe this revelation is not total. There is always more to God that what we know. (I think most people would agree with me on this point, and that this agreement would be enough to erase this posture of devout certainty about such things, but alas, it doesn’t.)

2. Not all ideas are equal. Just because someone wrote a book, doesn’t mean its a well-written book. Even if they are a pastor, popular, hip, ancient, man, women, or agree or disagree with your own stances, you need to evaluate the source of your information. Research (or should it be “research”) needs to have standards. Arguments need support. Logic still applies to Christians.

3. The Bible is not a trump card. When, for example, research indicates that reparative therapy for homosexuals doesn’t work, it is not appropriate to use the Bible as a hammer, a bunker, or a justification for willful ignorance.

4. God is real. If God is real, then I don’t need to worry about being perfect. If God loves me, then I am not threatened by people who think differently than I do. If God is trustworthy, then I don’t have to be afraid of people or ideas. I can be with people, really commune with them in spite of our differences, only if I believe that we are connected by God in a real way.

These are just a few ideas that under-gird the way I see the word. I  would love to hear some of yours.

Photo: Stacey Spensley

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Posted in: Theology