How Important is Theology?

There are some people who believe that bad theology is the greatest evil that exists in this world. I used to be like that. Recently, I had somebody re-post several blog items of mine and tear them to shreds. Not in a constructive conversation, but simply saying how wrong I was.

I realized that, while I would not have gone about it in the same way, I probably would thought the same way as that person a couple years ago. The old me would have rejected the new way I’ve begun to look at God and his purposes in this world. And I would have known that I was 100% right. I would have pitied the new me for being so mistaken and tried to set him straight if I could, for his own good.

I viewed ‘Theological Police’ as being one of the most important jobs a real Christian has.

But as I’ve become more familiar with the Jesus that actually comes across the pages of the Gospels (as opposed to the Jesus I had pictured in my head), I’ve had to face the fact that Jesus ‘the real person’ wasn’t really caught up in policing theology.

Most of his speeches, while having deep theological implications, are practical spiritual advice for everday living.

The times that he gets into deep theological debates? It’s usually because the religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, etc) are challenging him.

In Mark 12:27, in response to one of these challenges, Jesus tells the Sadducees that their theology is “badly mistaken.” He then tells them the truth to answer the scenario they posed to him.

But by and large, Jesus doesn’t spend his ministry going to the religious institutions and correcting the teachings of the Rabbis and leaders. Clearly, promoting ‘accurate theology’ is secondary in his ministry. Should it not also be in ours?

I’m not saying heresy is a good thing. But should we in the church ever have gotten to the point where we were burning heretics at the stake? Of course not.

When the devil tried to tempt Jesus, he used good theology to defeat him. But when he encountered broken, hurting people, he never used theology as a weapon against them. The adulterous woman didn’t get a lecture on the seventh commandment. She got mercy, compassion, and a call to live a better life.

Jesus didn’t side with the people who had the correct theology (the crowd of people who wanted to stone her). He sided with the one who was about to be killed by that theology.

There’s a saying I like: “First things first.”

Clearly, good theology was important to Jesus. But bringing light to the darkness was more important.

Two Edged Sword

I used to read the bible to gain knowledge; to find the ways scripture confirmed that my theology is correct. Now, I read it to be changed. The book of Hebrews describes the Word of God thusly: “[It] is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12)

I so often used the scripture as a weapon against other believers, in order to show that I was right and they were wrong.

I know many believers who feel that they are the only ones who really, truly understand the character of God. That they have discovered the sacred secrets hidden in the scriptures.  And they have the theology and proof texts ready to prove it.

I’ve realized that the word of God is actually a weapon meant to be used on myself.

I love the song “The War Inside” by Switchfoot. It talks about the fact that living this spiritual life has less to do with fighting “what’s out there”, and more to do with what is inside of us. Here’s part of the chorus.

I am the war inside

I am the battle line

I am the rising tide

I am the war I fight

N.T. Wright also talks about this issue in Evil and the Justice of God. The line between good and evil isn’t something that we look and and pick a side to stand on. It runs right down the middle of each of us.

Paul himself talks about this in Romans 7: “…when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind…”

Reading the Bible isn’t about winning arguments, it’s about looking in a mirror that shows me what I could be. What I should be, then letting God work to bring that person into existence.

I’m no longer interested in getting people to agree with me. Instead, I’m interested in being more like Jesus.

Theology: Knowing God

I think that studying God, theology, the bible, etc, is like studying the moon.  If you buy the biggest telescope you can find and put it on maximum zoom, you’re going to learn a lot about the part of the moon you can see. You can also move the telescope around a see zoomed in pictures in different areas. But there’s two things to keep in mind:

1. You’re not going to be able to scan the entire surface of the moon with that telescope (or if you do, it’ll be so fast you won’t really see anything)

2. Even if you did see the entire surface of the moon that way, you’d still have a lot to learn about the moon.

See, if we just focus on one area, we’re going to miss a lot. At some point, you need to step away from the telescope and look at the whole sky. To see how beautiful the moon is, suspended in the black with stars around it. To see how the moon affects the tides here on Earth.

Don’t miss the beauty in the midst of the study.

I could focus my telescope on one particular crater and learn everything there is to know about that crater. Then, when people talk about the moon, I could talk for hours about that one crater. And people would be interested for about 5 minutes, then they would want me to shut up. There’s more to the moon than the one crater I know all about.

We can get so fixated on one point that we miss out on what’s really happening.

Alot of evangelical theology is based on the message that people who don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell, and they need to be saved. So we hand out tracts and talk through bullhorns and try to force people to come to church with us where we use an altar call to try and get them to say they believe.

I’m not saying that people aren’t going to hell. And I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s a minor deal.  But God is bigger and greater and grander than ‘the being who sends people to hell.’

God created this world, where we find joy and sorrow; heights and depths; pain and pleasure. More than that, he became one of us. The infinite, in one man. He who holds the galaxies in the palm of his hand, using feet to walk from one town to the next.

People who are so locked into their own theology that they think they are the only one who really ‘gets’ God scare me. A lot.  Because I have totally been like that in my life. And I was so blinded by my ‘right answers’ to let God be who he is. I turned the bible into a book of answers and doctrine instead of what it is: The story of a God and the flawed people he loves.

In Christianity, we say that we don’t have a religion, but rather a relationship. Then we put so much structure and so many requirements on that relationship that it becomes a religion.

I have a feeling that there is a great deal of truth in this world that we refuse to acknowledge because we didn’t think of it.

I believe that everyone is looking for God, whether they know it or not. And I believe that God has left signposts that point to him in the most unlikely places. Signposts that reveal truth about him. People who are paying attention will pick up on these truths, and believe in them.

Nature speaks of a great creator.

Intimacy speaks of a need to be completed by somebody or something.

Dreams point to the existence of something greater just below the surface.

Mercy and compassion reveal that there is something within us that works against the primal urges we’re told that we consist of.

Art reveals a need to see more than just what our eyes can perceive.

I once thought that God needed me. That he needed me to tell people about what he is really like because I had so much insight. He couldn’t sideline me, because I was too clever and smart.

Now, I realize that I’m about as useful as asking an ant to explain a supercomputer. A know-it-all is about the last thing God needs representing him.

I don’t understand God. I can’t explain why he does the things he does most of the time. If I zoom in, I can probably start to explain small parts of him better, but I’d rather step back and see the vastness, the grandeur, the beauty of who he is. And I’m content to be amazed and surprised by what I can’t contain.