Aug 12, 2012

Who is your theologian?

Unfortunately, I have found the subject matter of Stephen Mattson's recent article, "Who is your theologian?", to be very true amidst Christianity—and humanity, for that matter: whether it is a theologian, a scientist, a president, a cultural celebrity, a brand of drink . . . It is likely human nature to look for and be drawn to a certain kind of leader—an example, or even power, if you will. Everyone believes in something, even if that something is that there is nothing. I am inclined to believe that it is inherent for man to worship something. Ultimately, I believe that the only fulfilling something can be the triune God: YHWH, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit. But certainly there are other important examples in our lives that deserve or necessitate some form of trust or respect. Biblically, worship would be too strong a word for them; a word leading to idolatry. That subject aside, however, but remaining in the scope of Biblical perspective, there were leaders (e.g. judges, kings, prophets) that people were meant to follow. These leaders were ordained by YHWH, which then begs the question in other scenarios of who has been ordained or approved by God in contemporary history. Good question. That is another unwieldy subject, one in which too much blood has been spilt for me to write about with any certain conviction. It is not that I fear it, or shy away from it even. I just perceive it as too mysterious to be able to defend any one view with absolute confidence. I believe that anyone who does so—who claims to know the truth of God's multifaceted will (i.e. the complete interplay of his sovereign, moral, and dispositional will, to perhaps name a few), which includes what or who He ordains, is treading near arrogance and ignorance. As if God's will could be contained within a proud finite mind. We must be more cautious. We know enough, but we do not know everything. There is a beauty in that. There is faith. YHWH is gracious. Hallelujah.

For now, my main concern is that of how Christianity has become so divided by subfactions of theological perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote that it must not be about who follows Apollos or Peter or Paul, that it must be about following Jesus. Essentially, that still seems to be the common thread. Yet other matters seemed to have clouded that memory. Such matters are certainly connected to the Truth, but do not seem to be connected to salvation. This life chapter, this side of heaven, does not necessarily conclude in complete certainty about Truth, but it has enough for redemption, for hope, for love—for eternity. Thank you, Jesus. There is a Gospel to hear, to receive, and to live by. Personally, and traditionally for the universal Christian Church, that has been outlined by the Nicene (c.360 AD) and later the Apostles Creed (c. 390 AD):

We believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Ghost,
We believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.

Am I wrong in thinking that the ideas outside of that statement of faith are secondary to the living reality of Jesus Christ? Is understanding God's sovereign will more important than believing in God's redeeming love through Jesus? Is God’s justice to be emphasized more than his grace, our sin more than our adoption? Are they all equal? Furthermore, must one fully accept the five points of Reformed theology to be saved? Or is the intellect to be trusted more than the heart?

To return to my attempted point, I welcome Christian leaders like theologians to grapple with the difficult questions in an academic way that most laity cannot or does not pursue. The latter is not a morally wrong thing. The Kingdom of God is comprised of different roles, after all, equal in their potential for furthering the Gospel. (Another topic.) Once again, while it is perhaps natural for us to be drawn to certain theologians—certain leaders whose journey we identify with, whose ideas relate to our lives the most intimately—we must be mindful of idolizing that image. Early patriarchs like Abraham, Moses, Ehud, Deborah, or David were on journeys toward understanding their creator, as were prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, or Joel; the apostles John, Paul, James or Timothy; later church minds like Thomas A Kempis, Martin Luther, or John Calvin; even relative contemporaries like Rick Joyner, Oswald Chambers, John Eldredge, Rob Bell, John Piper, Gregory Boyd, N.T. Wright, or even the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger. There are countless others. Some have journeyed to their Maker. Others still journey. It is the same for all humanity. All hold the potential for great good, for discerning truth like few or no others. That is the Holy Spirit’s work. Yet all can also fail, can misunderstand—can be misdirected by the self or the enemy who is Satan. Only Jesus is infallible. We can know him through the Holy Scriptures, through the revelation of the Truth of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can know our Creator. Yet in this life it will not be complete in the scientific sense: to Enlightenment standards, perhaps. There are uncertainties, or ideas lacking satisfactory clarity. That is part of the nature of the spiritual realm—even the physical realm. I am not sure how to respond to those who claim otherwise. Our minds are limited, like our holistic lives. But it does not end there. There is more. There is hope for completion of that which has already begun.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .” (Matthew 6: 9-10).

Meanwhile, greater humility is needed regarding what can be known about God in this life. The world in general could benefit from greater openness to discussion amongst its inhabitants—greater grace amidst disagreement. I have no perfect solutions—except Jesus Christ. In that, I have only the longing to see peace better realized, to see love manifested through the lives of Christ-followers. That is the predominant message that I read in Jesus’ teachings: in YHWH’s relationship with mankind throughout history. Love is not a simple truth. Neither is peace. They are a part of the whole. They are a part of Jesus, of God Himself. There is justice in God’s character. There is even wraith. But there is also grace. There is so much. It confounds the intellect. We must not forget that while such words and concepts are helpful, they are limited as well. Verbal language is limited. It is not the only form of communication. That is why we need the Holy Spirit as well as the Word who is Jesus. That is why we need each other, the holy catholic Church. That is why we need action—works, if you will—along with faith. That is why we need grace. Without grace we are no different than the rest of the world. Active grace. Let us learn from theology, but more importantly let us put the lessons and example of Jesus into practice.

May we find meaning in the hope of our journey toward both understanding and living according to the Gospel of Truth that is Jesus. May we walk alongside some of our theologians. But may we be mindful of our different journeys—our intrinsic limitations—yet united in so much more. To God be all glory. Now and forevermore, amen.

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