Theology: Take it, or…
I have a friend who is a Calivinist. He owns a Calvinist Devotional Bible, reads Pilgrim’s Progress and went to a Calvinist University. He loves listening to John Piper talk about TULIP and just loves Calvinism. But there is one thing that he loves more than Calvin, and that is arguing with heretics (this is the word he uses and can best be described, historically, as a person who doesn’t believe what I believe).
We started talking the other night about TULIP and how I am not sure that is how salvation works. I told him that I am not sure about “Total Depravity” and a human’s inate impossibility to be sinless. He said that was heretical. He asked who some of my favorite authors are. I told him I love N.T. Wright.
“A very prolific heretic,” he called him.
We exchanged thoughts on salvation. I told him that I was somewhat of an inclusivist, believing that God had a salvation plan for people who never heard about Jesus. This was, “unChristian.”
We talked all night. Finally we moved on to the topic of evanglism. “Why bother doing evengelism if God has selected the people that are going to be saved anyway?” I asked.
“God has chosen them, so we have to make sure we are finding them,” he said.
“So, you have to go out and reach people with Jesus?”
This is my problem with theology. My friend and I spent hanf the night in dicussion about this system of theology that divides us. For what? We didn’t reach a common theology (though he tried). We just argued. But when you boil it all down we are to live our lives the same way, we just have different opinions on God.
Thomas Aquinas wrote that when thinking about God you are thinking about a great mystery. Most of the ideas we have on God are based on assumptions of his character as reflected in a few instances in the Bible. God, to us, is still a great mystery. When thinking on God we are speculating on something largely unknowable to us. That being the case, I get frustrated with people who believe and will only consider their view on the mystery to be the correct view.
Perhaps, this is a post-modern issue, but I don’t think so. I believe in some of the essential truths of Liberation Theology, but I do not outrightly reject ideas counter to it. I am an inclusivist, believing that some people might be judged by a different standard when it comes time to go to heaven, but I would never label an exclusivist a heretic.
I was thinking about this as I was flipping through the Book of Job again the other night. When Job is struck with his calamite his friends come to talk to him about what is happening to him. In Job 4:7 Eliphaz says, “Who has ever died for being innocent?” Bildad says in 8:4, 20 “Your kids sinned and God took them…God doesn’t punish good people.” Finally, Zophar says his peace on the issue by stating, “Witness men don’t know when they sin. Maybe you’ve sinned and just don’t know.”
Job replies to all of these saying, “I am blameless, why is this happening to me?”
In this situation, if you look closely enough, these men are arguing over theology. Job’s friends say, “Our theology states that you had to do something wrong for this to happen.” Job replies, “But I didn’t do anything wrong.” His friends will have none of it. So committed are they to their theology, that they are willing to call Job a liar rather than budge in the slightest from their beliefs. When that happens, they stop being friends and comforters and instead become unloving condemners.
When we as a church become that way, we start being less of a community of love and more a community of condemnation. Rather than loving people, we reject people. Rather than seeking people, we huddle together and hide from people. Rather than celebrate the great diversity God has created, we create our on homogenous body. Rather than talk to people with different world views, we attempt to sway them to our own. Rather than enjoy all believers, we disfellowship the heretics, or rather, those who do not agree with us.
I think that ideas are good. Having an idea about the nature of God is fine, fun, honorable and recommended. If you think about God enough, there is no way you CAN’T have some ideas about him, his character, his will, his taste, his sense of humor. These things come naturally to anyone who ponders on God. But understand that those ideas are just that: ideas. There is a different idea for every different person out there.
As Thomas said, we are all just pondering on a mystery. Please share your thoughts on the greatest mystery that ever existed, but don’t ruin the mystery for someone else.