Thursday, August 30, 2007

On Doing Theology

See if this makes sense. One of the basic pieces of Christian belief is that the Bible is simple enough for the most uneducated person to understand and follow its message, while it is deep enough for the brightest minds to plumb for eternity. Theology is the same - the basic theology of Christianity is such that all can understand, yet the particulars are complicated enough that, 2000 years (and more) into it, we still can't come to complete agreement about what it all means.

So, say there is a teaching we shall call Belief A. Almost all Christians can agree that Belief A is central to Christianity, and that all who deny Belief A ought to be regarded with an air of suspicion. However, those who have the time, energy, and mentality to delve deeply into theology, realize that underneath Belief A is a series of subsets, (F,M,P,T,W). But those subsets aren't fully agreed upon by all theologians. While Belief A isn't in question, subset F might be. Perhaps the Calvinists would replace M with N, while the Emergents would just do away with P, T, and W, preferring to maintain the mystery.

Pastors, though, and most Sunday School teachers, don't want to spend a lot of time with the intricate discussions on the underlying points behind Big Theological Positions. So at a popular level, Belief A is held up before the people, and the language to describe it simply assumes all the subsets. And, generally, people in the church hold to Belief A, and assume that the subsets, as they've heard them, go right along with Belief A.

But then they meet somebody from a different strain, who, entering into the discussion on Belief A, says, "Ah, yes. Belief A with subsets (F,M,P,T,X)." "What!?" cries the first. "You are a heretic because you just used an X instead of a W!" "No," says the second. "I'm still saying Belief A. I just think X is more biblical than W."

They then spend 2 hours arguing that each is wrong over position A, when it's really subset W/X that is the issue. And each decides the other is a heretic.

"What?" you're all saying now.

Last week I was in a discussion about how we read the Bible. I mentioned "the authors" and somebody jumped all over me. "There is only one author - God!" I think this person and I would stand in agreement over 99% of our biblical beliefs. We both believe the Bible is the Word of God. I wasn't denying the doctrine of inspiration. But my subset below Inspiration includes (individual authors), while this person's subsets only include (God is author). Thus, in their mind, I'm denying inspiration and therefore a heretic.

If I'm right about this, it will change how I enter into theological discussions in the future.


Anonymous said...

The earth is flat. No it isn't, you heretic! Oh, um, wait a minute...

Anonymous said...

Oops - I meant to say the earth is round. That would have made more sense. Possibly.