Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Forgive the processing going on below

Once, a long time ago, I was pretty certain I knew the Truth about things. At least, I knew God, I knew the Bible, and I knew right theology from wrong. I had spent my time among the fundamentalists and knew all about Absolute Truth and correct doctrine and all. I'd also been trained by the Christian Reformed in their tradition (which is its own sort of fundamentalism), but mostly I'd come to see things from a good, Bible-Believing Fundamentalist perspective. Knew all about inerrancy, infallability, inspiration, creationism, predestination, penal substitutionary atonement, and premillenial dispensationalism.

Only two things made me nervous.

One, I knew that there were a lot of REALLY IMPORTANT theological things I knew nothing about, things like double predestination and superlapsarianism. The people I respected debated these things, and I really couldn't say much. So I felt like an inferior theologian. And I felt like I needed to study a lot more.

Two, the fact that so many of my fundy friends spent all their time debating theological intricacies and hunting out heresies, instead of taking care of the widow and the orphan in their distress. They were quite smug in their knowledge of dispensationalism, yet they feared going out and meeting their neighbors, lest they be smudged somehow by some un-named sin out there. It seemed an odd way to serve the Lord, but it was pretty much all I knew.

(note: I found myself in this place mostly because of the 2 years at Bible College and the 2 years I worked for a Baptist Church. If I'd paid more attention to my parents, I might have realized that there was more to life than lining up jots and tittles)

Then a funny thing happened. I started studying among the Pietists, and made an interesting discovery. They differed in significant ways from my previously held theological positions - in fact, they didn't even hold to some of the most significant fundamental positions. And yet, I could see they loved the Lord, and that he was working in and through them. Hmm. . .

Then I spent a year studying with the Quakers, and made an interesting discovery. They had their own theological base, but it didn't overlap very well with the fundies I'd learned from. They were worrying about a whole different set of issues. And yet, I could see that they loved the Lord, and that he was working in and through them. Double hmm. . .

Then I spent 4 years studying with the anabaptists/Mennonite Brethren. And I found myself in waters I didn't even know existed. They never even talk about inerrancy or infallability or double predestination or superlapsarianism. Instead, they talk about community, about the Word working itself out in the world, about being peacemakers, about discipleship whatever the cost. And I could definitely see that they loved the Lord, that he was working in and through them.

Along the way I've spent time studying with Wesleyans and Presbys and Catholics and Episcopalians and Baptists. Plus I had some discussions with Brad about the Orthodox perspective on theology.

And what I've learned is this - theology is a lot deeper, wider, broader, more complex and more beautiful than I (or the fundies) ever imagined, because God is deeper and wider and broader and more complex and more beautiful than I ever would have imagined. He is certainly bigger than our theological systems.

Now, I have good friends who stand on both sides of many of our issues - creationism, the role of women in ministry, inerrancy, the nature of the atonement, free will vs. sovereignty. . .and all of them love the Lord, and God works in and through them all.

I guess part of what I'm trying to get at is this - there are two ways to engage in theological discussion. The first is to do like the fundies and engage in heresy-hunting, spending every waking moment going after every perceived undermining of the Faith once and for all given to mankind (a la John MacArthur's recent diatribe against the Emergent Church). The second is to say "Wow, that's interesting. I've never heard that before. Can you explain it a little more?"

Of course, I think there is bad theology. Of course, I think some theological positions are just plain wrong. And a few are, in fact, dangerous and need to be corrected.

But I'd rather sit by the road and ask somebody else to describe their view than sit in the fortress shooting arrows at travelers who are moving along.


Beth B said...

Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To Him be the glory forever! Amen.

bridgeout said...

Excellent post... enriched by the processing you did here for all the world to see.