All Theology Is Local….

Today I will continue my discussions of a book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians; Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier.  I’m sure if there are any pastors or theologians who accidentally come across the blog post their first reaction is to adamantly disagree with the title that all theology is local. Here is what Tony Jones says about that:

Theologytheology is not universal, nor is it transcendent. The God about whom we theologize is transcendent, but our human musings about God are not. To think that our theology is not local and specific is a falsity that has been foisted on the church. Professional theologians, those men and women who sit on seminary faculties, are sometimes tempted to write and speak with the confidence that their theology is somehow clean or sterile or untainted-that they come to their task without any presuppositions, prejudices, or context. But of course, they’re just as local as the rest of us. They live in a certain place, speak a certain language, talk with certain people, read a certain newspaper, and are held accountable for what they write and say by other theologians in their guild. This localness of theology is a hallmark of emergent thinking and sensibility.

When we recognize that what we think about God is mostly a matter of our life’s circumstances then we understand how to approach the theology of the church both past , present and future.  Theology is nothing more than how we humans perceive the nature of God.  As mentioned further in the book when we understand that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology was shaped by Nazi Germany, that Augustine’s was formed by his neo-Platonic area of Northern Africa, and Martin Luther’s was fashioned by the Roman Catholic monastery we come to realize that all theology is local. That is not necessarily a bad thing but something we must realize in order to understand it.

Being a human endeavor theology is naturally local. It is shaped by our circumstances. God is indeed transcendent, but our human understanding of him is not. Christian theology has a two thousand-year record that contains some very inspiring writings that all Christians should study and learn from but we must always understand the circumstance around those writings in order to put them in the proper context.

Understanding that all theology is local helps to even explain some of the writing of Paul. We must understand that Paul had no personal exposure to Jesus other than that fateful afternoon on the road to Damascus. So, you could also call his writing theology. When we understand this then we understand why there is almost no cross reference between the teachings of Jesus and the words of Paul. When Paul told women to be quiet in church he was relating his local circumstances. When he said it was better to be a bachelor than to be married he was relaying his condition.

All theology is local and that includes theology throughout church history. When we study the words of the great theologians we must understand the conditions which surrounded the words. Many say the Bible is a very simple document to understand, all we have to do is to read it.  Tony Jones says, and I believe, that it is really the opposite. It is a very complicated document and for that very reason it has remained pertinent throughout the ages.

Emergent Church… Good Theology … Bad Theology

From Tony Jones in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier:

Good theology begets beautiful Christianity. And so it follows that Bad theology begets ugly Christianity. That may sound supremely arrogant, but hear me out. A lot of us, emergents included, are disheartened by the complexion of Christianity in America. We’re embarrassed by the Jesus junk we see in stores, by the preachers we see on TV, and by the ill-fated marriage of faith and politics. We’re equally saddened by the $75 million evangelical megachurch campus in the suburbs and the shuttered mainline church in the city. While there is much that is good about being Christian in America today, very many of us think there needs to be a profound change in the way that Christianity is practiced and promulgated. All I’m saying is that the current practices that embarrass us are reflective of a deeply held theology. So, while we rethink how we live the faith, we must also reconsider what the faith actually is.

When I read these words I couldn’t help but say “Amen, brother”.  One of the major things that sadden me is how much we Christians spend on our church building and institutions compared to what we spend on loving our brothers. When I pass by the even not so megachurches in my area I almost always cringe. It embarrasses me to think of all the money these members are spending on themselves while I see so much need going unmet in the area.

As mentioned above another thing that is doing damage to the church is the ill-fated marriage between faith and politics. When did that happen? Yes, there is much to be celebrated about being a Christian in America but there is also much that needs re-alignment and that is what the emergent movement is all about. Tony Jones and this book were at the leading edge of the emergent movement. Later in the movement Harvey Cox came out with his book entitled The Future of Faith to address the topic of what faith actually is and that is that faith is not a set of beliefs, almost all manmade, but instead is about a way of “being”.

So we must refigure our theology. Too much bad theology has engendered too many unhealthy churches and too many people who don’t quite get the whole “following Christ” way of life. Too much thin theology is responsible for too many Christians who practice the faith in ways that are a mile wide and an inch deep. The hope of emergents, their ministry, their message is, more than anything, a call for a reinvigoration of Christian theology-not in the ivy towers, not even in pulpits and pews, but on the street.

The “mile wide and inch deep” reference stuck me as a perfect description of what Christian faith has become for too many. They say all you have to do to be a Christian is to make an altar call and proclaim as such. That is so far from reality to almost be ridiculous. Theology is nothing more than man’s beliefs about God and far too often it comes down to man’s desires of what they want God to be, where it should be the other way around.  To emergents Christianity is meant to be a life changing event; not something that is simply professed and then quickly ignored.

The Love of God….

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them,  how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children,  let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  — 1 John 3:16 – 28

I am going to start off this series about the followers of Jesus responsibilities to the poor with one of my favorite quotes outside the red letters. The author of 1 John is thought to be the same person who wrote the Gospel by that name. It is similar in style but no author is identified in the letter itself.  An early church leader named Irenaeus is thought to be the first to put John’s name to the letter more than one-hundred years after it was written. For purposes of this post I am going to assume that he was correct. The Apostle John was one of those who learned at the feet of Jesus so I believe he more than most knew after three years of daily exposure the heart of Jesus. So, even though these words probably did not come from Jesus himself they are authoritative in my mind.

This quote contains some brutal words. If you see a brother or sister, and Jesus said everyone is your brother or sister, in need and have no pity on them how can God’s love be in you? In other words God gives us the responsibility to help the poor.  Can you really call yourself a child of God if you don’t have God’s love in you? That is a foundational question that John is asking.

It almost seems like John is looking forward more than twenty centuries with the last part of his message.  “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions”. I sadly see in today’s world many who call themselves Christians railing against the safety net our government provides in this country.  They say it is not government’s job to take care of the poor!  It is unconstitutional! If the need is not being met elsewhere, and it is certainly not, then what are those in need supposed to do? Since our churches don’t begin to meet the need who can if not the “people’s representatives” in our government?  When Thomas Jefferson wrote about the separation of church and state he was not trying to put Christian compassion out of government.  When we can’t meet the needs individually or our churches won’t do it collectively then we followers of Jesus must encourage our government to do it in our place. I am proud of the U.S. taking our place in having pity on those in need.

Women Be Quiet!!!

1 Timothy 2:11-12 A woman  should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;  she must be quiet.  

I have always been troubled by these verses from Paul. I just don’t believe that God intended, especially for all eternity, that women to be quiet and not have any authority over men. Why would he deprive us of so much that women have to offer in almost every area?? Yes, I have heard that the majority of today’s theologians don’t believe that these words actually came from Paul but instead were added by someone later trying to advance a particular agenda.  Like all of these types of controversies it is impossible to discern the truth as the original documents to all of the Biblical text have long since disappeared.

I was certainly pleased to see a response to this verse below.

What’s with the women at Ephesus?

Just as I’ve never heard a sermon against Cretans, I’ve also never heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8, in which Paul tells Timothy, “I want men everywhere to pray, lifting holy hands without anger or disputing” that included a universal dictum that all men everywhere must raise their hands whenever they pray. Nor have I heard a sermon on one of the most common instructions found in the epistles, to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Corinthians 16:20) Nor have I ever heard of a pastor being removed from the position in keeping with Titus 1:5-6 because one of his or her children had left the faith. (It’s an uncomfortable reality, but if complementarians were as consistent in their application of biblically-based pastoral qualifications as they claim to be, a few of their most prominent spokesmen would have had to resign from their pastoral positions when their children left the faith. They didn’t.)

I haven’t heard any sermons on all of those biblical instructions, but I’ve heard more than I can count on 1 Timothy 2:11, which says, “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

Rachel Held Evans | Blog.

As shown above this response came from Rachel Held Evans blog. This young lady is certainly one I don’t want to be quiet! She is now on my regular read list. Check out the full post by clicking on the label above. She has much more to say about this than is shown above.

I am fully aligned with her that we Christians, especially the fundamentalists among us, pick and choose which verses they decide to take literally. When we quit doing that and take the Bible as an inspired series of stories we just might quit continuously dividing ourselves. I think 39,000 different versions of Christ is enough …

Until the next time I bid you peace….

Like Children…

Is it possible to know too much about Christian theology. I didn’t used to think so but I am tending to come to that conclusion recently. It seems that the more I study Christian theology/doctrine/dogma the more I see the disharmony in Christ’s church. Because of that I am beginning to wonder if anyone really has it right! To me the most important verses in the Bible are:

Matt 22:36-40 NIV

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  

But, when I study church history and different Christian sects these words seem to get drowned out by things like:

  • full vs. partial immersion baptism
  • whether faith alone is enough or whether works is also required
  • whether God gives us free will or He has already decided whether we get heaven or hell
  • whether we should be snake handlers as proof that we are Christians
  • Whether the bible is all we need or whether church tradition is also needed
  • Whether the words of Matthew 16 made Peter the Pope  

This list could almost go on almost endlessly. We seem to be arguing over everything and mostly ignoring the “important” stuff! Jesus time and again told us we must be like little children if we want to truly follow him. Let’s look at some of the passages where he talks of this:  

Matt 18:3-4 NIV

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Mark 10:14-16 NIV

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 

Luke 10:21 NIV

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 

Of course little children wouldn’t know much theology but they get the simple message that God is Love. They don’t lose sight of this the most important thing. I have always thought that knowing church history and its dogma was important to really knowing God but maybe all that stuff is just “stuff” that can drown out the simple truth of God. Maybe the old saying Ignorance is Bliss is really true when it comes to following Jesus on this side of heaven. More on that idea in my next post.