Continuing with my study of theology as discussed in the book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, here is the quote for this post:
theology is temporary. Since our conceptions of God are shaped locally and in conversation, we must hold them humbly. We must carry our theologies with an open hand, as it were. To assume that our convictions about God are somehow timeless is the deepest arrogance, and it establishes an imperialistic attitude that has a chilling effect on the honest conversation that’s needed for theology to progress…..
[we can’t as some ask to] “sum it up,” and “boil it down” when speaking of God and God’s Kingdom, for it simply can’t be done. The Kingdom of God is expansive, explosive, and un-pin-downable (to coin a phrase). Consequently, our characterizations of God and God’s Kingdom are necessarily fleeting.
For a number of years I read seemingly countless books by today’s theologians and each one seemed convinced that his version of theology came from God and was therefore the only correct one and the only one for the ages. But as Mr. Jones pointed out above this declaration is perhaps the deepest form of arrogance on their part. When we try to lock down the meaning and lessons of God we are actually declaring that He has nothing more to say about whatever we are discussing.
I can just imagine that many of the big thinkers of Christianity had the same mentality, even the ones who arrogantly claim that the Bible is totally literal and without the possibility of error. Of course one of those theologians was Martin Luther. When he declared “Sola Scriptura”, that is the bible alone is the total and complete word of God he then went on to say except for the Epistles of James (he called that one an epistle of straw) and a few others that he chose to personally exclude. By that very declaration he invalidated the very idea of sola scriptura. I can’t understand why others have not come out and declared that simple fact about his teachings. Maybe Luther being the leader of the “reformation” was the “too big to fail” of his times.
The bible and all the subsequent theologians’ views make up a very complex story of God but really hardly touch on the expansiveness of the Kingdom of God. Just when we think we have it nailed down something else pops up in the biblical text, in scientific discoveries, in archeological digs, or maybe from personal revelations that shows us a clearer path.
As Tony Jones say we can’t hermetically seal God’s ever-expanding Kingdom or our experiences and articulations of that Kingdom. They are changing as we mature both in self and in the corporate body of Christ. What we think we know now just maybe discounted by something we learn or finally understand tomorrow. In other words whether we want to recognize it or not, theology is temporary.
This is a cross post from one of my other blogs at RJ’s Corner. I thought it appropriate for RLL also.
It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.
The quote above seems pretty radical! It must be from one of those new age thinkers! Guess again. It was from the Author of War and Peace Leo Tolstoy in 1894. Although he says it much more bluntly than I ever would I can’t say I disagree with most of it.
The Nicene Creed which was authored under the Roman ruler Constantine is mostly what we are supposed to believe about Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is what Jesus himself told us how we are supposed act if we are his followers. Tolstoy saw that the church even during his time put much more energy in maintaining man-made beliefs about Jesus rather than just following Him. Not a lot has changed in that regard. I think almost all clergy are well-meaning men who have simply bought into a tilted system based on beliefs about Jesus instead of lessons from Jesus.
Tony Jones a hundred years later also speaks of this in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier
In the twenty-first century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church. Dead? you say. Isn’t that overstating the case a bit? Indeed, churches still abound. So do pay phones. You can still find pay phones around, in airports and train stations and shopping malls-there are plenty of working pay phones. But look around your local airport and you’ll likely see the sad remnants where pay phones used to hang-the strange row of rectangles on the wall and the empty slot where a phone book used to sit. There are under a million pay phones in the United States today. In 1997, there were over two million. Of course, the death of the pay phone doesn’t mean that we don’t make phone calls anymore. In fact, we make far more calls than ever before, but we make them differently. Now we make phone calls from home or on the mobile device clasped to our belt or through our computers. Phone calls aren’t obsolete, but the pay phone is-or at least it’s quickly becoming so.
Churches are like pay-phones? That is a very interesting analogy. God is not dead. It is only the man-made institution built in his name that is on life support. I have hopes that this new emergent movement will prove to be a worthy substitute for fast dwindling church structures of today. We have to return to doing what Jesus says….