Our church held a seminar on “Basic Theology” that was led my a couple of our pastors. It was designed, based on what was described, as a seminar to go over some basic tenants of theology; salvation, the Trinity, Heaven, etc. Here’s what bothers me a bit about the whole thing. Why don’t they simply state specifically what may be implied. The seminar is on basic theology as held by our church. Not a theology that is applicable to all churches, mainly our church which – without reservation – is ultra conservative and dispensational in their belief system.
A part of this whole issue of theology is the basic principle that what is biblical is biblical mostly as it relates to a person or church’s specific belief system. If someone disagrees with the basic tenants of “the faith” as laid out by a particular person or church they are often accused of not being biblical in their approach to scripture. Is this a correct way to approach the biblical text? Is there ever a time when we let the text speak for itself without trying to water it down, nuance the words, or try and uncover other texts that might balance out what one verse or series of verses might say compared to another? When does “all” mean all? When do if/then statements really present conditionality? When does endurance really mean endurance?
In John 15 Jesus said he had “called” and “chosen” those who followed him (the Twelve). Does that mean they were predestined to be the twelve or that he simply selected them over others? Jesus said that the Father is greater than him. Does that mean their is a hierarchy in the heavenly realm? Jacob seemed to indicate that if God would meet his needs then YHWH would be his God. All of these are challenging verses that can often be interpreted differently depending on an individual’s biblical perspective. Does that make these texts, or any others for that matter, non-specific either in context or application? I suspect not.
In a blog post I read the other day, Mark Galli – senior managing editor of Christianity Today – made this comment:
Like the longing for authority. One of the most frustrating things about being Protestant, and especially evangelical, is that there is really no place to turn when you are ready to end a conversation on a controversial point. There is no authority figure or institution that can silence heterodoxy. No one has your back—well, except the Holy Spirit (we’ll come back to this in a moment). The more Protestants there are, the more churches and theologies are birthed. As soon as we say, “The Christian church believes …” we hear someone say, “Well, I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe that!” To be an evangelical used to mean one stood for certain theological convictions—penal substitution, inerrancy, and so forth—but now many evangelicals take delight in defining themselves over and against one of these formerly cardinal doctrines, while insisting on the right to be called evangelicals.**
The point that struck me most was, “Well, I’m Christian and I don’t believe that!” The rub there is simply this, many people are uncomfortable moving off center when it comes to their theology. Once you move past accepted orthodoxy there is the struggle to re-define one’s faith principles. That’s both challenging and often on-going. Moving away from center can cause a certain level of angst especially if one senses they are in the minority, even though they may be right. At least, right for a time.
Orthodox theology provides a foundation that many people find comfortable and reassuring. They can echo the words “the church believes” even though they may not fully understand that belief system or be able to explain it should someone ask. Nevertheless, they find comfort there. Much like we find comfort at home. We have our routine and habits that give us both solace and a sense of stability. Theology is much the same. We reside within the walls of orthodoxy because it offers us both solace and a sense of stability. Even though we may find a particular portion of that orthodox faith uncomfortable in both our heart and mind we push those feelings aside in favor of stability.
I suppose I could say “I’m orthodox to a point.” Of course, that would and has gotten me in trouble. I like to push the edge of the envelope. I want to be challenged to understand why something should be considered orthodox. At times theology can be both fascinating and frustrating. It can stretch the mind and heart in ways many people who do not study theology would not understand. At the same time it can bring us to our knees.