Originally posted in 2009
Some of you won’t like what I’m about to say, but trust me, I’m not shooting at you. I’m not shooting at anyone. I’m trying to be pastoral, if there’s any hope that I have any pastoral instincts left.
Here’s the word: Some of us need to let go of some of our theology.
***bottle flies through air***
No, seriously. Some of us need to get to the trash can and empty out some of what’s in the theology file.
***tomato in flight***
Some of you people have got some seriously bad theology, and it’s stinkin’ up your life.
***pitchforks and torches sighted***
I’m telling you this for your own good. Some- not all- but some of what you’re holding on to so tenaciously is messing you up. It may be messing up your life, the lives of others and its going to spread to your children and those you minister to.
Looks like I better get this said before the rocks start flying.
I believe what Christians believe. It’s what my life is founded on.
My Christian faith is like a map. It tells me where I am, who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going and what it’s all about.
But I don’t believe everything Christians teach. I don’t believe everything I used to believe. Maybe it’s my own critical, skeptical nature. Maybe it’s the “sola scriptura” Protestant in me. Maybe it’s living awhile and drawing some conclusions. Maybe it’s learning something about what matters.
Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit.
Or maybe, as some of you will conclude, I’m some kind of post modern jellyfish who quits the team when things get tough. One of those post-evangelical emerging liberals who prefers a big hug to a good systematic theology lecture.
I don’t understand our loyalty to things that make God so unlike the one who revealed God on earth. Why we take on whole planks of Christianity that Jesus wouldn’t endorse or recognize.
Personal reference. When I discovered that God wasn’t going to stop something that I believed with all my heart and mind he had to stop, I was really pulled up short. My “map” was well worn with 30+ years of telling who I was and what God was supposed to do for me.
And now, I was discovering that my map was flawed. I’d believed it, and I had a choice. I could deny what was happening around me, in me and in others.
Or I could throw out some theology.
That meant admitting some of my teachers were wrong. Or at the least, didn’t know all there was to know.
It meant that some of what I was sure God had showed to me wasn’t God at all. It was me, or someone else.
I was wrong. My theology was wrong. My collection of Bible verses was wrong.
I hadn’t quite arrived. I didn’t have all the answers.
Part of my misery in the situation I was facing was my collection of theology.
There’s a moment when you realize things aren’t as certain as you thought they were. It’s a scary moment, and you want to blame someone. This collection of verses, statements and opinions was supposed to keep this from happening. The right theology was supposed to keep the sky from falling; it was supposed to keep the trap doors from opening up under my feet.
It makes more than a few people angry to hear that following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting. It’s less like writing down the right answers to a test and more like trusting yourself into the hands of a doctor. It’s less like standing on concrete and more like bungee jumping.
It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.
Some of you have been beating your head against the wall of your bad theology for years. You’ve beaten your head against that wall until you aren’t a very pleasant person to be around. You’ve made yourself and some other people miserable. You’ve been like the Pharisees: you gave others the burden you’d chosen to carry and more. You’ve taken your misery and made others more miserable.
You’ve blamed others. You’ve silently accused God. You’ve sat there, arrogantly, insisting that you were right no matter what was happening. You’ve sought out arguments to assure yourself that you were right.
But the whole time, there was the trash, and some of that trash was theology that needed to go.
I’ve thrown out some of my theology, and I haven’t replaced it all. As much as I would like to know the answer to some questions, I’ve concluded I’m not going to know the answer to them all. I’ve concluded that lots of the theology I’ve been exposed to and taught falls considerably far shorter of perfection than I ever imagined. Some of it hasn’t served anyone very well. Some of it was nothing more than my way of jumping on a passing bandwagon.
The other day, someone who knew a bit about me wrote me to question why I didn’t believe in “limited atonement.” He wanted my verses and my theology. He wanted me to debate, and if he won, to adopt his theology.
I couldn’t explain myself very well to this questioner. My reasons aren’t all about verses. They are about who God is; who I believe God shows himself to be in Jesus. It’s biblical, but it’s also existential. It’s about the shape and flavor of truth, not about who wins the debate.
I can’t bend my faith into the shape of a “limited atonement” Jesus. And I can’t explain that. I only know that I needed to throw that away, because it was shaping me and my world in a way that was taking me away from Jesus.
I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s inside of me that, ultimately, his song has to ring true. If you can’t hear it, that doesn’t mean I don’t. Having everyone else tell me all about the music was taking away my desire to sing. And I am here to sing, not study music.
I’m pretty sure my questioner wrote me off because I wouldn’t sign up. That’s OK. I respect him, but here me clearly: I don’t need my theology — my opinion of my theology especially — to be that important. It’s unhealthy.
I believe a lot of things. I could teach through a course on theology without any problems. But the difference between myself now and myself in the past is that much of that theology is less essential than it used to be. It does not equal God and I won’t speak as if it does. I won’t pretend that my own thoughts about God are the place I ought to stop and announce what God is always thinking and doing.
Hopefully, it’s going to be a lot easier to have a theological housecleaning. In the future, I don’t plan to fall for the flattery that I’ve never changed my mind or said “I don’t know.”
I know. That’s me. The way too emotional, way too flexible, over-reacting Internet Monk. Baptist one day. Calvinist the next. Catholic tomorrow. Talking about being “Jesus shaped,” whatever that means.
And that’s my trash can in the corner, and what you’re smelling is what I finally threw out.
It was long overdue.
By the way, guess what? I’m still here, believing. Following Jesus, loving Jesus, wanting more of Jesus than ever before.
I don’t recommend my path be your path. I only ask if you’ve opened yourself to the possibility that a spiritual renovation in your life can’t keep all the old junk. Yes, you may upset someone or some important, self-validating group. You may, for a moment, wonder if you know who you are and where you are. It may frighten you to consider that Brother so and so or a sincere family member were wrong.
You may not be excited to discover that all that accumulated trash does not equal God.
I hope that soon you are excited. I am sad to see and hear some of you involved with a God that increasingly holds you hostage in a theological extortion scheme.
That’s not the God who came to us in Jesus. It’s not.
There’s more. He is more. Your journey is more.