Wednesday with Michael Spencer
From Standing on My Own Trap Door (2007)
I can’t recall the author, but I once read someone who portrayed evangelical Christians as people using all their abilities to get other people to agree to evangelistic sentences.
The sentences mattered very much; more than almost anything else. Correctly worded sentences, turned into prayers, lectures, books and so on.
Miroslav Wolf said that Christianity carries a life lived alongside its truths claimed. Saint Francis — and many others — have suggested that the life-lived communicates far more profoundly than the truths claimed, especially if it’s a matter of which shouts the loudest.
One blogger recently lamented the callous behavior of knuckle-headed cage-phase Calvinists, and also lamented the theological cynics who act as if theology doesn’t matter. Having been one and constantly suspected of being the other, I liked what he said.
He makes a good point. The knuckle-headed cage-phase Calvinist has theological problems as well as human relationship problems with manners, maturity and civility. My experience tells me that the two are more related than we like to think. The person who says that theology and those who live to obsess over it are an unmitigated good seem to be, uh…a bit overly optimistic.
Take, for instance, the seminary student who discovers that one theological system has all the answers he’ll ever need. All he needs is to buy the books, go to the conferences and check the websites. In more than a few cases, it would be best if he simply stopped his education and went home until he’s willing to learn something again. While he’s certain that he’s right, and he’s correcting his professors and working to overthrow any teacher who doesn’t subscribe to his hobby horse theological system, he’s useless as a student and probably off balance as a human being. The wise and the know-it-alls have no reason to learn from those who can’t/won’t/don’t see the light. (Yes, that’s me in the corner…losing my religion…)
The real problem is whether our know-it-all student is still devoted to Jesus and to what Jesus means in his life. No doubt he’ll say that it’s for Jesus’ sake that he’s hassling his professors, pastor and friends. It’s for Jesus’ sake that minutia now matters more than his anniversary. It’s for Jesus’ sake that theology stirs him and evangelism/church planting need more study.
But does Jesus matter? Period?
The competition to make theology the main thing and just about the only thing is quite real. I have two recent letters from an IM reader distressed that I admire John Lennon as an artist. I assured him that I do not admire Lennon’s atheism, but a piece is still out of place. What’s of real interest to me is why my faith and loyalty to Jesus have to be screened through what I think of John Lennon.
…I’m more than ever determined to make Jesus the center, the substance and the unavoidable conclusion of my theology. And when it comes to equipping my students with an understanding of the Bible, I’m going to be sure they understand the relative importance of the recipe, the cake and all subsequent opinions of either one.
…When I replace the Great Commission with the “Great Ongoing Polemic To Prove My Theology Isn’t Wrong,” it’s time to pull over and check the map and see if I’m anywhere close to where I think I am.
Am I standing on my own trap door when I say “Jesus isn’t identical to anyone’s theology and someone says “Without theology, who or what is Jesus?” Possibly. That’s another argument that can go in circles forever. Count me as one who’d like to find a place to stop, rest, and as the carol says, “Now let us all with one accord sing praises to the heavenly Lord.”