Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

1.30.2014

The Paradoxical Relevance and Irrelevance of Theology

Or, Live the Best, Most Loving Life You Can, but God's Not Worth Arguing About

My Master of Divinity degree was 90 hours, three years of full time seminary classes.  That's significantly more than most masters degrees.  I'm sure many people hear that and wonder just what we studied.  There was a wide variety of topics: Bible studies--both general Old and New Testament and classes devoted to delving deeply into specific parts, biblical Greek and Hebrew language classes, church history, organizational leadership, social theory and ethics, education and teaching, preaching, pastoral care and counseling, practical and immersion experiences, and more.  And, of course, theology, both as a distinct subject and woven into everything else.

I enjoyed all of it and was good at much of it, but seemed to do particularly well with the theology, understanding the subtle distinctions between different doctrines and their practical implications when put into practice.  My second year I was awarded the scholarship for top student of theology in my class.  One might think that made me a stickler for proper dogma and clearly stated belief systems.  In some ways that might be true, but ultimately I finished my degree rather disillusioned with the whole process.  It seems so much of history has been fighting about "right beliefs" and an immeasurable amount of harm has been done in the name of logic games and minutiae.  It just seems a waste of energy to even spend much time pondering, much less arguing about, what makes the right theological foundations when there is so much pain and suffering going unaddressed in the world.  I decided I'd rather not be part of perpetuating the cycle.

Yet even as I say that I am highly--extremely, passionately, hatefully, in some cases--critical of the bad theology I see so often because I know it leads to actions I disagree with.  So I know theology is critically important, because it means something in very real terms.  I just can't bother to argue it most of the time because I see the fight as pointless.  I'd much rather spend my time being as loving, compassionate, and generous as I have the energy to handle, because it's the more important side of the equation.  Theology matters, just not enough.

So I think this is brilliantly on the mark:
When Christians Love Theology More Than People

Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.


Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”

Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.

It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.

When I'm sick, and you bring me a meal, I don't care whether you're a Calvinist or Arminian.

When I'm poor, and you give me some food and money, I don't care if you're pre-millennial or post-millennial.

When I'm in the hospital, and you send me a get-well basket, I don't care what your church denomination is. . . .

[much more]
However, this is one of the best, most important instances I've seen recently of theology mattering.  It was in response to a silly kerfuffle about a Fox personality saying it can be historically proven that Jesus was white (along with Santa Claus) and everyone else reacting to say that's silly.
White People Need a Non-White Jesus

Yet in pointing to the universality of Jesus, it is easy to pass over his particularity to a certain time and place. As Barkley discusses in her post, “If Jesus were an American, he would more likely identify as an undocumented immigrant or other poor, oppressed class.” While the Bible may not discuss Jesus’ race directly, the text suggests it, for it does not assume a 21st-century audience, but a first-century audience that would understand Christ’s social position.

Although Christ may transcend race, he also descended into the racial context of the New Testament. Jesus did not come as the king of the Romans, but rather as a child of a colonized and oppressed people group. If our modern Jesus is only white, then we miss who Jesus really was and is today.

Telling a parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25, Jesus implies that God becomes particular in the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the stranger. When those who know struggling face God at the final judgment, Jesus says he will ask them, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (New International Version). If Jesus indeed abides in the least of society, then our theology of church leadership looks a lot different and a lot less privileged. . . .

Unfortunately, many white evangelicals have interpreted “the least of these” parable into a mere call to help people of color, and have unwittingly reinforced the white savior complex. Rather than recognizing the leadership of Christ within people of color who have experienced the cross firsthand, white churches often put photographs of people of color on the wall or show “compassionate” videos of them in church, calling Christians to aid them in their struggle, as if people of color are powerless people who existed only in far-away countries that needed evangelization.

If Christ is indeed closest to the least of these, then it is not whites who should save people of color; rather, it is Christ in people of color who will save whites. In his time, Jesus faced the political and economic oppression of the Roman empire, a kind of oppression that whites in the United States cannot understand. There are, however, some Americans who can relate to that: Native Americans who still live beneath the power of the white American empire, blacks who face a new Jim Crow in the prison industrial complex, and many more who suffer other forms of injustice. A person of color’s understanding of Christ’s suffering, as Cone points out, is much different from a white interpretation of Christ. . . .

In the meantime, white churches need to learn from and seek after people of color who have experienced and know Christ’s suffering directly. Instead of making people of color into an evangelization project, whites need to sit at the feet of people of color to learn what it means to overcome injustice; as Cone testifies, it is people of color who know most experientially what it means to bear the cross of Christ.
As for the other things studied in seminary, this is another good example of theological application, why we spend so much time learning old versions of ancient languages and the historical contexts of what was written and why.  It's something that someone on my Facebook feed liked; I don't know Jim Rigby (though it looks like he can be found here and here), but I love what he had to say in this status:
No, you are not taking the Bible literally. You are taking an English translation literally. You have no idea that to take any translation literally may mean to renounce the original meaning the text had in its own place and time. Read without reason, scripture is reduced to the memorized and cliched interpretations of one's own culture. Read without love, scripture becomes but another weapon to assault your culture's scapegoats. Read without a sense of personal responsibility, scripture may mean a surrender to the will of your cultural hierarchy. There is a reason that, when the devil wanted to lure Jesus from the path of love, he brought along a Bible.

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