Take God seriously. Really seriously. Take your theology less so.
This is heresy to some of my doctrinally-oriented sisters and brothers, but I don’t consider myself dogmatically-handicapped, just conceptually-flexible. Here’s the deal: our theology only describes what we know and understand about God, it doesn’t prescribe what God has to be like.
A little humility is needed here. I was just reading the last four chapters of Job in preparation for preaching and was reminded by God’s booming voice coming out of the whirlwind that even in our most profound moments, we don’t know squat. At our best we reflect back, in our limited, human way, what we pick up from God.
The theological pizza can be sliced in more than one way; wedges, squares or more, it’s still pizza. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways or more faithful ways to understand and talk about God, it just means that none of them ARE God. They are all human constructs trying to capture to something that they can only point at.
So what does that mean?
- Don’t let your theology or theological traditions limit your experience with God. Expect God to mess with them; stretch them; make you rework them. If you don’t think this applies to you, you’ve parked the car of your faith journey while the world is flying by.
- Be open to other people’s experiences and expressions of God. Their ideas don’t have to be ‘right’ (nobody’s are, remember!) to be an authentic voice for their wrestlings with God right now, and for you to learn something from.
- Value your doubts and tough questions and experiences as God’s way of helping you do #4.
- KEEP GOD BIG! Theology is a box, not the thing itself. We need its categories and explanations to be able to deal with and talk about God, but we need to remember that God doesn’t, can’t ever fit in it. So take the initiative yourself to find the bigness of God that breaks your system. This may be painful but you’re on the way to a breakthrough, not a breakdown!
This is nice but precariously close to relativism. It also leads to individualism. If there is nor right theology then there also is no wrong theology, and so on. Then theology is just my opinions, which is so protestant but so stupid.
Of course there is right and wrong theology…but theology is only the road to God, or a tool to understand God. It is revealed to us because it is Scripture put into understanding.
I fear that this post shows the typical aversion towards truth and “ready-made” answers that people react against nowadays. It is nice if there are no right answers or correct theologies…for a while. But it is also futile.
Andreas, thanks for your comment. I can’t help but notice that you used the word ‘precariously’ in your opening sentence. That’s me. A major role I am called to play in the larger conversation of following Jesus is to make sure that what we are so certain about is actually true to faith and to God’s people. I do not fear making mistakes. I only fear that I stop learning.
I can’t help but note that Jesus often answered questions by asking another question. Rather than giving answers he made people think and learn and re-subject themselves to the Word of God so they would release the nicely packaged forms of it they had settled on.
Understanding God needs to be dynamic. I won’t argue with you that there are understandings that are better than others, and some that are – at least at surface level – downright misleading and unhelpful. But God’s Spirit is alive in the Church when we have really good theology and when we don’t. And no matter what we say, theology is only a way of talking about God. It isn’t God and it isn’t capital T “Truth”. It is human language pointing at the divine.
God has ways of taking our worst, and making good come from it. Just look at the heresies the Church has been guilty of throughout history. Yet God has worked in and through that Church to make good prevail and and the Word be alive. It is the same today. The day we stop subjecting our theology, or the categories and language we use in it, to the Living Word of God, and making it once again incarnate itself in the world we live in, is the day we squeeze God out and replace faith the human certainty.