"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, April 21, 2008

Walking the Tightrope: The Perils of Studying Theology

While studying theology, I’ve noticed two distinct categories of attitudes towards theology.

1) Theological Apathy

The first attitude is one of theological apathy. This attitude is typified in a comment I have heard more than once: “I don’t see why I need to read all this junk, I just want to tell people about Jesus.” This attitude tends to occur during an experiential period where the student just “feels” they know what’s right and they do not need new vocabulary or other people’s thoughts to figure out what exactly they mean by the Christianese they speak. (“How’s your walk?” – “Um, nice, it’s temperate outside so it’s umm…pleasant.”)

2) The Theological Militancy

The second attitude is what I would like to call theological militancy. This attitude enjoys employing the “h-word” a lot. (heresy) This attitude is typified in the general denunciation of everyone else – the theologically apathetic certainly, but in particular those with a different theological militancy. If the other group is not pre-mill, pre-trib; well, the obviously don’t know Jesus. Or, if the other group does not baptize babies, or does baptize babies, they are not worthy of the term church. Or if they do not share our eschatological chart, or soteriological chart to the letter, then obviously they are heretics, not Bible-believers and not Christian.

Getting Along?

Now, I don’t just share these observed attitudes of what everybody else does, but what I frequently do depending on the moment. Usually when around the theologically militant, I become apathetic: “Am I pre-millenial? No, I’m pan-millenial, it will all pan out.” Then around the theologically apathetic I turn militant: “You just want to talk about Jesus? What do you mean by Jesus? He’s a man, huh, why should I listen to him? He’s God? How does that work? Wait, stop using theological talk…”

The problem is not new. In teaching a mid-week class with my friend Jay Bennett, he posited a model for religion that had on one end emotion and on the other intellectual orthodoxy. Much of the history of the Church has been a swinging back and forth between those who see religion as an experiential reality, and those that see it as an affirmation of certain intellectual truths. Those on the emotional side err by sliding into emotionalism or enthusiasm and becoming feelings-oriented in our search for true religion. The other side errs in becoming a form of dead orthodox, an affirmation of certain truths without a sense of emotion or joy about it. True religion is both of the emotions, and of intellectual truths.
Yet, another factor comes into play. Both Dead Orthodoxy and Enthusiasm become Schismatic – The dead orthodox attack the enthusiasts and other dead orthodox that hold the wrong beliefs. The enthusiasts attack the cold doctrines of the other group or other enthusiasts who have the “wrong emotions” at the wrong times. What is missing is a sense of catholicity. What is missing is the knowledge that Christians must have an emotional reaction and certain doctrines they confess without anathematizing the other side as agents of Satan. This is especially true when we assume the role of the theologically militant. The theologically militant can have a lot of emotion with their doctrine, yet this is not displaying true religion as it is damaging when it is directed against fellow Christians that may truly just have a difference of opinion. True religion will be able to have a difference over non-essentials -still holding them with conviction- yet accepting the other person as a Christian and treating them with loving respect. Of course, that takes a lot of humilty - much more humilty than anyone can muster without help...

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