THE IDOL OF CORRECT THEOLOGY... AND ITS OBSTACLE TO PEACE MAKING
For some years I have been surmising that we in Northern Ireland have fallen for the most subtle deception of idolatry. We worship at the Altar of Correct Theology. I have been surmising that it has is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Churches working for peace and reconciliation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in theology. My life is driven passionately, and I hope compassionately, by the words and example of Jesus as I read it in the Gospels. My understanding of God, that I discern from all 66 books of the Bible, is what gets me out of bed and fires what I believe my vocation to be.
So I am not dismissing theology, not at all. However, even that clarification is a response to the Idol of Correct Theology. In Northern Ireland, and particularly in the Churches, I have to explain what I did not say as well as what I did say. Why? There are always those who are sussing out what I have heard described as my “soundness”. From their judgement they will decide whether to damn me or embrace me. I have lived with deep bruising in my soul from such judgementalism.
Theology becomes an idol when we elevate it to the most important thing and when our own arrogant theological position excludes others from fellowship. I remember Charles Ringma, in a lecture at Regent College, Vancouver, teaching me that mission was the mother of theology. That is a vital order of things. When theology and particularly a Purity of Theology is our source then we can find it polluting all of the waters.
Let me talk about the photograph at the top of this blog as an example. I love this selfie. My dear brother in Christ Jim Deeds took it at the 4 Corners Festival Radio Service. In the places where Evangelical Correct Theology is god I would be told that Jim couldn’t be my brother in Christ. He is a Catholic... Roman Catholic they might add for heft. His theology is in error. His theology on justification by faith? His views on The mass? He might use Rosary Beads? What about praying to Mary?
Now, can I say that I have no idea what Jim thinks about any of those things. Indeed if and when those subjects come up in our friendship we’ll have a good discussion. In a world where we worship at the Altar of Theology those things matter most. Not as far as I can see in the Bible.
I know Jim is my brother in Christ because he is passionate about Jesus, has a deep, deep love for his Lord, knows him in personal ways that I aspire to. By faith through grace Jim is a follower of Jesus. That is the reality and Paul tells me in Ephesians 2 that that is enough. It is enough whether Jim and I define it theologically the same ways or not. That work of God subverts the boundaries of theological purity.
I love Fredrick Buechner’s definition of sin. The Presbyterian minister and author writes:
“The power of sin is centrifugal. When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left. Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left. "The wages of sin is death" is Saint Paul's way of saying the same thing.
Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you're part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self.”
The Idol of Theological Correctness is a pusher away. Those who worship at its feet exclude those without the same meticulous theological definitions as themselves. We will therefore not meet with certain people, groups, Churches and we will judge who we even define as Christian. The pushing away is sin, its centrifugal force at gale force.
Our fallen nature as described so articulately in those first few chapters of Genesis is a fertile soil for a grim harvest of prejudice, racism, sectarianism and self righteousness.
Grace is God’s interruption on a planet that loves to push away others, God and themselves. Grace is a gap closer. Grace in our lives makes us humble. We realise that we all see “through a glass darkly” as Paul put it, in surely his greatest poem in 1 Corinthians 13. Theology comes after grace does its thing, to help us understand how the utter miracle of it all works, so that us humans might attempt to express something so mysterious that we dare not feed our fallen arrogance to think we have it sussed this side of heaven’s fullest revelation!
In Eden humanity reached for the fruit, in order that we might know as much as God. It is still so tempting. The altar of Theological Correctness is still under that tree. We still want to be God. We still want to know it all. We still want to be the judge and jury.
Meantime God gets over that damning trait in humanity and through grace and his son’s humble life, death and resurrection forgives our over reaching… and closes the gap with love… love for those who actually do not know it all… but he includes none the less!
When we have no other gods but God then we see this grace as a force even more powerful than sin. When that force works through our redeemed lives it has the power to make peace, to reach out across whatever boundaries and by the same grace that God showed is to reconcile we too become reconcilers. It is what we were saved for. It is the calling of Jesus on our lives!
As I sat and listened to each speaker and the discussion regarding theology, my mind drifted to the scene in Devil wears Prada where Miranda Priestly explains Andy's choice of wearing a 'tragic blue jumper'. Andy thinks she doesn't care about fashion and she picked it 'just cause' but in fact everything about that sweater can be traced back to a collection by a fancy designer the year or so previous...This all makes sense in my head.
As soon as I heard the term 'theology' I thought, i really don't get why we must go on about theology, what even is it? To me it has been a hindrance and not a help in my faith. I believe the message of Jesus, the principles he set out and surely that is just the facts. I haven't got bogged down in theory cause when people start trying to quantify everything they seem to get very cross. I have wanted to understand why the facts are facts but I've stopped short of actually trying to work that out for myself.
So I wear my blue jumper of 'let me just muddle on and not care' but I then struggle to find my place in church, home groups, amongst fellow christians. The source is Jesus (the designer), and interpretation (theology) is the jumper. And I need to work out from the original source what that jumper is to look like. I am going to start thinking about that. How that looks in terms of NI I have no idea...but everyone is has picked a jumper whether they know it or not and I want understand what makes mine mine.
(I have re-read this, I know it doesn't really flow and i have typed it as my head has thought it but I understand it isn't very clear - I just needed to respond to something that feels like a light bulb moment.)
(I don't even like Devil wears Prada)
Posted by: Debs Cully | 05/02/2018 at 02:56 PM
Oh dear goodness, it autofilled with the wrong Debs! (i have no idea how to undo...)
Posted by: Debs Murray | 05/02/2018 at 02:59 PM
The New Testament refers to "the faith" as an objective principle; a statement of fact. The Church is called to contend for this faith and to lbseparate from on those who corrupt it's purity; espousing another Gospel. If Biblical Theology is God's Revelation of Himself, to detract from it is to diminish God. We do not worship the Theology, we worship the God whom the Theology articulates. It is He who calls us to separate from the brother who walks disorderly. Grace is important yes, but grace exists within an atmosphere of truth and justice. God is gracious to man because His justice was satisfied by Christ who bore our sin on His own body. Christ himself taught us to exercise righteous judgment and His attitude to false teachers was scathing. If theology is not an inflexible standard are we to create our own theological positions apart from Scripture? Is the Bible the inspired Word of God or not? Is God a figment of our own invention or is He the one revealed in His Word. How can you articulate views which appear to be opposed to Scripture and the Westminster Confession that you have subscribed to at ordination?
Posted by: Peter McIntyre | 07/02/2018 at 12:06 PM
I know the devil wears Prada thing was tenuous (tho totally made sense in my head!) but the next comment is really confusing. What is the Westminster confessional? isn’t theology all just interpretation...more opinion that fact. How are we to know if it’s fact? Cause when I read in my bible that Jesus called us to love and it is to be the greatest thing ever, I would want every word that came out of me to be dripping in the sweet nectar of love, that the fragrance of Jesus would lift the spirits of each person in every room I would go into and it would be Jesus they would see and not this messed up, struggling for answers (but a full of faith) girl trying to understand what God’s hands would want me to do in a very broken place...well if that’s what it’s supposed to be like then I think that comment which says a lot of words and stuff I def don’t understand seems to lack nectar...it reads a bit angry...or cross. I hope you don’t mind me saying that Peter...maybe there are new things to learn. I’m excited to see what that looks like, for me and anyone else that felt the challenge of that night at the 4 corners event.
Posted by: Debs Murray | 13/02/2018 at 12:08 AM