Why Theology?

Very rarely in years past did theology put down deep roots in my life. I guess it is because of my natural inclination to question and deconstruct ideas, and my love of playing devil's advocate. This has often gotten me into trouble with my wife, as I'll often take a position in a discussion that I don't even remotely believe, and before I realise it, I am debating her on points that I myself agree with! Sometimes I don't realise I am doing it - debating has always been a bit of a thrill for me.

So why am I now trying to become a theologian?

Theology, I have come to believe, must eventually come to a head. What is it stake is my avenue of faith - how I see God, the Church, others and most importantly myself. What we are pursuing are the big answers that shape our inner thoughts and guide our actions. These aren't the rudiments of math; I cannot prove what is theologically true - but like all of life's important truths theology finds itself in subjective conclusion; existential realities of the utmost importance. Our faith must eventually turn into our conviction. If I ask my wife if she loves me, the answer I long for is that she loves me for me. If she merely repeats a list of things that I do, I will walk away not feeling whole. But when she says, "Matthew, I love you because I love you. I love you because you are you", my heart's content. Now, my best response is to be convinced of that love and move through life in my marriage without doubt and fear. The basis of our relationship is founded on something that cannot be proven, but is a subjective conviction that gives meaning and purpose to my life. This is what theology is like - in the beginning there are doubts and fears, but as we move deeper into it, we grow in conviction, faith and hope. The greatest part is that when we ask theological questions, we faintly hear a response that says "I love you because I love you. I love you because you are you." This turns into an anchor that weathers many storms, and many storms we will experience. Storms of loss, sin, grief, loneliness, anger, fear and sometimes doubt. We will sometimes even look in the water and wonder if the anchor is really holding - we can't see it after all, but faith ends up being "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1)

The reason for this is that we are not simply discussing ideas, concepts or theories, but a person, because only a person is able to save us. That is after all, the message or "good news" of scripture - that an event occurred involving a person that changed the world. People may roll their eyes at the mention of the world theology, but as a Christian our very life of faith will eventually systematise itself towards or away from that person of focus. We will develop ideas about that person from a variety of sources; our parents, culture, church, marriage, friends, books, or even Netflix.

Theology is alive then because the person of our faith and doer of theology are both alive. Theology then requires a living tool. We turn to scripture because it is alive (Hebrews 4:12) which acts like a rope, the part that we can see, attached to our anchor. A rope in water means very little if not attached to an anchor, and I am afraid that so often people end up putting their faith in the rope rather than the anchor. The anchor of course is the (capital) Word of God. We need both words in our pursuit of theology, but we should never forget that one is infinitely more important than the other. One serves the other, was guided by the other and testifies to the other. The Lord Jesus, who is the Word of God, is Lord not only over the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8) but all time (Rev. 22:13). Everything belongs to him and exists for him (Col. 1:16), including scripture. 

Any theology then that uses scripture in a way not glorifying to Christ is empty. Some, who teeter on the idolatrous worship of scripture, will flatten it and remove it from its ultimate context; the context of Christ. This type of theology has left a depressing legacy. Statements like "Jesus would stone homos" can be followed with biblical references. It is people serving the word and not the Word that almost always wander into dangerous waters. Like the Pharisees, these people find the revealed Messiah barely recognisable; they can be knowledgeable about God, but not know him.

We sometimes forget that Jesus is exactly like God and God is exactly like Jesus. We can rattle off the primary rule of theology that "God never changes" and then insert a theology that makes God completely and utterly unlike Christ. We will say things like "God cannot look upon sin" when Jesus stared sin in the eye every day of his life. We will present God as if his plan and purpose is to punish his enemies when Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Sometimes we turn God into an angry judge, when the very event of the gospel in scripture is God serving and dying for his enemies. There is a beautiful big picture at the very tip of our fingernails but we often don't see it. Like the Pharisees, this message of scripture is missed by those who should know better. It feels as though we can wonder like Jesus of some theologians and Christian thinkers: "You are the teacher, and you don't understand these things?" (John 3:10)

When the Gospel grips you however, it is one of the most profoundly beautiful experiences one can imagine, because it's not a cold theological idea reaching into your soul but a person. Sometimes we can block knowing the scope of the gospel with our own philosophies and theories that seems more logical and understandable. We don't allow ourselves to imagine the scandalous nature of the gospel.

“This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.” 
Karl Barth, The Humanity of God

When the Gospel grips you, you want to see the whole world saved. The more I ponder the gospel, the more I realize that the notion of salvation for the sake of heaven almost completely misses the mark. Jesus is everything - from that first spark of time to its very end, Jesus is redeeming it all.  In Greek, the word teleios is used to describe something that is complete in all its parts. In scripture the word is used to describe a living faith in Jesus Christ. In all of our vast universe, God is concerned with making us whole and setting us on a course of redemption today. The means by which we work towards our teleios is by being a part of something larger than ourselves. What a beautiful gift to not only be called to faith in God, but be called to have faith in His Church; people like you and me who make mistakes and are let down and experience loss, but are working towards completeness in Jesus Christ. The gospel is so much more than one person believing in a Creed and then going to heaven - it's about a gift for the whole world that builds community and establishes the grace of God on "earth as it is in heaven"! (Matt. 6:10)

Before choosing a graduate school for this fall, I looked at a variety of different universities and realized that theology has lost it's life in a lot of institutions because they severed themselves from the very source they owed its purpose. Keeping our eyes on Jesus however, theology has the potential to be an amazing journey. 

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