Sad as it may seem, I believe that most Christians are told by their leaders which part of the theological spectrum they are part of, and generally they don’t understand what it means, nor do they often care very much. Theology has been made to appear to them like an obscure, esoteric branch of philosophy that is beyond their reach and not very relevant to their lives anyway. As long as they dutifully subscribe to the party line then all will be well with their world. If they should question it too persistently then the accusations of backsliding will flow quickly and frighten them back into the loyal fold.
This is not unlike voting for a particular political party for the important reasons that your parents always did so, or ‘everyone’ in your town does, or your favourite TV commentator’s disparaging comments about the other parties are the funniest or wittiest.
It also reminds me of the Middle Ages when, as long as the priest said the magic words of the Mass at one end of the parish church, the whole town could, at the same time, engage in the village market at the other end, and all was well, and God’s wrath was appeased for another day. No-one actually had to take part in the rituals.
The sadnesses in this scenario are immediately obvious to me:
- That leaders who ‘understand’ theology would so easily use it as a means of control and self-agrandisement.
- That the average Christian should think so little of the need to actively engage in the discovery of who is this God they ‘worship’.
Why is it that when the most important thing in all of our lives is the development of intimacy with Jesus, do we think it is OK to delegate this to someone else? And whose kingdom are we leaders really building? Are we for Paul, or Apollos, or Calvin, or Arminius, or Luther, or …, or are we for Jesus?
Yes, theological movements do spring up for often good reasons. However, why are we generally so black and white about them? And why, once born, are such movements so hard to kill again? Was Jesus a Calvinist? Was he a dispensationalist? Was he Reformed? Charismatic? Was he even a Christian? (Now there’s an oxymoron for you!)
As a Baptist pastor I am almost expected to be of a Reformed doctrinal persuasion. However, the more I learn about what it means to be an intimate follower of Jesus, and one of those favoutites that I’m told my Father God doesn’t have, the more some of the tenets of Calvinism make me extremely uneasy. In particular, their implications for the nature and character of God make me shudder. No, I’m afraid that much I once might have admired about Calvin is long gone the way of many other long cherished doctrines and heroes – into the heresy bucket. If someone said about me some of the things some sincere and well-meaning Reformed theologians say about the nature of their God, I would be very upset – and rightly so!
Of course, bucking the status quo is not without cost. For example, I had been considering becoming an editor for Theopedia. However, when I read the statement of faith I would be expected to sign I could not in all conscience do so. Most of it is fine, but not all. This is rather disappointing, because it is a great project, but I guess I’ll live. At least I won’t be burnt at the stake or put down a hole and pelted with stones!
Lest you also think I am anti-intellectual, or anti-theology, nothing could be more untrue. I love learning, and have invested a large part of myself into theology. I love to teach, and have engaged fully in a career as an academic and researcher, but I am constained at all times to make sure I am teaching life, not death. There are many things in all of the ‘isms’ and ‘ologies’ that cause me disquiet, and even horror at times, so much so that I would rather be known as a follower of Jesus than be mis-recognised as one of what has become known today by the title of ‘Christian’.
I’m sure I will write more about this, here and elsewhere.