Monday, January 4, 2021

Nothing New Under the Sun

Every now and then, the question arises: why hasn't there been anything 'new' in Christianity since Revelation? Why does it seem like nothing is happening, like God is no longer active in the world? Is God really done speaking?

The traditional Christian answer is to say something like: well, God said everything He needed to say with the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and He will speak again, but only when it's time for Christ to come again. 

This answer not only rejects the notion that God is still present with His people, which He always has been and promised that He always will be; it flies in the face of the biblical witness itself, which does not end with the resurrection of Jesus but goes on into the story of the development of the church. And the story of the early church doesn't include just the apostles who were with Jesus, but even Paul - a convert to Christianity. A guy who was late to the party. 

So the traditional Christian answer leaves a lot lacking and actually creates more problems than it solves. We simply cannot accept a doctrine that says that God is now done with us until He decides to send us all to judgment. That is not how God has ever worked, and it's not how He's working now. 

But this answer allows us to cloud our own sin by wrapping it in holy language, by making it seem like it is God's doing instead of ours. Then, we don't have to answer for some of the choices that we've made and some of the ways that we've allowed our human nature to control our theology. 

Quite simply, the reason that nothing new seems to be happening in Christianity is because we educated a bunch of men (and more recently, women) in something that we called 'theology,' and now, we force everything to run through them. We take whatever God seems to be doing, and we have made a standard that it has to fit into the mold of something He's already done. And if it doesn't, we call it bunk and move on. Never mind that whole, "Behold! I am doing a new thing!" thing that He said. 

This started actually relatively early on, just a few centuries into Christian history. There were a bunch of sects developing and a bunch of persons claiming this or that of God, and it was muddying up the fundamentals of what believers needed to believe. There was a whole period in church history where council after council met to determine what was real theology and what was false prophecy, and this culminated in a meeting where the top Christians in the field (what we would call 'educated theologians' or at least, respected names among the field) determined that the canon - the story of God - was closed. In the centuries that have passed since, we have not figured out how to reopen it. 

We have not figured out how to let the story of God be developing. We have not figured out how to let God be active in our world. And it's for the same reasons that they closed the canon, except that they did it out of reaction and we do it out of fear - we're afraid that someone is going to challenge our understanding of Jesus. And we're afraid that our understanding won't hold up. 

This has been a problem forever. It's even mentioned in the New Testament. When the Pharisees are trying to figure out what to do with these Christians, they reference other movements that have come up and died out. They die out when their leaders die because there's not enough substance to them to hold them up. The Christian message didn't die out like they thought it would because, well, Jesus is like that. 

And yet, we're still afraid, two thousand years later, that it will. 

It seems, looking at our world, like the Gospel really might be in danger, like we really do have to protect it. There are so many caricatures out there of Jesus, so many false teachings that our culture not only believes, but propagates. We feel like we have to be defenders of the faith. But could it be that it's our own theology, not the world's, that is most keeping us from the Gospel itself? 

Could it be that our unwillingness to let theology develop outside of academia's walls, that our insistence that all things pass through our educated men and women, that our formalization of something that we call 'theology' is more detrimental to our faith as believers than any caricature that the world can come up with? After all, shouldn't it stand that the caricatures will fall and only the true God remain? 

How can the true God remain if we never allow Him to be present with us? How can He be our God if we're living in a period in which He is not doing anything, except preparing judgment for us? It doesn't make sense. 

Yet, that's what our 'theology' gets us. 

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