Saturday, January 2, 2021

Theology Proper

There's something in us that wants to believe that we can understand the Bible, that God really is speaking to us through its pages. But something terrible has happened to Christianity (and, sadly, it is spreading to too many parts of the world) that has convinced us that yes, the Bible is speaking to us, but we need someone more educated than we are to understand what it is saying. 

Or to put it in other terms, God is speaking in tongues, and we need an interpreter. 

The notion of Christian interpretation has become a huge cultural phenomenon within the church. We invest big money in our experts, attempting to train our pastors and professors and turn them into what we call 'theologians,' or, basically, interpreters for God. We then endow them with the authority to tell us what God has to say for our lives as though they are some kind of prophets when, in fact, we do not expect them at all any longer to be led by the Spirit, but by their academic foundations. 

And they, in turn, feed this right back to us, using the jargon and the information that they've learned through 'higher education' to create a sort of barrier between us and our God, to justify the walls that we're building between us. They tell us things that we never knew about the Bible, and they say them in such a way that it sounds like it's supposed to matter. Like it's supposed to change something fundamental about the Word of God. 

Things like...the book of Isaiah probably wasn't written just by the prophet; there might be as many as three authors of Isaiah floating around. Or things like...the Pentateuch (a fancy word for the first five books of the Bible - again, a mark of education meant to make us feel like we need someone's help understanding the Scriptures) may not have been written by Moses. Or things like...have you ever seen the similarities between Genesis 1-3 and the creation myths from other religions?

It's stuff like this that keeps most Christians afraid to even open the Bible. It makes them feel intimidated just looking at the words of it. Throw into that all of these authorities that try to tell us which version of the Bible we should be reading, which for so long was the KJV or even the NKJV - translations that are usually written in a kind of language nobody actually speaks - and we're left wondering if God is really speaking to us at all. 

He's speaking to them, sure. But can we build a faith on a word that God has given to someone else?

And so, we come to believe that as 'regular' human beings, as 'average' Christians, the Bible isn't really for us. We can't possibly understand it. We cannot know, reasonably, what it means. And we turn over our faith into the hands of others who cloud it in so many other things that we don't understand (Greek, Hebrew, chiasms, parallel constructions, myths and metaphors and so on) that we're thankful that someone speaks God because honestly, we never could. 

It keeps us distanced from our own faith, and it convinces us to stay there. It keeps us dependent upon our pastors and professors, who are supposed to be making disciples of Christ but cannot help but make disciples of themselves because we are so desperate for their learnedness. And it makes us question anything that we come up with on our own, anything that the Spirit Himself whispers into our hearts. We read a passage, get an inspired understanding of it that could change our entire lives, and then we go seeking the expert opinion because, hey, we can't do theology and find out, no. It doesn't mean that. And then we get a history lesson and a semantics lesson and all of these other thoughts as to why something that struck so deeply into our heart...was a lie. 

Not only was it a lie, it was a human construction. It was us lying to ourselves. It was us being too desperate, they say. Too needy. Too 'undiscerning,' to put it in church language. And then the church just sort of shakes its head at us, and we shake our head at ourselves. Oh, how frail we are. How foolish! 

And then, here we are again, with a faith dependent upon a translator and a Word of God that is clearly not spoken to us, trying to hold onto what we know and what we want to believe but what far out of reach. At least, for most of us. 

But it's not really. 

All of the academics that we've put around theology proper, it's just a show. It's smoke and mirrors. It's our culture crept in upon our souls, and it's damning. I want to talk this week about some of the ways that this thinking about theology - that it is an academic discipline reserved for the learned and not for regular yokels like most of us - has a dramatic impact on our faith and our culture and then, hopefully, end the week on an encouraging note for those of us who want to believe that we can understand the Bible, that God really is speaking to us through its pages. (Spoiler alert: we can, and He is.)

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