Wednesdays @ Whenever about Whatever July 1, 2020
Here’s a question to ponder this morning: Do you have any theological “baggage”? Of course, you do. We all do. What I mean is, “What are the beliefs that you carry around with you that would be difficult to unpack or even get rid of?”
In the last few weeks, and for a couple more weeks I am discussing some of the insights from Tony Jones’ book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. I have likened this to Dr. Jones going on a reconnaissance mission to the front lines of Christianity, what I call the “cutting edge” and reporting back to us what he has found.
Jones lists 20 of these so-called dispatches from the emergent frontier. So far, I have shared and discussed the first 9 of them, so today I am going to share and discuss (briefly) the next three. As I do so, think of your own theological baggage:
- Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past, emergents endeavor to continue their theological dialogue.
Let’s break down his three points here. First, theology is “local.” I’m sure you’ve heard people say that “politics is local,” although that is not as true as it used to be. Because of 24-hour cable news that covers national and international stories, our political views are less local and more national these days. Politics is local, however, in the sense that it comes from a specific time and place in history.
This is how I interpret Jones when he says theology should be local. It is local in the sense that it exists in a specific time and place. That has never been as true as it is now, at least for me. Recently, my theology has been shaped through what is happening in this time and place. I’m talking about the pandemic and the new movement for racial justice.
One could argue that we have a new set of baggage (or luggage) to carry around these days. I have touched on the pandemic and racial justice in my preaching for many weeks now because our faith tradition has important things to say about them, while at the same time, these events are shaping our faith and theology.
Health and justice are not new issues, of course. Jesus himself was known as a great “healer,” and he was a product of the prophetic tradition of his people, which had a heart for justice. So, cutting edge Christians are actually drawing upon the past to inform the present, to inform us in this time and place.
Second, theology should also be conversational in that there should be some give and take. There should be less argumentation and more exploration of commonalities. If a theological conversation progresses beyond a conversation then it will likely turn into conflict.
And when there is conflict, no one is listening. (Have you ever convinced someone of anything while arguing with them?) This will never be a perfect world, but we should try our best to keep theological conversations at the conversational level.
Third, theology should be temporary. This is the point that probably sticks in people’s craw. Many Christians tend to believe that theology was handed down to non-thinking, non-creative automatons a couple of thousand years ago and we shouldn’t touch it.
Many Christians believe that the theology they espouse is the same theology espoused by Jesus and Paul and the early Church Fathers way back when. Theology should be eternal, they say. But nothing could be further from the truth. Theology is an evolving thing, and it should be, because we are an evolving species. Things change, so our theological baggage should be disposable.
I guarantee you that I do not have the same theological views now as I did when I first began taking religion seriously back in my early 20s. Back then, for example, I burned all my record albums in a bonfire because I thought the devil was in the music. I thought Pat Robertson was the preeminent Christian on the planet.
I thought Hal Linsey’s book, “The Late Great Planet Earth” was prophetic. And I thought prophecy was the art of foretelling the future, which God had already written in a giant book up in the “cloud.” (Now we know the “cloud” just stores all current human knowledge and lots and lots of puppy and kitten pictures.)
In summary of this dispatch, cutting edge, i.e., emergent Christians believe theology should be local (in time and place), conversational rather than argumentative, and temporary rather than eternal. If we need to get a new set of baggage to make this happen, then I will meet you at the local Target store.
- Emergents believe that awareness of our relative position—to God, to one another, and to history—breeds biblical humility, not relativistic apathy.
Here’s what Tony Jones means by that. The more theologically astute one becomes, the humbler one becomes in their faith. It’s like the old saying, “The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.” Today, after decades of education and experience, I am much humbler in my faith than I was in my early 20s when I liked Pat Robertson and believed the end of the world was eminent. I am less sure and less cocky than I was back then.
And the second part of that statement is that none of this led to “apathy” on my part. If anything, the elimination of certainty in my faith journey has led to more seeking, more learning, and more experiencing. Cutting edge Christians don’t adopt a set of theological principles (i.e. baggage) and then sit on that baggage. They keep going, keep plodding along, hoping that someday the sky will open up and everything will become crystal clear. Or at least, buy new baggage if the occasion calls for it.
- Emergents embrace the whole Bible, the glory and the pathos.
You may not be familiar with the word “pathos.” It is defined as “a quality that evokes pity or sadness.” Has the reading of the Bible ever made you sad or inspire you to feel sorry for some of the characters?
Cutting edge Christians try not to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they are going to read and expound upon. They try to accept the whole enchilada. They accept all of the Bible’s baggage.
Admittedly, there are some fairly rough, hard to read, hard to accept, passages or stories in the Bible. I even have a difficult time reading the Noah and the ark story because despite the fact that it is a childhood favorite, it depicts an angry vengeful murderous God.
I’m not a fan of that story, but I do think that stories like that are important because they help us understand the people who gave us the Bible. We get to look inside their minds as we seek to create our own path in the 21st century.
Well, that’s enough for today. Let me repeat my earlier question: Do you have any theological baggage? Is it baggage (or luggage) that helps you in your theological travels? Or is it baggage you need to part ways with? If you need to get rid of some old baggage, I just had a firepit built behind my house, and perhaps we need an old-fashioned theological bonfire.