“God does not, by the instant gift of his Spirit, make us always feel right, desire good, love purity, aspire after him and his will. Therefore either he will not, or he cannot. …. The truth is this: He wants to make us in his own image, choosing the good, refusing the evil. How should he effect this if he were always moving us from within, as he does at divine intervals, towards the beauty of holiness? God gives us room to be; does not oppress us with his will; “stands away from us,” that we may act from ourselves, that we may exercise the pure will for good. Do not, therefore, imagine me to mean that we can do anything of ourselves without God. If we choose the right at last, it is all God’s doing, and only the more his that it is ours, only in a far more marvellous way his than if he had kept us filled with all holy impulses precluding the need of choice. For up to this very point, for this very point, he has been educating us, leading us, pushing us, driving us, enticing us, that we may choose him and his will, and so be tenfold more his children, of his own best making, in the freedom of the will…”
– Scottish pastor/poet/novelist/mystic George MacDonald (1824-1905) Unspoken Sermons, Vol. I “The Eloi”
Last year a bright friend of mine who is a missionary in Jordan found himself realizing that big parts of the theology he grew up with could no longer be sustained by the Bible. This was causing him a pretty grueling experience of trying to sort it all out. I sent him this note:
On theology: several times in my life large chunks of my theology exploded in front of me. It felt like safety to run back and dive in to what I had formerly believed, but it would have been intellectually dishonest and fake, because I knew it had too many holes in it. I couldn’t “unlearn” the new facts that had shot holes through my former theology. It’s ok for it all not to come together again right away. Some times it took me several years. I stuck doctrines (or how several fit together) in the “pigeon hole of suspended judgment” and kept reading, talking and thinking and let it take as long as it took to piece together something new. Sometimes it was several years. Each time a piece clicks into place it’s very encouraging. I know the (for me frustrated) feeling of not being able to express what I believe about something even to close people like my brother in law, because I’m not sure what to say and how to even fit it together or even what it is. That’s all fine. Growth takes time. Wiser, smarter men than us have been through this in other generations and now it’s our turn to be faithful to go thru it. As long as you keep loyal to Jesus throughout the process, the doctrines can wax and wane, come and go, piece together or be full of gaps – I think it’s all fine with God. He knows if I love Him or not. People get loving God and loving doctrines confused. It’s easy to feel like a heretic when you are on your way to a new theology. It’s not heresy, it’s just that you are still looking for what the new theology is that takes into account the “externalities” that blew up your former one. The road to a new, honest theology that brings glory to God is pretty cloudy and foggy while you walk it (unless it’s not for geniuses, but I’m not one). Stuff will start fitting together as time goes by. What I would hate to see you do is shut down the process out of anxiety and “go back” to believing something that you may have seen has some serious holes in it. It’s an understandable psychological move people make – but it’s dishonest about what they’ve learned about the bible – sort of like sticking their head in the sand in order to avoid the tough work of sorting something new out. You are too gifted, too bright, too all kinds of things to be wasted doing that.
Almost 500 years ago some guys in Europe thought the world needed a better Christian theology than the one in use. What these guys ended up with (the theology of the Protestant Reformation) has completely shaped what we evangelicals assume the Gospel is today. We take what they said for granted, we take it for gospel.
Today the same thing is happening. Christians are looking around themselves and saying “I think we need a better theology than the one that is in use.” And I think, for a whole host of reasons, they are right. And that’s one of the reasons I am very interested in new turns in Christian theology. Open Theism? Emergent theology? Process Theology? Liberation theology? Social Justice? Green theology, narrative theology, Black theology? Inter-religious dialogue? Yes, let’s talk! For those who think it’s a waste of time, allow me to remind you of that little conversation four to five centuries ago – the Protestant Reformation.
Some Christians fear any new discussion of theology. They fear that the conversation itself, or questions arising from it, will end up with people in hell. The problem with this is that it really means they are counting on correct answers on a theology test to save them, rather than Jesus. And that’s very bad theology.