At its heart, theology is a word that describes the utter arrogance and depravity of all humanity. Taken to its simplest human definition, Theology means “The Study of God.” Its roots are the Greek “theos” (God) and logos (word, the same “word” used to describe Christ in John 1– “In the beginning was the WORD”).
The arrogance of the term theology is lost on most people, particularly theologians who love to hear themselves talk. Theologians–from college professors to authors to pastors–think that they actually have a “bead” on God, that they can actually figure him (or her, or it) out. How amusing is it for any human being to think that they can actually corner the market on God?
So all of our efforts, no matter who we are or what we do, to figure out God are a product of fruitless hubris. That leaves us with a very simple question:
Does theology matter?
A few days ago, I posted a blog challenging the methods and motives of some theologians in their discussion of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. By the way, if you’re interested in a very down-to-earth perspective on the book, check out this blog: http://www.jesusneedsnewpr.net/how-to-survive-rob-bells-new-book-release/.
But, I digress…
Several people who have reviewed the book and/or blogged about it have dismissed the discussion. My own pastor kind of “blew it off” unintentionally by comparing it to the theological/political battles of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. But as I pointed out to him, the theological battle between the evangelical “Emergents” and the evangelical “Fundamentalists” is much more important. And its implications cover a much wider range.
The Emergent “Church” isn’t just challenging fundamentalist theology. They are challenging the structures, institutions, and “Good Ole Boy” foundations of the traditional church. Emergents are allowing their theology to speak to their practice, whereas conservatives/fundamentalists are using their theology to protect their practice.
So here’s the question: If theology is an arrogant effort of human beings to understand God, does theology even matter? In particular, does theology matter to the “real world” of the church and everyday Christians?
The answer is yes. Unequivocally, unconditionally yes. It matters, IF theology takes the shape of a sincere search for God, rather than a human presupposition that they can actually figure out God.
Rob Bell’s new book is just that: a BOOK. Maybe there are elements of divine inspiration, and maybe there is way too much humanity in it. But it is an effort to generate discussion and debate on the nature of God’s love, punishment, forgiveness, judgment, heaven, and hell.
Yet, the traditional “powers” and the traditional church seem scared to death of this. Why?
The church has spent too many years running from theology, and not nearly enough years engaging theology. The idea is that, “If we question heaven and hell, then the WHOLE SYSTEM breaks down!” They never consider the fact that maybe the system needs to break down.
My frustration with the church is that we (yes, I work for a very traditional church) are not willing enough to engage tough questions, particularly questions posed by those with whom we disagree. Why are we afraid of someone who challenges traditional–and not necessarily Biblical–ideas about heaven and hell? Why are we afraid that the spirit might lead someone to look at the Biblical vision of hell in a different way than the “tradition” dictates?
At some point, we may have to acknowledge that tradition is a very human interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. Maybe we need to abandon some of those traditions rather than denouncing everyone who challenges them. Maybe it’s time to look at things from a fresh perspective.
Yes, it is challenging and difficult to let our traditions be challenged. But maybe the challenge is exactly what we need to get the church moving again. One thing is for sure: The teens, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings are not going to sit in the pews and accept things for what they are. If the church is really concerned about reaching these generations, they will begin to ask the questions. This is a much better alternative than denying the need for such questions to be asked in the first place.
Yes, theology does matter, no matter how flawed the effort may be. The church just needs to start taking theology seriously, rather than dismissing the efforts to understand our God, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.