Theology is of some interest to me, but I get lost in it.
Varying theological codifications have appeared through the centuries. There are the ancient councils and creeds. There are the confessions and catechisms, and these things extend through several major denominations.
Systematic theologicians (!) almost seem to use sleight-of-hand techniques, and the rest of us need to learn escape artistry to free ourselves from the boxes they put on the spiritual stage. Last week, the Logos Academic Blog published this post:
I tried to read that material. I really did. The writing is good, and the academic treatment is good. I found myself seriously questioning the value of it all, though. Calling, one of the two major topics treated, is a word-concept that has roots in scripture (although it takes on a life of its own with some theologicians). Regeneration, not so much. For the theologically stout of heart, a sequel LAB blog link about the relationship of “calling” and “regeneration” is here.
All this material is about the theology of the “salvation” process. None of the objects of analysis are observable from a human vantage point, yet humans are still trying to codify an order—the ordo salutis, or sequence of salvation. In some cases, they are even trying to codify the codifications! Now, I do not point the finger at the high-end “Reformed” theologians any more than at the low-church folks who claim they’ve pinpointed things. (Baptists, Church of Christ folks, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics are similar in this respect, at least.) The exact point at which God decides I’m in? The order of “events” in the spiritual realm (as though they were events per se)? Centuries-removed human beings have attempted to codify the “order of salvation.” In scripture, I find scant the suggestion of a rigid, global ordo salutis—and somewhat less substantial than the presentation of God as three.
Fretting over the identification, connections, and conceptual relationships of ideas such as “regeneration” and “effectual calling” seems wasteful to me. I try not to ascend into the lofty language and forged formulas of theology, but I do get drawn in at times. More than the material itself, the mind-boggling part is that anyone would doggedly pursue the relationships between various positions and stances. This is meta–meta-material, two generations removed from what I need to be dealing with. I might honestly ponder God’s will, i.e., what I think God wants me to do in a given situation, but when I philosophize about “calling” and try to force scripture verses into a theological stance, I risk drawing inappropriate lines and reaching points of view that cannot stand up to scrutiny based only on scripture texts. If I go a step further and try to make sense of the implications of the difference between my philosophies and someone else’s—when I become enmeshed in thinking about the relationship of one theological system to another—I am yet more removed from anything I ought to be sinking my teeth into. I may admire the sheer intellect of a systematic theologician, but my health is better when I keep my diet free of such processed, artificial foods. Here, I started to edit, or at least apologize for, mixing magic and nutrition metaphors, but maybe it’s OK to leave it as is: the mixing reflects the confusion that can result from theologic.
For better or worse, because there were a couple of old Mad magazines at my grandmother’s house when I was a boy, I have the image of Alfred E. Neumann here burned into my memory . What the reincarnated Neumann might say in theological circles, I don’t know, but I say to the theological rustlers and wranglers, “Why worry about this? Why not just listen to what Paul tells Philemon or the Thessalonians? Why not just sit in rapt attention before Matthew’s portrait of Jesus? Why worry about superimposed theological constructs when I have my hands full with trying to understand and act on a single insight from Jesus’ life from John’s gospel or Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians?” It’s not only a “flip” why worry? that should be in the picture here; it’s also the presumption that can be apparent when anyone claims to know the mind of God to the point that he can lock down spiritual-sphere “events,” perfectly in order, when scripture hasn’t done so.
A couple of my new acquaintances seem wrapped up in theology. They are men of faith, and I do not doubt their devotion. I am however troubled that their responses to just about any honest question or observation seem to come from orthodoxy rather than the scriptural material at hand. A few months ago, one of them sent me a paper he wrote about “calling.” I’m persuaded that he sincerely wants to be God’s person, and that he emphasizes things he honestly believes are important. Twice in the paper, he reminds the reader that we should all “get our theology from scripture.” Yet what he comes out with is anything but textually based. Rather, it is based on a non-contextual view of cherry-picked scripture verses. The irresponsible use of scripture pretty much always ends up like this.
So I resolve to keep myself from thinking about theology too much.
Yet there are the questions that keep coming up. What does Paul mean by pistis (most often “faith”) in Galatians 2:16? Is that the same thing he meant in 1:23? What if pistis doesn’t mean belief or trust? What if it means faithfulness or loyalty or allegiance? (All of these are legitimate possibilities.) If I am to communicate with my neighbors, I need to have some acquaintance with the implications and ramifications of concerns such as this.
I probably can’t keep aloof from theology after all. So much for the Neumann influence in my life.
B. Casey, 8/4/17-8/21/17