Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bad theology

Though most Christians do, in fact, profess Christ, many of us also hang on to whatever pseudo-spirituality seems convenient or cute or helpful.

I am reminded of the Christians who devoured the recent series of apocalyptic novels which offered a wild reading of the book of Revelation. I read them, too, so I know how this works. Many of us said, "Oh, I'm not getting my theology from it. I just find it interesting." This is a fine argument, I suppose, but you can make the same argument in all sorts of spheres.

Oh, I don't believe in horoscopes. I just think it is interesting to look at my reading every morning.

Oh, I don't believe in the prosperity gospel. I just think it is entertaining to watch the preachers on morning television.

You see where I am going. It is much easier to believe in convenient theology than it is to believe in good theology, because good theology requires some sort of wholeness, some sort of coherence. It is much easier to believe in convenient theology, because you can grab whatever little piece of theology sounds good for the day. When you're having a good day, after all, God must be blessing you. If you don't get the promotion, well, everything happens for a reason, so there must be something better in store.

And if this cafeteria-style theology were not so insidious, it would not be such a problem. But it is insidious. It infects a person at a particularly vulnerable time--especially when something does not make sense, or when we want to assign meaning to a particular blessing--and grabs hold, such that though God may have healed you from a painful illness because God especially loves you, when the healing does not come (and at some point, for everybody, the healing does not come), you are left to wonder just why you have fallen out of God's favor. Everything happens for a reason is great, as long as things are looking up. But lose a child, and the explanation is simply horrific.

Bad theology is insidious, and yet many of us in the church say, "Oh, it is harmless. Let us worry about more important things," as if there actually were more important things than the work of the living God.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On us

I hope you don't mind that I took a few days' break after the end of the Acts study (here's a link to the last day, with the previous days linked at the bottom). I suppose one has earned a break after 40,000+ words. I will say, having now marched through Acts, that I am more excited than ever about where the church is going. Despite all the talk about death tsunamis and declining membership, the church has a real opportunity to regain some of its lost character. You don't become the dominant culture without losing a little bit of your soul, after all.

I'm especially intrigued by the chance to regain a sense of community in the church, in the face of an increasing cultural focus on individuality. Even avowed atheists are seeing the importance of Christian community (while missing the importance of actual, you know, religion), and there is an increasing acknowledgement within evangelical circles that the central question of the Gospel is not "how can I be saved?" but "Who is Jesus?"

I would add that the subsequent questions of "Who are we?" and "Who are we in relation to Jesus?" and "Who are we in relation to one another?" are important Gospel questions, too. I think it a sign of the times that it is much easier for me to answer, "Who am I?" than it is for me to answer "Who are we?"

This question is one reason why I am so grateful to be a United Methodist. As if the UMC's grace-centered theology and two-fold understanding of holiness were not enough, United Methodists are a people who take seriously the question of "Who are we?"

This is messy business, figuring out who we are. We gripe and complain about the difficulty of making decisions collectively. We get frustrated at our democratic processes. We long for a top-down hierarchy. Anything, we seem to say, would be clearer and less convoluted than community.

But this is who we are. We are people who take seriously the call to be community. We are in relationship with one another as individuals, we are in relationship with one another as individual congregations, we are in relationship as annual conferences. It is maddening. But it is community.

Someone asked me this week how North Georgia's annual conference went. We spent three days this past week at the Classic Center in Athens attending to the business of being the church. I said that the conference had gone very well, and then I said something that surprised even me. I said that the conference had been maddening, fun, life-giving, exhausting, frustrating, inspirational annual conference. But that is how family works, right? We are all these things, at the same time. We are more than the sum of our parts, for it is Love that knits us together.