All of us get things wrong. Most of us will reflect on life and recognise that enthusiasm, pride or an agenda got in the way of a balanced view. I am as guilty as hell when it comes to speaking my mind and gingerly repairing the damage in the aftermath, I guess that is a litmus to my maturity – or lack of. Because my special party trick is causing conflict, I have a little more grace these days when I witness others suffering from verbal diarrhoea.
But…occasionally I get miffed enough to make a public comment for the 6 people who read my blog! Recently I read a blog from a Dr of Theology who chose to offer some commentary about people with special needs (physical or mental) suggesting they may carry these burdens with them in heaven if they are content within themselves here on earth. Honestly, I don’t have a view on heaven other than I don’t think anyone knows much about it. At the end of the day it is a benign conversation that is speculative and it shouldn’t have bothered me, it was just theoretical gymnastics stroking the ego of the author – but it did bother me. I wondered if he forgot the conversation was about real people with real families carrying unimaginable pain, the manner and tone of the conversation was disturbingly disconnected. I think what bothered me most was the pious and elevated position that was awarded with credibility from his readers because his thoughts were from a ‘theological’ perspective.
It got me thinking about the role of a theologian in Christendom and how much weight the Christian community put on the words of an individual who declares a revelation. I went to ‘pretend bible college’ for a while and I remember the moment when I realised that given most subjects, two theologians of equal talent are likely to have differing views on matters that are significant to the life of a Christian. Diversity in interpretation is awfully common and should be very sobering to the people who feel called to be the moral compass for the world.
I saw a great example of ‘pop theology’ the other day – quote from a pastor: “You have three choices when bad things happen to you, let it destroy you, let it define you or…let it develop you.” My view is when bad things happen you need to let it destroy you to fully engage avoiding the temptation of denial, it should define you because if you want to live in the present you must absorb your environment and if you do those two things, it will develop you but in ways that don’t often look like modern day success. In fact sometimes you may never fully recover. But I have just offered another point of view that some will disagree with and the conversation goes on…
The people who call themselves theologians are no different to the people who call themselves mechanics. Their base line on how they interpret things is influenced by their predisposition, bias and personal views – they are just average people. If I am honest about my spiritual convictions, I sometimes start with a point of view and look for evidence to support it, and in that order. Certainly not my proudest admission, but I am human. A degree in theology is not a reflection of spirituality and shouldn’t have an automatic “you must listen to me” licence.
The bible is a stunning example of historical record taking, it is also the most comprehensive account of the life of Jesus and is accurately crossed referenced by other historical documents of the day. Most historians regardless of their faith status admire the bibles authentic and careful accounts. But despite 2000 years of debate, science and study, theologians still haven’t refined a universal thought. How Christians interpreted the bibles comments on slavery, status of women, power, money, righteousness, sexuality, marriage etc has moved from one end of the band width to the other. At every point on that bandwidth over the past 2000 years, there would have been a theologian with absolute conviction directing the conversation, yet today we are horrified by some of the thinking. History would tell us that we don’t always get it right and that should temper our convictions and elevate our sense of humility.
If I could talk to budding bible college students I would say, “get a real job!” Ha ha, no not really…that’s what I tell musicians! I would encourage students to think of themselves as a resource for curious minds and not as an oracle in the making. I know I will get criticised for this next comment but not every problem can be rectified or solved by scripture. Human wisdom, intellect and knowledge collected over many thousands of years must inform our conversation. Honestly, if you are having trouble in a relationship, you are better off seeing a counsellor than hoping for a revelation in the bible… the problem is if you rely on yourself to find an answer and you are the cause of the problem, you will interpret everything through your bias.
Today theology is sometimes used to legislate a point of view as though it is the best way to influence public thinking. You can’t legislate a moral perspective. The discussion about gay marriage right now disturbs me greatly. A few years ago I listened to a senior pastor of a large church tell a small group of seekers that homosexuality can lead to beastiality. The forum was an ‘ask the pastor anything about the bible’ session, it was a perfect example of a personal bias that snuck in to a theological discussion and it ended up being offensive. No wonder the public dismiss commentary from Christians, we have lost our soul and become fearful and militant. Christians are quoting scripture as the central guide as though it actually means something to everyone. News alert, the bible is only used as a daily guide by 5% of Australians. The more militant and legalistic Christians get, the less people will see Jesus and the more they will see bigots. Using the bible to enforce a view is useless unless it means something to someone – so stop hitting people on the head with it hoping it will work!
The more Christians isolate themselves with legalistic black and white, the less relevant they will become and the less influence they will have. Relationship is the only way to meaningfully share ideas and values. Theologians don’t have all the answers and Christians could learn a thing or two if they listened more. In fact the world is a better place because of secular wisdom. Theologians don’t own the exclusive rights to wisdom.
So if you are wondering where I stand with my faith after reading this… well, it is strong – but you should stop worrying about me and worry about the theologians who give Christians permission to judge and disrupt the loving conversation Jesus called us to.