I have a friend who is a theologian, author and lecturer at Alphacrucis College – Dr Shane Clifton. He is a unique soul and suffered an accident resulting in SCI. Shane lives perilously in a wheel chair and writes poignant stories that are bloody funny one moment and will take your breathe away the next.
Here is his response to my previous blog:
I think the term “theologian” gets a lot of bad press for the work of a very few of its membership. In fact, the type a theologian you are talking about – narrowminded, mean-spirited, certain they are right – probably comes from a particular constituency. Most theological work – as with most study – opens a person up to the realisation that God transcends their categories. Indeed, most theological teaching involves opening rather than closing people’s minds. Given that there are so many criticisms of theology from so many angles – e.g. theology kills the spirit, theologians deal in the abstract and not the real world – I think some defence of the discipline is in order.
Now, in terms of the issue that sparked the blog, I think you should name the person and identify the issue. while I would certainly agree that speculation as to the nature of heaven (and hell) should be held loosely, you might be interested to hear about Amos Yong’s reflection about image of God to in people with a disability – and what that might mean for the future. The difficulty, of course, is that disability is not one thing, but a label that refers to many things. In Amos’ case, he is working with the down syndrome of his brother, and he makes the point that the disability is so much a part of his identity/person that to envisage him without it makes no sense. He also wants to recognise that his brother is fully in the image of God as the person with down syndrome, and then speculates (and he admits as much) that something of the down syndrome will carry through to the future. He bounces out of the image of Jesus who retains his nail scarred hands and feet, and imagines a future for his brother where his identity as a person with down syndrome continues, even as he is freed from the physical and intellectual negatives that went with the condition.
Read here for the rest of his comments: http://shaneclifton.com/2013/10/05/jay-mcneill-when-theologians-get-it-so-wrong/
Here is my response:
Yes you are right, the term “theologian” gets some bad press. The truth is most of my friends who practice this discipline are some of the most humble people I know. So let me clear that up, I am only referring to some acknowledging the unhelpful influence those “some” still have.
The point of my blog was to highlight theologians are just people with flaws and bias. That is why there are many varying opinions between different pockets of Christendom. It is not too different to a doctor who has 1000′s of years of science behind his discipline but may still have a different diagnosis to another doctor – hence the term “get a second opinion”! Theologians practice the art of learning, and in the same way, the audience needs to practice the art of listening not just absorbing.
As for the examples I use in this “blob”(disability in heaven and the pop theologian) I just don’t see the sense in naming and shaming. I would rather write to my audience encouraging them to process with a more savvy and realistic view than pinning their thoughts on someone’s vacillations sending them spiraling downwards. I don’t have the skill to climb Mount Everest and use my negligible theology skills to present a case that your peers would take seriously.
I have read some of Amos Youngs views. As much as I admire the content I can’t help but wonder if the subject has got traction because individuals find it difficult to live with the unknown. What I mean by that is the theory attempts to put reason behind what is in my opinion, a mystery. I think (I am now in territory I shouldn’t be in) likening the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet to the possibility of people carrying their disability into heaven is a big stretch. It seems, at least on the surface, an attempt to see a purpose in disability. I just don’t buy that. If you have a disability it is a bloody bugger. As I have written about extensively, beauty comes from disability but I would give Jesus the credit for that as he tries to turn the war around (bring the kingdom). I don’t think Jesus tries to make the war worse by giving someone a disability and then celebrates it by introducing it into heaven. I find it hard to believe that God strategically uses disability to do his work, rather, he responds to the evil of disability by turning it to good.
In regards to Kingdom Theology, my view is healings that Jesus did were to demonstrate what it looks like when heaven comes to earth and to plant seeds of hope and that is why we only see it occasionally to remind us – I don’t think healing is a right or on tap as some theologians would suggest. By all accounts in the gospels when Jesus healed, he did it properly and completely, there is no reference to Jesus healing the blind man and he only sees in one eye etc… to think God would only half do the job in heaven seems counter intuitive to how he expressed himself on earth.
For me, Sunny is complete but that is because I love her but I am not blind to the grief she and I will continue to share – that is what I call “the great contradiction”. That is an unsophisticated comment I know, but if heaven does exist and I have the chance of being a part of it with Sunny, heaven will be having a conversation with her and watching her ride a bike (which neither things she can do). A theologian who hypothesizes that someone with a disability wants to continue living with it, isn’t from my tribe – they are more alien like! There is a chasm of difference between a person that lives with an impairment having done the internal work to be content in this life and someone who believes a disability contributes to an identity and therefore cannot be separated.
Yes, I still think that the lessons learned here on earth will serve the general wisdom in heaven. Shane, your journey may just make you the wisest person in eternity!