Why I don’t discuss theology much

As a pastor I love studying God’s Word.  I love it when after years I still stumble across new insights or things fall into place in a way that I never quite saw before.  If you’ve read the Bible for years you’ve probably noticed how you can read the same passage but get something totally different from it each time you read it.

Unlike a lot of Christians, I enjoy studying theology.  What I don’t enjoy is arguing about it however.  There are some basic sets of framework that help us interpret all of the Bible.  The best known systems are Calvinism and Arminianism but there are also systems such as dispensationalism and covenant theology.

Systems are valuable if you need to explain your theology quickly and you can say that you’re a Calvinist as easily as you might say that you’re a Baptist.  Whomever you are speaking to can get a pretty quick idea of what you believe.

Outside of the quick need to sum up my beliefs, I hate using the labels.  To proclaim that I am a Calvinist or an Arminian will immediately put up a wall between me and about half of the people I speak or write to.  Many will immediately want to tell me why I am wrong and they are right.  I have no problem defending my beliefs and I feel quite secure in them.  My experience is that many people adamantly hold to beliefs that they don’t really understand themselves but instead have just been taught to believe.  They can repeat arguments that they’ve been given but they can’t actually explain why they believe what they believe.  So if it comes to a debate, I feel pretty good about getting into one.

My problem with arguing theology is that it is typically unproductive.  These issues become divisive within Christian circles.  Unless it is a debate over how one is actually saved, I don’t think that theology is good to be divided over.  Every so often I’ll get an email concerning one of my articles telling me why I’m wrong or what I’ve missed.  For the record, I get more emails in agreement that someone likes my approach to theology.  But the people who disagree are more vocal.

Those who disagree with my understanding of the Bible and wish to provide me with the “right” answer are unlikely to listen to reasoned arguments anyway; they’ve already made up their mind.  People who are actually open to a discussion are unlikely to email me and instead they will do more research on the subject.

For clarity’s sake, I should mention that when I’m talking about theology here I’m talking about what might be termed systematic theology.  There are important social issues that divide the church – homosexuality, poverty, abortion, etc. – that are worth fighting over.  Not to downplay the importance of good theology but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are a Calvinist or Arminian.  On the other hand, it makes a big difference in life concerning what you believe about poverty or abortion.

Theology is important because it helps us read and understand the entire Bible.  It colors the way we interpret many different passages.  I encourage everyone to study theology and determine not only what they believe but, more importantly, why they believe it.  Debating it with an attempt to change someone’s mind is probably going to be unproductive but you should at least be able to explain why you believe it.

Practical Theology

I haven’t posted much lately.  I haven’t done hardly anything with any websites lately.  And the short explanation for that would be that I’ve been quite busy.  The last three months in particular have been a blur.  They’ve been such a blur that as I was figuring how long it’s been since things were “normal” I was originally thinking it had been two months until I realized that things were last normal in February and this is the end of May, so it’s actually been three months.  The last month has been one big, non-ending blur for the most part.

So what spurs me to finally write a post?  For one, hopefully things are slowing down and I have a chance to catch my breath.  But moreso, I feel the need to write about what’s been going at my church.  Some bad things have been happening at my small church.  Without going into any details, it’s stuff that no Bible class ever covered and ultimately the legal system will end up dealing with it.  It’s stuff that was bad enough to leave me in tears at the pulpit two weeks in a row and caused a much worse break down at home in the middle of last week.  And none of it involves me personally, I’ve just been so emotionally invested in a few ugly situations that are taking place with other families.

All of this brought me to thinking about the practicality of our theology.  We talk about love and forgiveness all of the time at church.  And certainly we mean what we say.  But even as we say it, it is an abstract concept.  What I mean is that it is easy enough to forgive someone who accidentally wronged you.  We can even forgive someone who purposely harmed us and seeks our forgiveness.  But what about the really profound hurts in life?  A spouse who commits adultery.  A drunk driver who killed a family member.  A child molester.  Can we just as easily forgive these people?

Last week I feel like I saw the worst that humanity has to offer, or at least close to it.  The natural human response is to question why God would allow such things to happen.  That’s not where I’m at.  I know that bad things happen because we live in a sinful world.  The question I ran through my mind was why God continues to put up with all of this garbage.

There is a day of judgment coming for saints and sinners alike.  I don’t doubt this for a moment.  What I wondered was simply why that judgment hasn’t arrived yet.  How does God look down on us and not want to destroy us?  It happened in Noah’s time.  And if the small amount of garbage that I witnessed made me literally sick and left me crying, how does a holy and righteous God deal with it?

Of course there is only one answer to the question.  God doesn’t withhold punishment because He takes any delight in sin.  It disgusts Him far more than it possibly could for us.  But God is allowing time for repentance.  He wants the people who do these things to seek Him in forgiveness.  And if they do, God will forgive even the worst sins.

On the other hand, there is a day of judgment coming for the unrepentant.  They may end up in jail or they may escape earthly justice altogether.  Whatever the case is though, they won’t escape God’s justice.

Because these situations haven’t affected me personally it’s not really fair to say that I believe that I have the ability to forgive those who have caused harm.  For the families involved it will be much harder.  But ultimately our ability to forgive isn’t nearly as important as God’s ability to forgive.  Whether we forgive or not, the most important thing is that these people seek God’s forgiveness.  Otherwise there will be a day of reckoning as God casts all sin from His presence.