On Wednesday, during the Lenten class, we got into a discussion about theology and practice. This discussion has been bouncing around in my head ever since.
I began to think of myself when I first got to seminary. I would not call myself a far-right conservative, though some of the other students might have. I was young and naïve. Actually, I was quite confused. To me at the time both sides were confusing. When I listened to the far right I heard about a God that I did not know. He was a vengeful God that was coming to place judgment and wrath on the poor sinners. As an individual, the only way to salvation was through a dedicated life of personal discipline and prayer to God.
When I listened to the far left, I heard about a God I did not know. She was soft and comfy; she was a mother figure that nurtured and forgave us no matter what we did, being a good person was the ultimate expression of faith. Christ, God, and Bible did not seem to be as motivating as feeling and society.
Interestingly throughout my ministry I have found that both sides of the church are valid and good. However, much of the good that comes from both sides is drowned out by what happens at the extremes. At the same time, there is a comfort in the extremes. Within the extremes, the answers are clear and seemingly helpful and understandable, but what I have often seen, and have difficulty with, is that the question many of the groups ask is, “What is best for me?”
They veil this inwardly focused understanding by using the language of “Theology.” For example, they might make arguments along the lines “it is theologically wrong to . . .” Because of the power that is imposed on the word theology, it makes for some difficult discussion, especially if the topic has nothing at all to do with God but our own comfort or sensibilities.
For me, Theology is simple and based in the etymology of the word theology. Unlike the Latin “ology” which in the scientific realm that suggests “The Study Of . . .”, the word theology is a Greek in origin and roughly breaks down to two words Theo and Logos. Theo meaning God, Logos meaning Words, together making it " Words about God. " This means that “theology” is about how we express God though our word and ultimately lifts up God.
Thus, when the driving force of theology is not solely a deeper relationship with God, we often see well-meaning people get side tracked by personal ambition, power, etc. To me this is among the greatest of sins: putting ourselves in the place of God. This leads to judgment, which causes division and leads to moral structures that are focused on individual perfection rather than the communal good.
Unfortunately, this often leads to people and communities getting hurt and the body of Christ being divided. As I have seen in contemporary fights over abortion, sexuality, and other social issues, the argument of both sides rarely matched up, creating a situation where communities, churches, even families are divided, leaving the body of Christ that much weaker.
The saddest part is that most people are not at those extremes, but get sucked into them. Often because those of us who long to give witness to God, build community, and work together have a hard time being heard over a very loud minority. As people, we tend to bear allegiances to ideologies and constructs rather than the pursuit of faith, and we are often far more concerned about being right then finding the truth. Our challenge as a church, and as a community, is to teach about faith and model good theology as we use our words to paint a picture of God that calls us all to be reconciled to one another.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen