why “theology” frustrates me

When we were attending our previous church, several people started getting wind that we were a bit unconventional in some of our ideas - meaning, we didn’t think like them. And in a bounded set, that’s not acceptable. In that model, belonging is the goal and the way you belong is by conforming to that group’s beliefs and behaviors down to the very last detail.

thanks to TSK for the image

I had written a couple of blog posts at the time talking about my feelings regarding homosexuality (the idol of conservative evangelical belonging) and abortion (the other idol) and suddenly I was branded. I was “out” (meaning out versus in not “out - out” hehe) and it became the mission of these people to get me away from their children, away from their worship services and far far away from them. Please keep in mind I don’t fault them for this, they were only doing what they knew to do, what they were taught to do and this experience is part of my narrative, it has shaped who I am today.

So these people started asking questions. Those doing it “right” came to us personally and asked the questions, those who wanted to turn the gossip mill and feel really self righteous about it all without having to look us in the eyes and confront us just murmured behind our backs…yeah, that was way fun.

Here’s some of what they wanted to know:

    What is your stance on homosexuality?
    Where do you stand on abortion?
    Do you believe in hell?
    What do you believe about the inerrancy of the Bible?
    Do you agree with submission to leadership?
    Are you a feminist?

Seriously. I’m not being a smart ass, that’s just a taste of the questions we heard. The pastors actually sat David down and drilled him with some of the most minute details of “doctrine” I’ve ever heard to be sure he was conforming. Oh, and notice, they sat DAVID down, even though *I* was the one who’s blog people were mad about…that’s a rant for another day, hehe.

At the time, we were in a difficult position. We were leaders in this church, a bounded set, committed to serving the church and leading Revolution as a “church within a church” so we felt a certain obligation to conform as far as our conscience allowed.

Were I to be fully honest, my answers would have gone something like this:

    Homosexuality is a sexual orientation that is sometimes a choice but usually not and homosexuals are people and I choose not to have a “stance” on people. They are precious creations of God, as are we all, afflicted by the same sickness of sin and death and in need of a healer, as are we all and I have no idea what God has planned for every individual homosexual on the planet and we need to remove this from the political sphere if we are ever to bring hope.

    Abortion is a horrible thing, the termination of a life, but abortion is actually NOT the problem, it’s a sign of many problems and is a complicated issue since it involves people who are complicated and life situations which are complicated. I will not take a “stand” on people as they are precious creations of God, as are we all, afflicted by the same sickness of sin and death and in need of a healer, as are we all and we need to remove this from the political sphere if we are ever to bring hope.

… you get the picture.

How did I actually answer? As honestly and safely as possible…which, in the end wasn’t good enough for them anyway so I should have just been completely blunt.

And this is why theology frustrates me. Theology in word is very different from theology in deed (I’m actually not keen on the separation between theology and ecclesiology and all the other ‘logy’s’ because it implies that they are different things when in fact, what I’m arguing is that they can’t be, it’s actually not even possible). Theology on paper fails to communicate the nuances of belief, the many shades of gray and even various colors of life.

Theology as we know it from the modern era, seeks to find and define THE TRUTH about all things related to God and faith and put into words mysteries that are beyond our comprehension much less our ability to articulate in a 5 point essay. The people in my church wanted to hear “homosexuality is a sin, abortion should be outlawed, no I’m not a feminist, hell is a real place of fire where the damned go for eternity to pay the price for their disobedience, the Bible is completely inerrant and I submit to your authority”. They wanted simple sound bites with no shades of gray. They wanted conclusions and absolutes without any process. According to them, if you’re “in process” you can’t be a leader. That’s actually the final reason why we were removed from leadership - or David actually, I was never viewed as a leader. When you are a leader, you have to have all the answers and be absolute on all of them and all of your answers must be the same as the answers of the senior leadership.

Take for example the issue of salvation. If someone were to ask, do you believe in salvation through the Jesus of the Bible as defined by orthodox Christianity, I could say “yes” but actually MEAN “yes, but….”

So maybe it isn’t theology that frustrates me so much but how we USE theology, how we try to reduce our beliefs into sound bites and 4 point doctrines that can fit nicely on a small tract using 10 point helvetica print that we can explain in 5.2 minutes at the local fair. But I think our beliefs are meaningless and empty words if they aren’t “fleshed out”. Theology is only good theology when it is lived. If there isn’t an ongoing intertwining of right behavior affecting right belief and right thinking affecting right behavior and right believing affecting right thinking and on and on it goes, then we might as well throw in the towel right now. (James 2:12-22)

That same church I spoke of also taught that it doesn’t matter what you experience or how you feel, it only matters what God’s Word says (yes, they are also “word of faith”). That always got a lot of amen’s but when I actually talked to people about it and asked questions they would get so flustered because in fact, they’re lives often did not bear out the “truth” they supposedly believed. Which either meant that they were failing or what they believed was in fact not “the truth” or wasn’t as simple as they wanted it to be. Answering that question had, for them, far reaching and disturbing consequences. I would ask, if God’s “truth” is not fleshed out then doesn’t that make God either a liar or a precocious imp playing around with His creation like a sad joke?

So yeah, theology frustrates me.

17 Responses to “why “theology” frustrates me”

  1. on 16 Aug 2007 at 10:43 amron

    I think the sad reality is the church for the most part has separated theology from mission. An old missionary friend told me years ago the best theology flows out of mission. We’ve developed our theology in ivory towers…rather than living with the poor in the back alleys. A word I like is ” Missiotheopraxy “. It is the practice of mission and theology…they are inseparable…we can’t look at one with out the other. Almost a living theology.
    Interestingly, I had the same encounter with the elders in my church…I was lost and in jepardy of loosing my salvation…insaved. Yep…you better pray for me.

  2. on 16 Aug 2007 at 10:48 amJanice

    Hi Makeesha, Sorry for the experience, although as you note, its part of your shaping. Thanks for writing this. Its quite affirming to me. I appreciate your sharing.

  3. on 16 Aug 2007 at 10:52 amMak

    I like that ron. Missiotheopraxy. I like it as much as I like “orthoparadoxy” - living well in the place of paradox. I think Tony Jones heard if from a Jewish guy or something…I probably should get my reference right on that one hehe.

    welcome Janice, thank you for the affirmation :)

  4. on 16 Aug 2007 at 1:25 pmErin

    I like your answer: “I will not take a “stand” on people as they are precious creations of God, as are we all, afflicted by the same sickness of sin and death and in need of a healer”.

    I like that a lot. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. on 17 Aug 2007 at 1:33 amPaul Walker

    I think Ron is onto something with the dislocation of theology and mission.

    Far too much ‘theology’ is done as ‘theoretical construction’ in the rarified atmosphere of Universities and Colleges. Most of the academic types have done little, if any, ‘real’ work in mission or pastoral situations to ground their thinking.

    I’m ploughing through David Bosch’s ‘Transforming Mission’ - a classic in missio-praxy I reckon.

  6. on 17 Aug 2007 at 6:01 amall said and done » Mak says it

    [...] I don’t need to go write my many posts on a Generous Orthodoxy (Brian McLaren) now, Mak has said lots of it for me. I’m sure I may go back to those folded corners, but for now I’ll sit in my blergh too much homework state or whatever else is turning my mood sour. [...]

  7. on 17 Aug 2007 at 7:21 amMak

    Paul - agreed.

    I also think that a comingling needs to go on in community where theoretical types function within community observing the learning from the practical types and vv

  8. on 17 Aug 2007 at 8:21 amJeff

    I find the reason people in your church act the way they do is because they want the comfort of black and white answers in an uncomfortable grey world. As soon as people challenge those beliefs their whole world is rocked and rather than examine their own hearts, they just declare people outside of their box as being wrong. It’s a lot easier this way and takes much less soul searching.

    It’s a sad commentary but it doesn’t just apply to the church. This thinking effects politics, the arts, social services, business and the like. We all like to be around people that act like us and think like us and sometimes even look like us. Let’s face it, for all the talk of indepence we live in a group think world.

    But the reality is that God’s love and message if far greater than any one person or one group can fully comprehend. And thank God because if we were to fully understand it, it wouldn’t be worth very much.

    Don’t lose your faith in this process. There are many others like you in the church universal struggling through the very same issues. Seek out the scriptures and use them as your guide and comfort.

    Lastly, I would encourage you to pray for the people in that church. Pray that they would experience the same sense of freedom that you have in working out your faith.

  9. on 17 Aug 2007 at 8:53 amJulie Clawson

    I had to laugh - at the “heresy” trial we went through at our baptist church, although we were both on staff and being examined for our ideas I was never once talked to. All the questions were asked of Mike and the future of my job was determined by his answers. Don’t you love how that works…

  10. on 17 Aug 2007 at 9:19 amMak

    Thanks for the comments and encouragement jeff :) no worries, I’m not losing my faith.

    Julie - I know huh? yeah, love it *rolling eyes*

  11. on 17 Aug 2007 at 12:51 pm:: in a mirror dimly :: » Blog Archive » Challenging Thoughts on Theology

    [...] I’ve been struggling to hammer out all of my thoughts lately on this blog, so I am grateful when I can read other blogs that are confronting some tough issues and working through them. Makeesha has two posts with comment threads worth a look: theology and egalitarianism. I’ll let her posts speak for themselves. [...]

  12. on 18 Aug 2007 at 6:06 pmPam

    What a horrible experience, I’m glad you and your husband are in a different place now. I loved reading this post and am so glad I found your space here! I appreciate your honesty and courage in sharing your answers to some tough questions.

    Your words tore into my heart and express how I feel, but hadn’t found the right way to express, “…I choose not to have a ’stance’ on people…” I don’t like majoring on the ‘issues’ that label people as evangelical or not, conservative or not….thats not really the point. There is so much more involved in living life and dealing with reality and real life issues., it just isn’t so black and white.

    People need to know that Jesus loves them and takes them as they are…we can leave those “issues” to Him.

    Anyway, awesome….seriously…

  13. on 18 Aug 2007 at 8:54 pmMak

    thank you for visiting by pam :) what a great encouragement your comment was!

  14. on 19 Aug 2007 at 4:50 pmSteve

    This is an interesting post Makeesha, and a good expose on what it must be like living in a country where moral issues are as highly politicised as they are. Here in the UK, and back home in Oz, the fact that issues such as homosexuality and abortion are not big ticket political items has a softening effect in the churches. Not that we don’t hold to strong positions, but in taking the heat out of the issues, we seem better positioned to relate to people as people rather than “agendas”.

    I was impressed with the response of Steve Timmis (head of The Crowded House where we’re working at the moment) when a young man emailed him saying he wanted to get back to God. He was interested in visiting our group, but also wondering if TCH was willing to offer he and his male partner a civil partnership ceremony. Steve was pretty clear that we wouldn’t do that but at the same time said it would be great to see him and meet up for coffee. The tone of their ensuing correspondence was open, warm and friendly. As it is he’s been coming along to one of our meetings semi-regularly and brought his partner last time. They refused several offers to come around for dinner, but more out of a sense of caution I think than anything feeling we are putting them under the spotlight. This is not a one-off among our congregations either; in fact far from it.

    Ironically (some may think so anyway) I do believe it’s our reformed theological convictions that have helped us. We just can’t do a self-righteous rant when we see the depths of our own sin. And it’s the heights of Christ’s love for us in spite of our sin that compels, commands even, us to love others in the way he loved us.

  15. on 20 Aug 2007 at 4:17 amPaul

    yes, i agree, theology is frustrating sometimes

    It is difficult for many people in your old church who are trying to hold onto/practice their faith in a confusing world and it is difficult for people like you and I who are trying to hold onto our faith/practice it, in a confusing world.

    A theology of right answers can be like a solid rock that one set of us cling to in stormy seas and yet that same rock feels like it’s tied to our ankles and dragging us down for the rest of us.

    how we can relocate to having Jesus as our solid rock/foundation is maybe where the generous orthopraxy comes in - moving beyond the right/wrong of theologies and faith thinking and into how we can be kind, loving and generous to each other. It’s often feels like its mission impossible but then again maybe i’m a drama queen making a mountain out of a molehill ;)

  16. on 25 Aug 2007 at 9:43 amMissional Business - is that impossible? « What’s your point caller?

    [...] Missional Business - is that impossible? Work has been on my mind a lot recently, both with what it means and is about and also with what’s happening day to day. I’ve been writing about theology but am reminded that “theology” is not such a great word for some (can I have a better word please?). I find myself caught in an interesting place - other bloggers I respect have a passion for organic, creative and dynamic missional relationship type living and object (rightly) to the “corporatisation” of the church. So does that I mean I have to have a disconnect between my life in business and my life outside of work - clearly not! And yet look at the language that is acceptable in each zone: [...]

  17. on 16 Oct 2007 at 7:45 pmGlenn’s Journey » Blog Archive » Wednesday Wanderings

    [...] why “theology” frustrates me. [...]

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