Friday, 27 January 2017

Theology and Apologetics Yet Again

"Theology must mean knowledge of God, not knowledge of scripture, or it has no value"
Theology and apologetics is one of my least favourite topics, but as a Christian and a person who moves in Christian circles, it is a topic I often return to.

However much I dislike "theology", I am a Christian. Here is a statement of my faith and my struggle with faith and what seems to be the normal expression of faith.

As a Christian I uphold the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. I believe that Christianity as a practise and a philosophy stands or falls on the divinity of the Christ and on the resurrection as a historical event. I understand that to the non-Christian this leaves a case to be proven, and I understand why these claims alone would cause many of my thoughtful and loving atheist friends to reject Christianity. They understand that I disagree and we are able to love and respect each other despite our differences.

I also uphold The Eight Points of the Progressive Christian Network (PCN Britain) as a beautiful expression of faith and practise.

  1.     Seek God, however understood, guided by the life and teachings of Jesus
  2.     Affirm that there are many ways to experience the Sacred and that we can draw on diverse sources of wisdom on our spiritual journeys.
  3.     Recognise that following Jesus leads us to act with compassion and to confront evil.
  4.     Place hospitality at the centre of our communal and worshipping life and see the sharing of bread and wine as an expression of our common humanity.
  5.     Seek to build communities that accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity.
  6.     Know that the way we behave towards others is the fullest expression of our faith.
  7.     Gain more insights in the search for understanding than we do in certainty.
  8.     Work together within and beyond the Church to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
What I repudiate as a great error and failure of understanding (an intellectual and moral abdication) is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, which makes claims about scripture that scripture does not make of itself! Unfortunately, for many in the Charismatic Evangelical Christian movement, a movement that started in genuine and great love, the attitude exemplified by the Chicago Statement is the foundation of their faith.

On this point hinges much of the divergent way of seeing the world between myself and Christians from a more "traditional" Charismatic background. Ironically, many of those who see themselves as part of the "progressive movement" are part of traditions much older than the Charismatic movement (birthed in the seventies), which they feel is so "philosophically immature" as to barely count as part of the Christian tradition at all (not my words I assure you).

Point seven of the PCN eight points highlights what I consider to be this grave (although well intended) error of the Charismatic movement (and again, lest I be accused of arrogance for thinking this - this is a view shared by many, many other Christians - the witness of those of our brethren supports me). Point six of the eight points I find to be the most significant and the most convicting.






 So there you have it. My faith and my struggle with faith.

My great hope for the near future of my church is that where there are doctrinal differences we can genuinely - nay even officially - acknowledge that it's alright for us to not all think and believe the same things. To accept that we can have unity of heart whilst being in different places on our own respective journeys into the heart of God. My desire for doctrinal tolerance comes, at least partly, because I think that doctrinal issues actually matter not one jot in the grand scheme of things and the only thing that really matters is the substance and depth of your love, for this is the extent to which you actually know God who is love. (A view supported by scripture.)

For those who profess to adhere to the Chicago Statement, I would say that if the role you ascribe to scripture requires you to say that Numbers 5:11-31 was ever the heart of God towards women then you know a different God to me. That's before we look at the intellectual dishonesty required to ignore Paul's attitude to women (which no church follows now because it's abhorrent) whilst still claiming it is the word of God (the mental trick is to invent a cultural context that makes him mean something other than what he says).

I find philosophical proofs of any aspect of Christianity (i.e. pretty much the whole field of apologetics) unsatisfying. Either we prove God, and Jesus, is real through our life and the reality of how we love people (i.e. God must be evident, and therefore evidenced, through us) - or any other form of proof has no value anyway. So either people are convinced that God is real because of who you are and how you love, or your words are worthless. Very few people (but not none) have been debated or argued into the kingdom of heaven.

This is why I say, the only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. Trying to practise the theory is entirely the wrong way to approach Christianity. It may seem like a subtle distinction but in my experience it makes all the difference in the world.

The reason it makes a difference is because if you attempt to practise your theory and it doesn't seem to work, your likely conclusion is that you're not doing it right or not trying hard enough. This is a vicious trap, and it's the same old trap there's always been: "law". Just try harder, you're not doing it right, you're getting it wrong. It's a lie, that's not who God is. God is love. So *only* concentrate on loving, and work on understanding the nature of love in practise. And then you'll know God. At least that's what John says in scripture. (The ones who know God are the ones who love. A slight paraphrase of 1 John 4:7.)

If you attempt to practise your theory you project your view of the world onto it (something we all do anyway to some extent or other), and you limit what you can see and experience. If you seek to understand the practise of loving, finding the theory of the practise, then you work  hard to accept reality however you find it - and no matter how much truth differs from your preconceptions. 



When I say concentrate on loving people, I don't mean that in a weak and wishy-washy way. I mean work hard at it, make it your goal, you're only goal dammit! Then we can make it real.

The danger is that theology becomes a form of tribalism: we're right, they're wrong and these are all the reasons why... By this means Christianity becomes (as all tribalism is) a way to reject and exclude people instead of a path to love and include. A horrible tragedy.

I love tribes, I hate tribalism.

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