April 9, 2012

Theology as God

 

"Theology is the science of religion, an intellectual attempt to systematize the consciousness of God. If we take the doctrine of the Trinity (which is a noble attempt of the mind of man to put into a theological formula the Godhead as revealed in the Bible) and say – ‘That is God,’ every other attempt as a statement of the Godhead is met by a sledgehammer blow of finality. My theology has taken the place of God and I have to say, ‘That is blasphemy.’ Theology is second, not first; in its place it is a handmaid of religion, but it becomes a tyrant if put in first place. The great doctrines of predestination and election are secondary matters; they are attempts at definition, but if we take sides with the theological method we will damn those who differ from us without a minute’s hesitation. Is there any form of belief which has taken the place of God with me?”
- Oswald Chambers

My sister married a Lutheran.  Of course, by the time of the wedding, Chad (my brother-in-law) had pretty much convinced most of us that he was OK and that he was not a pagan or anything.  But still, my sister was getting married in a Lutheran church. It was not a huge thing, but for my very Baptist family, it was also not a completely small thing. I think it mattered a little to some in the family.

That was a long time ago, but even by then I was already being shaped into a peacemaker . . . and this peacemaker was a little worried about how my very Baptist and sometimes loud and argumentative family might behave in that Lutheran church.  Oh, I’m not saying I stayed up at night worrying about it. I’m just saying . . . I wondered.

So it was no huge surprise when, within the first 15 minutes of the rehearsal, one of my family members sitting out in the pews leaned over to another one and said (pretty loudly), “Hey look!  They’ve still got Jesus up on the cross in this church!” I tried to become completely invisible . . . don’t know whether it worked or not . . . the invisibility thing, I mean. But, in the end, I did get an awesome brother-in-law out of the whole ordeal.

The point of this story is that I believe our intellectual constructs of God (i.e., our “theology”) actually sometimes get in the way of our spiritual growth and certainly get in the way of Christian unity. We tend to cling to the metaphors about God with which we are familiar, the illustrations and the symbols and the sound bites with which we’ve grown up as a Christian. So, when confronted by another Christian with something a little different than our own construct, it immediately creates enmity between us and that other Christian. When your metaphors are not the same as my metaphors, we have a problem, and we must be careful how we measure that problem.

I think the real danger here is that our beliefs about God sometimes become more important to us than God Himself. Call it the “deification of theology” if you want.  I choose to call it idolatry . . . the replacing of God with some intellectual model with which we are more comfortable . . . or which we can better comprehend.

Really, I cannot say it nearly as well as Oswald Chambers said it above. So, I will stop trying. But I love his question: “Is there any form of belief which has taken the place of God with me?”

Ouch.

Blake Coffee is a peacemaker, both by gifting and by profession. He is an attorney, author, mediator and the Executive Director of Christian Unity Ministries.

CC Image • Robi Ferrari on Flickr

Originally Published: April 9, 2012
Category: Devotionals
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