Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Faithless Christians

After a long time doing an informal study, I'm convinced that many (if not most) Christians do not believe in prayer. We do not believe that it has power, that it changes things, that it is effective (and therefore important) in any way. So we don't do it. When we do, it isn't prayer that is deep or meaningful or even semi-articulate. It certainly doesn't assume that we are part of the royal court of Christ's kingdom, co-rulers with the one at the right hand of God. We don't, for that same reason, believe in blessings or benedictions. Pious words, maybe, but nothing more. Today in class, during the final benediction, the students--acting in accord with their underlying presuppositions--packed their bags. Nice words, well-meaning (of course) but devoid of any power to create or change. These are the same students that placed great energies into believing either on "Country First" or "Change". It may be that we don't believe in the Spirit of God (we don't--we wouldn't know what it would be like to have a genuine revival, regardless if we are Pentecostal or not).

Could it be that we are now faithless because we finally have succumbed to what other, alien cultures have said the world really is? That there is no way scientifically or biblically that the world might have been created in 6 days? That the worldview of angels and demons, divine kingship, and speaking assess is bogus or "naive"? Assess still speak, instead of being beaten, though, we now elect them to offices political and ecclesial. This degradation of language and symbol could be posited back to the rise of rationalism as an alternative to orthodox Christianity. It could be posited back to when categories of shaliach and malach were replaced with "ousia" and its various forms. I'm not sure--but I know that the powers that be, which are supposed to be in subjection to Christ through his Church, do not want us to think biblically or apart from the Church's or State's "sanctioned" (ordained) interpreters.

Faithlessness is easy.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Theological Burden

My brother and I were talking the other day about the way various philosophers interact: mainly using hubristic personal attacks and ignoring evidence. His specialization is philosophy of science, which I know precious little about. His comments, though, could easily be transfered over to the realm of theology, where I dwell. So much hatred spreads back and forth in this discipline, centered often, I think, on the assumption that what these folks say is what God says (vox theologica, vox dei?). That, depending on which theologians you cling to, whether explicitly or not, determines your salvific standing before Christ. Let me profer a new way of understanding theology:

All theology is man's attempt to understand the self-disclosure of God.

A few notes are in order. "Man" here is shorthand for any human creature that seeks to understand the divine, with the background assumption of the "noetic" effects of sin. That is, man's mind has difficulty understanding the things of God because sin effects all of creation, including the mind of man. For all the smoke blown about theological humility in every Christian tradtion, the noetic effects have often been the burden of whoever your theological opponent is. But you, dear budding theologian with a chip on your shoulder, are impacted by sin as well. And me as well.

Another note. Labeling theology as "man's attempt" is crucial. All theology apart from the inscriptured, authoratative documents of the Bible, is fallible. All creeds, confessions, synods, anathemas, and footnotes are subject to constant revision and error-correction. There is no reason to assume that God wouldn't allow a recalcitrant people to be led astray by a doctrine for a long period of time--he did it will ancient Israel when they became inflamed with pagan power (I Sam 8), why wouldn't he do it when the Church became inflamed with the same power (approx. time range is the early 2nd century)? For all the philosophical brillance of the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and others throughout Church history, theology remains a human endeavor.

If theology is a human endeavor, then motives must be very clear. Oftentimes, theological thinking has been related to power. If the Church has the power to say "this one is (or is not) saved..." then the Church's teaching can easily be corrupted to exclude whatever groups or individuals the teachers of the Church do not like/do not want to share power with. So the gentile Christians become anti-Semitic. So the Christian Platonists revile the Aristotelians. The Aristotelians look down on those who do not adhere to Thomism, etc. The power of the Church, which historically quickly became associated with the wealth, land-holdings, and politics of the State as "faith-protector", becomes another way of exercising god-like authority over the "infidel". In other words, the Church becomes an empire as tyrannical as Caesar ever was. Except that Caesar could only destroy the body.

This is not to say, and this is important, that all theologians (or even any theologians) are solely motivated by power or greed or sex or what-have-you. Such a Nietzchian analysis does not hold up in any way, shape, or form to historical reality. But all theologians, given that they are human creatures in the line of Adam, have mixed motives and cannot usually see the long-term consequences of their actions. Do you think the Puritans envisioned they way their legal and educational policy would change into modern Massachusetts (Increase Kennedy, anyone?) or Harvard University?

The way of persuasion remains. It is not that it has been tried and failed, but that it is assumed to fail and therefore not tried. Yes, there are those who are so recalcitrant in their beliefs that they won't listen to reason. Them we will always have with us, no matter our force of arms or tongue. Presenting arguments that are clear, concise, and well-reasoned may not carry the day with your opponent, but it will carry the day with many of those in the audience.

Why, if adequate persuasion has been used, have the same issues been violent bones of contention in Church history? Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, and on and on the list goes of "obvious" or "established" or "orthodox" doctrines that are held in force by power (often times that of the State), but that well-meaning Christians have problems with. Sometimes, yes, the opponent, the "heterodox" has power on their minds--but that just shows the deeper disease of which the heretic is a symptom. Jesus said that the greatest among us, the one who wants or who holds power, should become servant of all. Impractical? Yes. Thank God for the impractical. Instead of burning your brother at the stake of the State or the stake of your fiery tongue, why not follow the command of Jesus in Matthew 18 (go to your brother, reason with him, if he doesn't listen, take witnesses and help, if he doesn't listen, take him in front of the believing community, if he doesn't listen, don't let him eat with you)? Persuasion does sometimes lead to ostracism, but the witnesses and the church are supposed to balancedly ascertain the issues and reasonably decide--not descend into an orgy of fire and blood because a system is challenged.

It comes down to this: unless you can show why your way is right and your opponent's is false, you should probably keep quiet until you can do so. I need to follow that advice just as much as others.