Monday, February 18, 2013

On Theological Authenticity

NB: Strong language.

One aspect of modern Christian life that I know far too well is the experience of disconnect between what is promised in the Scriptures and what is experienced in daily life. I notice this in my students when I talk about our glorification like Christ's on Mt. Tabor. When has this happened to them? Or anyone they know? When have they been so filled with the Holy Spirit as to be legitimately called a "temple" (1 Cor. 6). In my own experience this has usually been explained as something that just "is" without any discernible change or benefit to the individual believer (or the church community). It is, in other words, an unverifiable assumption. To those that, for whatever reason, have been burned in their experience with the church this rings especially hollow: can a "temple of the Holy Spirit" be a pedophile, an arrogant prick, an adulterer, or a hate-monger? Is it possible for the Holy Spirit and Belial to actually live together and partake of one another, or is it impossible as Paul says? (In other words, Paul is writing to the Corinthians that they are in grave danger of losing their experience of the Spirit -- a dire warning as we learn from Hebrews 6. It also assumes that not everyone who was joined to the Corinthian community had had such an experience: note the sexually immoral brother. This is not to say that not everyone has a share in the Spirit, either; but we can quench His work. I hope you can see the gymnastics I'm engaging in just to avoid suspicion of heresy, since our words are so easily misconstrued).

An unverifiable assumption in the realm of theology is dangerous. It is saying that a certain state holds when no evidence, except one's assumed right interpretation of the Scriptures, can be marshaled otherwise. Now, theology is not a hypothesis-verification sort of science, but that doesn't mean anything goes. There are criteria that should be met. What I am seeing my students, and I think it quite astute, is that they are noticing that criteria are not being met. As Dr. Horrible puts it, "The status is not quo."

And so I have seen in the last couple of years, in a variety of ways, many folks either turn their backs on Christ and the Church completely, or cease to pay meaningful attention to what is happening in the life therein. And this is often placed on their backs in the form of passive-aggressive guilt: "They didn't really believe," "Don't they know that we aren't perfect, we're just forgiven," and other platitudes that these disaffected rightly discern as bullshit.

So what do we (I) need to do? Be silent.

We are using words that we have no right to use. We are not "pure of heart," so we have not seen God. The vision of God, however one understands it (and I think the Mt. Tabor Transfiguration experience is probably the best), is reserved for those that have made their hearts ready for inhabiting by the Holy Spirit. If we read Leviticus, or the Prophets, we should note that God takes the purity of His Temple very seriously. I'm not talking, either, about whether you sing the right songs or whether you wear the right clothes. I'm talking about, at a baseline, forgiveness. Jesus says, repeatedly, that if we don't forgive those who have trespassed against us, we won't be forgiven by God (Matthew 6, the parable of the Unjust Steward, etc.). If we don't forgive, we cannot come anywhere close to asserting our right to speak about God, about Christ, about the Christian life in a meaningful way. Maybe it is right for our leaders, every once in awhile, to say that they won't preach a sermon that week, since they have not been able to forgive their spouse, neighbor, friend, enemy, whatever. It is right always, and at all times, for us who are not in formal leadership positions to be concerned with the silent work of logging our eyes, rather than vacuuming those of others.

It is strange, now that I think about it, that the best way to evangelize the world might be to say nothing at all. But it is also strange that God saves the world through the crucifixion of His Son. Strangeness isn't a stranger to Christianity. Forgiveness is the strangest thing in the world, but Christ and His Church tell us -- through the common Life they share -- that it is upon such strangeness that the world is founded.

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