04 May 2012

is it the difference or the opinion?

On the topic of how one follower of Christ relates to another: How do we see ourselves?  I had one of those conversations this week where the issue of theological differences came to the forefront of discussion.  How could two believers, within the whole split of Calvin-Arminius (of course), work together for the work of the kingdom of God?  Specifically, how could two differing systematic theologies work together in an educational environment - teaching the young-minds-full-of-mush students the basics of the faith?

I wonder when we look at each other, as committed believers of Christ who are tenacious for truth and led by the Spirit, if we see the differences or the opinions.  Here is the distinction between the two, as I see it.

The Opinion.
Pretty much everything that we think, say or do in approaching the written Word of God or in trying to live the ethics of the kingdom.  In other words, these are the presuppositions that we drag to the text - our own systematization of theological thought.  Since no two humans are identical beings, there will always be opinions that are unique.  This is not to claim moral relativism, for those with differing opinions (we like to say 'interpretations' when we speak ecclesiastically) can have their distinctions while still holding to absolute truth and biblical revelation.  We witness such whenever we (in a broad sense of the word) talk about predestination and the first chapter of Ephesians, for example.  We can claim that God's choice to bring salvation is an act of grace, but how it is accomplished, well . . .

The Difference.
Allow me preface this by saying that I believe theological inquiry, discussion and debate is not only beneficial, but that it is necessary in allowing iron to sharpen iron and keep our theology relevant and sharp.  What I have witnessed for the majority of my life, however, is that we are quick to define each other in the systematic labels we have in front of us.  Thus, those who are Reformed are seldom given a chance to be in one accord with the Open Theists.  And (though the very rigid determinists might still claim a disagreement here) I have come to believe that this is a choice in how we act as Christians!  If you are into free will and all that, then you will go along with this; if you are more of the predetermined folk then perhaps you can find whatever road necessary to see that when Jesus taught his followers to be identifiable by their love for one another, this type of self-division was not what he had in mind.

Again, do we see the difference or the opinion in one another?  Those who see the opinion will find great joy in the shared story of the gospel they have with another believer, and will realize that all of our failures to see eye-to-eye with the truth of ourselves and the truth of God is a reality of a cracked humanity.  The good news is that such brokenness is being over come in the kingdom which is moving into the world through this community of faith.  The caveat is that we must make sure that we do not attempt to bring the truth of God's kingdom by using self-centered actions of the fallenness.  This has been too often the case.

When I was a young theologian I fell in love with philosophy and systematic theology.  I relished the debates and the queries and the cat-and-mouse of knowing more than those who were around you.  Systematic theology too often provides a place for smugness and arrogance, and there is no room for those in the kingdom of God.  Instead of outdoing one another through seminary training, what would have come if we edified each other as believers and fellow workers in ministry?  (I myself began this discovery after a year of seminary, and found it quite difficult to get such an atmosphere created as I went along . . . sadly.)  Now I firmly believe that no system of theology has the complete picture of God - neither Reformed, Orthodox, Calvinist, Arminian, Druid, Jedi or Open Theism.  God is more than that, and we have a mystery at the center of our faith - that we can know him most intimately at the same moment we feel we have no idea what we are dealing with.  He confounds us and our wisdom.

So I am done seeing the differences, and will regard all brothers and sisters in the faith as those to whom I am called to sharpen, support and equip for good works in the Father's kingdom.  There is no room for division, I have seen the rotten fruit of those vines.  I commit myself to fostering an environment of Christ's love and acceptance - even of the philosophically ignorant and systematically stupid, for I too am one of them when faced with his holiness.  Saying this, I confess that I already anticipate situations where this will not be possible because of others who will not allow it.  Yes, Jesus prepared us to be ready to shake the dust off and move on . . . and get to work once again.

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