14 Comments on “Theology Matters

  1. I agree theology is important, but it has to be a part of a living, working relationship with God. As for imagination and emotion, they have as much a part as intellect does; we have to love God with our heart, our mind and our soul – so the heart and soul – emotions and spirituality- as well as the mind (reason and intellect) HAVE to be engaged to truly enter into relationship and knowledge of God.
    To me, the starting point of all good theology is to understand that God is ineffable, any understanding we have is deeply limited by our tiny human comprehension. We do need to understand that we will never fully understand with our puny intellects. Creeds, doctrines and dogmas CAN stifle our knowledge of the divine – and they must never lead us to the conclusion that we alone ( and anyone who happens to agree with us!) know the mind of God. We cannot put God in a box ; the great I AM will always defy our boundaries!

    • To me, the starting point of all good theology is to understand that God is ineffable

      On what basis do you make the claim that "God is ineffable"? On what authority?

      • From what Sue writes, I think that she means that we will never have complete knowledge of God as we walk around the planet in these perishable bodies – and that sometimes we are tempted to reduce God, and that certain formulae can, under certain conditions, be used in a reductionistic way.

        On the other hand though, she also points out how our mind has to be engaged when we approach God, and this is very true. It also means that there's a "cognitive" aspect to faith and our engagement with God, and that there are things we can think about and talk about.

        Ineffable means literally "unutterable" or "not speakable" – we can speak about God – God has given us many names for Himself in the Bible – but it's important also through all that speaking that God is still much more than what we are saying. I'd add: the creeds are important because they give us direction – we hope that all amongst us come to a faith that's described by the creeds – but not all of us will be "there" quite yet. We need to help those along who have legitimate doubts but want to learn and ponder more – rather than using the creeds as a blunt instrument for keeping people out of the church who have legitimate doubts. In my experience it's mostly ill-informed laypeople who are trying to "protect" their church who do such things, and yes, it's sad. It makes the creeds very hard to understand for those affected, and the creeds come to seem more like barriers than as guidelines.

        Teaching, however, is a different matter. Our teaching certainly needs to nourish faith as described by the creeds, rather than the contrary. When we have teachers that do the contrary – we do need to do something – every church has its own way of trying to deal with this sad situation.

  2. You see this is the radical difference in your approach to faith and life and mine, Peter. You seem to think that if you can produce some sort of "evidence" or a "ruling" then you can reduce all the complexity of life, human experience ( and possibly God – though I hope not!) to something managable over which you have control. There is no human "authority" that tells us God is ineffable or effable, although he has given us our reason and the humility to understand its limits.

  3. If you are asking me to produce evidence from the bible that lead me to believe God is ineffable then there is plenty – from Exodus 3:14 (I am who I am) to when God answers Job at the end of that book saying "were you there when I made the world?…Do you have all the answers" to Ecclesiastes where you can no more understand God's ways than you can understand the mystery of life in the womb – I don't have my bible here for the chapter and verse.

    But the idea of God as ineffable also finds its echo in my own reason and my spiritual instinct – and that is from someone who has assurance that they "know" God intimately but not completely. I can't "prove" it – I know it with my heart, the most important things in life cannot be reduced to cut and dried "proof" – which is scary and frustrating or exhilarating and awe inspiring, depending on who you are.

  4. Sue, I think one thing helps here – imagine of a rather hazy painting of something – and then another which is rather hazy, but also has some rather bold strokes, which are also an integral part of that painting's beauty and beckoning to gaze further and contemplate.

    Some paintings and statues are almost completely lacking in "definition" – but rarely are these striking or does history pass them down to us as important. Sometimes it is the very "definition" which makes a thing even more mysterious, or by which new vistas are opened to how we approach it in all ways – emotionally, with our thoughts, with all of these.

    We can approach theology as about God. Or we can take God to be a metaphor for those things which we like (emotivism), and then perhaps also find some grounds for our preferences – or else not, and simply leave it at the metaphor. We can take the Resurrection to be a metaphor for something about God, or perhaps if God is a metaphor, then we are talking about a metaphor for a metaphor. Increasingly, we are distancing ourselves from the "reality" of that with which we are dealing with, by claiming that what it "really" means is something else.

    The way in which God has revealed Himself is like this. You are quite correct in the way creeds and theological discussion can become dry and stifling if approached in a certain manner. But nonetheless we believe that Christ rose again – someone might say we need to recruit people in the church who will teach us that this is unimportant, and that with the word "resurrection" we can simply think of new life, springtime, and the feeling I have of overcoming difficult situations, or that with the word "God" we really mean: all those things which are good, and help us, but not – our Creator, and He to whom we turn, and who takes away our sin.

    But one of the ways that Christ revealed to us who He is is with this very definitive, and dramatic, stroke through the very fabric of time. He rose again.

    It is possible to make the Resurrection dry and meaningless, it is also possible through church squabbles to make people differently about the Resurrection than they should.

    Both of you engage in theology, and I sincerely hope you believe in a Risen Christ – this is truly taking Christ to be who He is as He truly is, and indeed, as who He told us He is Himself (he told his disciples that He would rise again). Both of you make statements which affirm one thing, but then also deny another. This is simply how humans cognize and communicate. Truth is always selective – not all statements can be true.

    God has provided us ways of describing Him, though we know that some of them are metaphors – for example, when we refer to Him as Father – this does not mean He is a father in the same sense that my own father is someone who is a man, whose body is that of a man, who does things we associate with men (and never has the church taken this to be the case). Nonetheless, God reveals Himself to us in this way since it is good for us – we understand Him better in this way – which He should know as, after all, He also created us and knows how we think and feel.

    God is ineffable in some senses – we can't "reduce" Him to a given formula – but nonetheless, we can also productively speak about God – and some of the things we say are very true, and some of them are less so.

    I think in the end probably you and Peter agree on most of these things.

  5. I don't know how you manage to make such long comments. This new system cuts me off after a few lines, hence the staggered posts!

  6. I am actually quite traditional theologically, I have no problems with accepting the resurrection, if I didn't think Christ was the son of God then (personally) I wouldn't feel I would be a Christian. The resurrection is not at all dry or arid to me, the words "Why do you seek the living among the dead, he is not here, he is risen" literally give me goosebumps, they are so amazing. I relate to them as a physical reality, a profound mystery and a rich metaphor at the same time.
    However, if I meet someone who sees the resurrection only as a metaphor, then I am interested in hearing how they see things. It wouldn't change my own views or convictions, but I don't feel some need to control or reject them or their belief.

  7. In other words, I don't believe "theology" should mean – believe what I do, because only I truly know the mind of God!!!!!

  8. Sorry to hear comments aren't going well for you – maybe if you log in it will help?

    Rejecting such people usually doesn't do much good, no, and is generally also not Christ-like.

    Are some beliefs to be rejected? Yes. You can reject someone's belief without them ever knowing it, as we tend to do politely when someone is speaking utter twaddle. The question as to how to handle a situation wherein one feels compelled to say something is a different matter – because as always, we must speak in love.

    Nonetheless, the notion that we should recruit people into the church that teach us that the Resurrection is unimportant, and can be substituted with a belief in the beauty of springtime, or a feeling of overcoming difficult situations – I believe – is to be vehemently rejected. As the video notes – when we get things wrong about God – we get things wrong in our lives. I do not want people to be subjected to this kind of teaching, for a number of reasons, one of them being what Paul told us about those who come into the church with a different gospel in Galatians 1:6-8. This is something we don't wish to happen to anyone.

    I'm also interested in how people see things – it helps me refine what I think about things, it can be an interesting challenge. But I also have to note: this isn't healthy for everyone. It is especially difficult when someone of a vulnerable faith encounters a church leader who tells them that all they've been taught is fundamentalist tripe which only a very irrational and unethical person could believe – like Bishop Spong of TEC. This leaves some with the feeling that the Church has seriously let them down – it could cause fundamentalist tendencies (I have seen this very prominently in some), and likely to avoid churches but be sharply outspoken on scriptural inerancy and very very particularist beliefs – it can lead some to back off of thinking about faith altogether (and the mind is one of the essential things God has given us) – it can lead some to despair.

    We must remember that we don't just process thought with our minds. Our hearts are a big part of it. How the Church behaves itself has a great bearing on our faith – and it can do a lot to even scare us away from faith. This can happen on all "sides" – the Spong side, but also those who teach things in accord to what the gospels teach us, but nonetheless do so without love.

    • I agree with most of this. If I attended a church and the vicar said the Resurrection was not important or could be substituted with a belief in the Springtime I would speak to the vicar and I would probably ( though politely) leave that church. I don't think Jefferts Schori has ever said those things exactly has she? I would be very surprised if her theology of the Resurrection was not posited in much more tenuous terms?

      • What she has said on that matter I've analyzed here – http://anglicanecumenicalsociety.wordpress.com/20… I think the answer is rather indisputibly, "yes," she says it's unimportant – I brought up Schori in a comment on another thread, didn't mean to here (though it did get the Resurrection on the mind, yes). The substitution is not quite so explicit, but when she does speak of the Resurrection, it is: "new life," things associated with overcoming and transcendence, but never the Risen Christ – you can find her latest Easter message here: http://www.dohio.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_… – I don't remember it containing anything terribly heretical in itself, it's rather the poignant absence of the resurrection as anything but a metaphor in any of her Easter sermons. It's the article above which analyzes the quote in which she most explicitly states that the resurrection is not important.

        I'm glad you go to a good parish and recognize the place of the Resurrection in your faith and your understanding of Christ. Many haven't really been taught this – it's also something which isn't merely limited to cognitive consent, but touches deeply in how we believe in a less cognitive, more spontaneous way – its implications are both conscious and unconscious. It is one of the most powerful indicators that Christ is both human and divine, and that Christ's humanity remains essential – that His earthly body itself was raised.

        • The church I have attended over the past few years is an unusual mix. Both the vicar and associate vicar believe that the bible is inerrant ( I don't see scripture in quite the same way as them, but we respect each other's views.) However, they are also very affirming of gay people, including those in active relationships. The fact that I am a member of Inclusive Church and also some LGBT organisations has not been a problem, they are hugely supportive and affirming.
          I agree with James Jones that we need to respect a diversity of ethical opinion. The church I am at would not suit everybody and there are other churches which I could not happily worship in ( including any church which denied the resurrection.) I believe in the Resurrection, but I what about those whose understanding is to see it more as a symbol or metaphor? They might be happier at a church where the teaching is couched in more tenuous terms.
          Obviously we cannot have church leaders preaching ANYTHING – but I do want to see a broad church across society where different perspectives can be accommodated.

          • You're right that there are people who are more comfortable with the Resurrection as a metaphor – they need to be approached with care and love, and when we talk to people about Christ, we most certainly don't need to be speaking of the Resurrection each time we do so. I'd suggest though that such people are missing an essential aspect of who Christ is in their faith. The situation is like a person whose wound needs to be painfully cleaned before it is dressed. A good doctor needs to stay with the patient, and encourage the patient – at the right moment – that something else is also necessary for health. Likewise, a good pastor should answer honestly the question of what the church teaches, if asked about the Resurrection, and not simply cater to what is likely to make a parishoner feel more comfortable at that moment. When this type of teaching enters Trinitarian churches, we have a terrible problem – not only because we are essentially denying Christ, because of the terrible confusion and lack of faith it brings when the church is divided on such an essential issue.

            Fortunately you do not need to engage in this dispute for your own faith, and indeed it is difficult to know what to do regarding church bodies which do so.

            I agree with the hope of a broad church with differing perspectives – it's so important that we have unity with Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Anabaptists, etc. etc., and that we work together in preparation for a day when our churches may be as one. And there is so much we can learn of the different ways in which God is working in other churches which embrace different styles of worship and slightly different beliefs on the sacraments etc. than our own church. Churches though which deny the resurrection do not aide such unity, this is one of the things which we have in common with all Trinitarian churches, and our own reluctance to deal with these problems is more likely to cause other churches to brace themselves in various sorts of fundamentalism and holding to certain particularist doctrines as barriers to cooperation in faith.

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