Monday, August 17, 2009

Everybody's Doing It (Theology, That Is)

Few things mystify like telling others that you like theology. I mean, who does that? Theology can seem like one of the most abstract and irrelevant pursuits around. It conjures up visions of monks and philosophers doing calligraphy and asking stuffy questions like, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” If words like aseity, supralapsarian and imputation mean little to you, well, they don't mean a whole lot to many other people either. But the fact is, however you talk about it, everyone is doing theology, including you.

So, let's just say that theology means the study of God. Perhaps you've never spent any sort of concerted or formal time studying theology, the fact is every day you are living out your beliefs concerning God. It could be saying, “God doesn't care if I (fill in the blank).” It could be the popular arguing point, “The God I believe in would never do that!” It might be the refrain of the prosperity movement, “God wants you to be able to pay your bills.” Whether formally or informally, somewhere along the line we all end up with our beliefs on God and we live those out everyday. The question then becomes, “Where did you get your beliefs?”

This question humbled me one particular day several years ago. In a discussion with a more mature believer, I voiced some claim about angels (my memory has mercifully blotted out the specific claim). Though he did not call me on it, as I reflected on the discussion I realized I had basically lifted that idea from the movie Dogma. It wasn't a result of any philosophical or biblical reflection, it was just some mental debris mined from the depths of a movie about renegade angels wreaking comedic havoc in the world. The other person graciously gave me some good counsel and let the issue run its course from there, perhaps realizing that my poor theology (well, I guess that's angelology, but let's not be sticklers here) would wither and go away on its own.

The scary thing is just how many such beliefs exist out there. Probably a vast majority of the country could quote “Thou shalt not judge” or “God is love” though they've never read the books those quotes are found in. Many people could resonate with “love your neighbor as yourself,” but few of those people realize just how high that standard is (and furthermore what we're supposed to do once we fall short of it). “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” might be famous, but it's largely not believed. We find that large amounts of our spiritual beliefs are not actively pursued through reading or serious thinking, rather they are passively received from billboards (Got Jesus?), bumper stickers (God is too big to fit into one religion), television shows (Touched By An Angel) and movies (more than I feel like listing). And this is what we rest eternity upon.

Everybody is doing theology, but not a whole lot of people are doing it well. That's not to say, “Oooh, look at me and my perfect theology.” But the fact is, people base their lives on what they think about God. This is true for everyone from the unaccountable atheist to the ambiguous agnostic to the driven zealot, and a lot of these beliefs are as thoughtless as my Dogma moment. People generally don't vote for people they know nothing about. Nor do they work for companies they know nothing about. So why would anyone live life based on theology they know nothing about?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dear Christians: What if the Gospel is really true?

When I read the Bible, I like to ask myself a question: What if this is really true? It's not that I am a big skeptic, as far as I'm concerned the Bible has already proven itself to me. But that said, I can read about jaw-dropping truths of God and not even bat an eyelash. Perhaps it's familiarity. It is a rare talent to be able to delight in the treasures one has constant access to. Perhaps it's cynicism. Just about every time someone starts getting all grandiose on me (generally a politician or an advertisement) they generally fall through. But perhaps it's worse than that, maybe I don't actually believe what I'm reading. After all, could I just gloss over the earth-shattering words of God if I really believed what they are saying?

As an example, take one of my favorite chapters of Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5. It took me almost no time at all to pull out 5 of these so-called “jaw-dropping truths”, take a look:

1.Believers in Christ have eternal life awaiting them (2 Cor 5:1) – Some think that a belief in heaven is a psychological defense. People can't handle the idea of their existence ceasing, so heaven is invented. There's some logic to that, I think many of us fear the unknown, especially the unknown of death. But there is another perspective as well. In one way, it is easier and far more believable to say we die and that's it. Since we're not sure what the other side looks like, then this life must be all there is. More difficult is to try and wrap one's mind around the staggering treasure and blessing promised in the Gospel. It would be easy to imagine that death is just sleep. Or that heaven is like having a big party with all your best friends. It is near impossible to grasp that believers will be united with their God and Creator for all eternity in perfect bliss.

2.Believers have been given the Spirit as a pledge (2 Cor 5:5) – To comfort a miserly, rebellious and fallen people, God has given his very Spirit to assure us of his faithfulness. The Spirit himself, the third member of the Trinity, has deemed it worthwhile to babysit, so to speak, the redeemed people of God.

3.We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) – Judgment comes for us all. The believer has been spared, not for being good but for having faith in the One who truly is good. The one who does not believe, however, will have no such pardon. Wrath, like the wrath Christ bore for his people on the cross, will be poured out undiluted on those who don't believe.

4.Those who have faith in Christ are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17) – Before Christ, all of us stand condemned in our sins. We sin constantly because at our very hearts, we are sinners. Before Christ, we are doomed to a life filled to the brim with sin. Before Christ, we are spiritually dead people dying a slow physical death. When Christ saves us, he makes us new. Not new like fresh-coat-of-paint-new. He makes us completely new. The believer is still living out the rest of a fallen life, but with a new nature, with new desires and with new abilities. “The old things passed away, behold, new things have come.”

5.Christ the sinless one bore our sin so that we would be made righteous (2 Cor 5:21) – The perfect Son of God died a criminal's bloody death so that his chosen ones might live. His chosen ones are no longer guilty in the Father's eyes. More than this, they now stand righteous before their God. From spiritually bankrupt to spiritually rich, all through the work of Christ.

So what if that is all true? How am I to respond? If that is all true (not to mention everything else in Scripture), then I have more awaiting me in eternity than I possibly imagined. Until eternity comes, God has more abundantly provided for me in the pledge of the Spirit—than I possibly imagined. If this is all true, my family and friends who live in godlessness are not playing meaningless games; rather they are teetering on the edge of judgment with nothing but God's burning wrath awaiting them below. If this is true, the chains that held me in my sin have been shattered, sin's grip on me is lost and my Savior's grip on me is unbreakable. If this is true, the perfect One of God suffered in agony on my behalf, bleeding forth a redemption price dearer than words can express.
My God, my God, what if it's all true?