We're Getting God Wrong

My church’s theology is messed up. I’m sure of it. So is yours. If you don’t live in the world of sermons and seminaries, that may not seem like a particularly troubling statement, but for a lot of Christians, them’s fighting words. Lives have been lost over milder claims. So before anyone starts gathering the tar and feathers, let me explain what I mean. 

I believe that God is ineffable. His infinite virtue and terrible beauty are beyond human comprehension. I am continually amazed at the depth and richness of God’s character as revealed in the Bible. Just this week, I saw a pattern in the story of Peter’s walk on water that I hadn’t seen before. The Bible comprises the greatest literature ever composed. Billions of pages have been written about the wisdom to be discovered there, and more are yet to be written. And the Bible doesn’t contain all there is to know of God. God is deeper than we give him credit for, wiser than we can imagine. We cannot understand God any more than my daughter’s guinea pig can understand her. I expect that those of us destined for heaven will spend eternity hearing, learning, marveling, and delighting in the endless merits of God’s story. 

Theology is the study of God, a study of that which cannot be understood. Therefore, theology is a Sisyphean discipline of plumbing the fathomless, like timing eternity with a stopwatch or measuring the universe with a yardstick. It can never be finished. And so, any theology that can be conceived by humans is an incomplete theology. 

Now, I am not saying that theology isn’t a worthy pursuit. In fact, its eternal subject matter makes it even more compelling and important. Nor am I saying that we should accept bad theology with a fatalistic, “Well, we can never know for sure.” There are some doctrines so clearly described in scripture that we can feel confident insisting on them. Moreover, the Bible itself contains several calls for believers, especially pastors, to defend sound doctrine and expose heresy. But we also must realize that every issue is not worth insisting, and every divergent opinion is not heresy. 

I wholeheartedly affirm the doctrinal statement of the church where I serve. I think we’re right. If I didn’t, I would take action. I would at least raise the issue and start a discussion about that with which I disagree. I’m guessing that you read the scriptures in a way that leads you to the same conclusion about your church. But just because I think we’re right about what little pieces of the mind of God we’ve been exposed to, doesn’t mean I think we’re infallible. I have little doubt that there are things I do, beliefs I hold, that cause God to grin and shake head and think, “That is not what I meant. How did he get that out of what I said?” 

Your theology is probably messed up. You haven’t gotten everything right. Neither have I. Hopefully, we’ve gotten close to the mark on the biggest issues. But anything but the most important truths must be affirmed with a measure of neutrality, space for faith and mystery. Humility demands that we hold a matter with an open hand, not clench it in a brass-knuckled fist, and not drop it altogether.