The Problems with Evangelical Theologies Part 1, or Will you pass the butter please?

Before you become unglued over the title and label me a heretic, please read the following article here:

Ok, now for my response…

We started out with a story, a multifaceted and deeply complex story, yet it was and is moving in trajectory towards a vision of hope for humanity and for the glory of God. That is my simple view of the Bible so far. Many have theologized and systematized these Hebrew and Christian scriptures in an attempt to shed more of a light on the truth that is contained in them. Out of this need to extrapolate doctrines and truth statements out of the text, many nuances or "distinctives" have been created that have marked some Christian theologies from others, and consequentially has produced divisions and denominations that devoted followers could support and rally around these respective distinctives. Let me say this before I start, I would consider myself now (after a long period of sifting through various theologies and distinctives), more in line with a reformed mindset. Yet, and I stress, this is in support of what it means to truly honor the Semper Reformanda ("always reforming") and in light of that I would also stress that my orthodoxy would best be described as 'generous'. I can resonate and agree with a liberationist, a Calvinist, an Anabaptist, or a Catholic quite nicely. And yet, I realize that there is an incompleteness to all of these various theologies. Theologically and exegetically, I could argue just about every point in the "distinctives" of each one. And I think, ultimately, that is what Ben Witherington is trying to express here. He points out the Calvinist, Arminian, Pentecostal, and Wesleyan groups mostly but I think you could pick apart other groups as well.

Why is this so?  I think our theology sometimes works like butter on a slice of bread. If we only have so much butter and a lot of bread, we try to spread the butter as much as we can and cover the space to give equal distribution to the whole slice. And yet as we do this, when we take a bite, we cannot taste the butter as much as we would like. The taste is not as strong as we would desire it to be. Here is what I am trying to get at: In the Bible, there are certain "truths" that come out at us. I believe that these truths, the main core of the Christian faith, is expressed in the creeds, the Apostle's and the Nicene. I hold to those dearly. Everything else, I believe, is ultimately up for grabs. The text and the creeds are the "butter" of the Christian life and yet so many times we want to spread it to places that it cannot go because we are not given as much butter as we would desire. This does not mean that God is unwilling or incapable to give us these truths but I think He wants to articulate a story to us first. As a story, the Bible does not articulate every area of theology that we can question or create. We want the text to go places where the text just will not go.

There are certain decisions I make about the text when I read it. I sift through the various stories and statements and make a decision on what I believe is the most accurate. This is not full-proof.  There are places where I could argue for both predestination and open theism, for limited atonement and for the inclusion and reconcilation of all people to God, for pre-/mid-/post-millenialism and amillenialism. The text is so multifaceted and complex in this manner. We just all need to be more honest about it.

Nonetheless, I do not think this should stop us from developing distinctives. If we did that, where would Christian imagination go? My point is that we must not have so much hinge on our distinctives, for I believe concerning these we should be more critical. I think we would fair better if we would honor the spirit of this declaration: "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty; in all things charity." Our arguments aren't about what is truth, but about what we hold as the essentials of our shared truth.

 This was part 1 of a 2 part post. I will have more on this in the next couple of days, as well as a post on the current quest for the historical Jesus. Part 2 will concern living in a 'storied' worldview. Take care.



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4 responses to “The Problems with Evangelical Theologies Part 1, or Will you pass the butter please?

  1. Man, that is a great response to that article. It was good for me to hear you mention hanging on to distinctives, but just more loosely. One of my most recent blogs was really concerning this idea of joining a theological team, but I think it came off as a statement on Calvinism vs. Arminianism (spelling?). I get really frustrated because as we pick our sides we completely exit the story and in my frustration with this I would want to drop all distinctives and say “We’re all freakin’ wrong and arrogant and replacing any actual hunger for truth with some theological camp. It seems each camp has a much better eye for the weaknesses of another camp but not their own weaknesses. Still yet, I see where it’s good to have some sense of where you are, of what your theology is and where your mindset lines up right now. Thanks, bro.

  2. Great word! I think there is a lot of fear from people, like myself, that we make an idol out of a belief system or even the Bible itself and miss out on beauty, love, meaning, and relationship. Personally, at times it is a healthy fear and at other times it is extreme. I end up making an idol out of not making an idol. Too much butter verses no butter at all. Both taste bad.

  3. BP
    I agree with you on the assumptions of theological teams. I think we just lack humility in our conversations most of the time.

    I’ve never thought about it that way but I can see where that is present in my own life. By trying not to be something that I despise, I end up embracing and becoming that very thing.

  4. What Steve said about making idols out of things launched me into a ton of thoughts that earned an entry in my blog. This type of article and discussion should serve to humble us and refocus us on allowing the theology that is in the stories to guide us towards an encounter beauty, love, meaning, and relationship.

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