My Theology has changed over time. I was recently thinking that through, and thought I’d document it here.
First, there is a sense, but one I can’t quite give clear evidence of, that most of the “issues” we argue about inside the church are smoke and mirrors for another deeper problem that we don’t want to talk about or don’t know how.
For a recent council meeting I made a presentation on how anxiety in a congregational system creates whack-a-mole issues popping up, and how leaders get fooled into thinking they are actually solving things by dealing only with the technical issue as it presents itself, rather than the adaptive issue of the systemic angst that drives the moles to the surface. (hey, my presentations are sometimes very plain yet highfalutin).
Anyway, I’m asking of our denominational situation: “What are we missing here?” “What is the deeper issue or struggle?”
Second, my thinking has changed on a lot of theology (and how to live out my faith) since I was a kid in catechism. I am convinced it is still solidly Reformed. The change is primarily explained by a shift to understanding everything related to God in relational terms. My starting point is “God is about relationship” and my theological rubric all falls into place below that tenet (or “yoke” to use an old Jewish term).
God’s actions in the OT after the fall were all about teaching or discipling a selected people into effective relationship with God. It didn’t work out on the people end. Repeatedly.
The actions of Jesus in the NT were all about opening a way back to relationship with the Triunity or godhead.
The parables of Jesus have shaped my fresh understanding the most. The Samaritan in the parable had a way of “being” in relation to other humans that imaged God’s compassion and caring to excess (eternity) well. Not so the religious leaders of the selected people. They were focused on “doing” as the original question to Jesus indicated. So there is one place I learned something new. Another is the Joy of Finding/Lost Son parable, where again the figure representing the God mankind is distant from is a compassionate and caring character but a wimp to those focused on “doing.” The wandering son comes to realize he is ‘out of bounds’ and far out of relationship, and his best hope is to become a ‘slave’ of the Father. So he returns, and the Father immediately and extravagantly restores the full relationship. All’s ready to be well, until the homeboy brother arrives. He is not willing to join the restoration of relationship. He reveals, in his rant, that he sees himself as a slave (all these years I’ve slaved for you!…). He might still be there, out standing in his field, arms crossed and a cross look in his face refusing to take up the cross of relationship…
There are two more parts to this change in perspective. One is reflecting on and learning about fruit of the spirit. They frustrate us, because they are hard to measure and possible to fake, for a time. Specific sins, well they are measurable! Christian schoolteacher spotted at a store on Sunday! – fired! That’s easy. I spent some time thinking about the difference between forbidden fruit and bidden (or encouraged) fruit. And a whole new vista unfolded that I won’t add to this explanation. The second key part to this journey has been reading about, practicing, and gaining appreciation for the timeless wisdom distilled into the 12 steps (couldn’t resist a pun). Again, I won’t elaborate, but it is huge!
So here is where I end up. My pinnacle illustration/sermon used to be the “dirty cup sermon” (in the way that J Eppinga’s signature was the blue marble). But now I have one that came to me when applying Practical Relational Theology to the ten commandments. It is called the “ten posts” sermon, and I preached it on Easter.
Here is a most succinct presentation, starting with a situation I ask you to imagine:
Imagine you are a parent in a multi-child family. You or your spouse are being moved by the employer to a home you’ve never seen. You arrive in the family van, and you go through the exploration process (imagine it for yourself – kids claiming rooms, you imagining where you will sit and read etc etc.). Eventually most of you move out the sliding glass doors to the backyard. You see a swingset, which a few of the kids head for right away, you see a garden patch, and a sandbox, and other things. And you appreciatively walk out further into the yard with the intent of looking back at the whole view. Suddenly, as you are walking, you realize the yard just drops off into a massive canyon!
My question is, as a parent, what are you going to do? In that moment?
Well, the short version is “you are going to set some boundaries, make some rules, immediately!” Again, you fill in the details.
Then, you call the lumberyard, and you order 10 posts and 613 boards to build a fence.
Phew. Everyone is safe.
(this is the point where most of our religious understanding stops and stays)
Sometime later, as you are sitting in the yard, inside the fence, one of your children comes to you, and with a ‘you are really going to love me for this look on their face’ tell you that two of the others children are outside the fence! You immediately investigate, and sure enough they have pried some boards loose and gone out. You go out to seek your lost ones. But as you are seeking them, and feeling the pain of their not respecting the boundaries you created, you realize that your relationship with the child who told you about the lost ones is not what you want it to be either. That child thinks they are earning your love only by staying inside the bounds. That is not intimate, respectful relationship just as much as the out of bounds ones are not respecting relationship either.
(this is God’s dilemma with us)
How do you create a situation where the strength of the relationship is the main binding force?
Well, before you know it your carpenter son has come along and taken all the boards out from between the posts and built a cross out of them and died on it. Just the ten posts remain. He did that so that relationship could be chosen.
And all of us who believe in what that carpenter did to restore relationship with our heavenly parent, now live in a different world than we learn about a children. We are actually free to wander outside the posts. But as we wander further, we will feel the strain on the relationship with God. If we are paying attention, that is. And we will realize what is happening, and we will turn around (repent) and come back and be welcomed. Appreciating the love of the Father and Son for us, and loving being in unencumbered (naked) relationship because we have no need to hide, will keep us close, and will cause our lives to produce the fruit of the Spirit without much doing on our part. We just have to “be” in God’s presence.
So there you have it.
This is why I get concerned and troubled when people seem obsessed with declaring others “out of bounds.” I don’t see it as my role. In fact I’m too busy tracking and working on how I wander. I can tell people about having wandered and come back, I can tell people if I am in that kind of relationship with them that they are in dangerous territory, but the choice of remaining in the relationship is ultimate theirs.