Recently in my life I have had the blessing of having very challenging theological discussions in my life; with people that I love and respect very much. I always struggle with the concept of these discussions, because I wonder if sometimes I am focusing too much on my “knowledge” of Christ and not enough on doing what Christ said. However, the academic setting that I am in promotes this idea of discussion and debate, so I guess the place where I am at (where I am eager to discuss these esoteric subjects that lack elements of practicality) is at least a tolerable one. The discussions that I have had in class have been the ones that have made it out into the world (mostly the world of Facebook) and have blossomed into the propagation of ideas, rebuttals, and theories about rather deep theological issues. From my understanding, some people have (rightly so!) been concerned about some of the things that I have been saying. These people care deeply about me, are deeply intelligent, and know God in ways that I can only dream of knowing Him. They have my best interests in mind, and I truly respect that. That being said, I think I owe those people, and anyone else who is interested about things I have said and the way I say things, an explanation for my behavior (be it positive or negative in their eyes).
First I would like to start with some affirmation about my beliefs (which I feel are in line with orthodox thinking):
-I believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ (as the incarnate son), and the Holy Spirit. I affirm the idea of the trinity, and the idea that the idea of the trinity is somewhat beyond human logic and understanding (rightly so, as it is the glory of God to conceal things from us, as it is the glory of man to seek out such things. See Proverbs 25:2).
-I believe Christ was 100 percent man/100 percent God, and acknowledge the paradox in this. I believe he lived a perfect life, modeled many things for us, taught many things, died that we may live, and rose to conquer death. I don’t subscribe to a singular ‘atonement theory.’ I believe all have flaws when pushed to their logical ends, so we should appreciate what each one teaches us; just as we should appreciate what each differing Christian tradition teaches us.
-I believe that we all have sinned, and that we do fall short of God’s Glory. My views of ‘Original Sin’ (the subject of much recent debate) seem to take a middle road between the teachings of Pelagius and Augustine. This middle road is something that the Eastern Orthodox Church has been (roughly) taking for thousands of years, so I feel comfortable with where my beliefs currently lie. (More on this below, eventually)
Now, I would like to discuss a bit on how I pursue a topic. On issues of practical theology, I have a certain emotional connection to the arguments I make. Thus, things that directly affect how we treat others, worship God, and live out the commands to love God and love others are things that I feel are worthy of being passionate about (at least for me). I think this is why my heart breaks for injustice, or when I hear a story of somebody who was burned by a church that wasn’t acting in a loving manner.
But what is being examined is not this. I believe that I demonstrate what my views are on the above “practical theology” with the discussions I have about worship, injustice in the world, etc. What is being examined is my discussion of the theology that does not have a readily apparent connection to the everyday life that we are living; let’s call it “impractical theology.” Let us be careful not mistake this phraseology (impractical) with the words “unimportant theology,” however, I do believe that these ideas have some impact on our general worldview and understanding of christianity; meaning that they matter on some level. These ideas relating to concepts I would call “impractical theology” are ideas that I feel detached from, and am willing to throw around ideas that are further from or even directly contradictory to my beliefs. For example, if I am arguing about “Original Sin,” I may decide to take and argue an extreme position with somebody, in order to hear their rebuttal. This argument helps me better understand what I really believe. Also, after two people spend time arguing the extremes, it makes a lot of sense (in my opinion at least) to come back to the middle and re-evaluate what is actually believed. After such polarized opinions are shared (in a respectful context of course!) often two individuals will find they have more in common than they thought. I guess I don’t take to much concern with arguing an esoteric theological concept, even if I don’t agree with it, because I am not emotionally attached to the argument I am making. In other words, it is very easy for me to return to what I know is true, even after making a seemingly impassioned argument for that which I may not really believe.
That being said, here are two examples of recent arguments (note, argument does not have a negative connotation in this sense) I have had. In one I took an extreme position that I didn’t really hold, and in the other I actually argued what I believe.
-I recently had a discussion with some friends on the idea of original sin. I took my beliefs and disregarded them for this argument. I decided to argue that there was no such thing as inherited original sin, and I believe that I made a very good logical argument for it (it was fun!). However, my biblical argument was probably not the strongest, and my fellow friends were making good points that kept me on my toes and were making me think! My actual views are actually much more mild. Yes, I don’t believe in inherited guilt of original sin, but I do believe in inherited consequence of original sin. It is a fine distinction, but one that I think matters; and makes us take more responsibility for the crimes that we commit against God. Taking those ideas to the extreme allowed me to flesh out some of the problems with both sides (often when you are making an argument, you see the biggest holes in it!) and feel more comfortable with the middle ground that I truly inhabit. People may ask “why didn’t you just say you were arguing what you didn’t believe?” In my opinion, that would take the fun out of it. 😉 But really, I think that honest debate is better had in the framework of taking a position, and sticking with it; not by conceding that you are really just faking a point of view. I also see the consequences of this… hopefully not everyone on facebook thinks I’m a heretic now… 🙂
-The conversation on original sin, however, turned to evolution. This is a subject on which I gave my honest and sincere views on. I believe that God used evolution as science understands it to create man. This is something that I am a little more passionate about because I believe it directly impacts how we live our daily lives. Christians should not be anti-science. Science doesn’t have an agenda to destroy Christianity and Christianity should not have an agenda to destroy science. The church has withstood and adapted to scientific discovery in the past, and now should be no different. There was pushback about ideas we take for granted now, and I see evolution becoming one of those ideas we take for granted in the near(ish) future. Ask me about this more sometime, I would love to discuss it with anyone. 🙂
Anyways, I really didn’t mean to offend anyone with any conversation I had. In fact, the thing that I took away most from these esoteric discussions was something very practical. All of them were done in love and mutual respect. In an era of polarization and hate, we managed to discuss divisive issues in love. That, my friends, is truly in the footsteps of Christ.