The concept of theology being unfinished is probably the concept that has scared people the most. I don’t think that many people struggle with acknowledging that we don’t know all there is to know, about God or anything else for that matter, but any time I throw varying implications out, the shields of defense quickly come up, and we usually arrive at an impasse. In my heritage, in Churches of Christ, this is probably the single most difficult concept for us to get our hands around. Rooted in the concept of “restoration” we were marked with great potential. After all, upholding theology as unfinished deems restoratoin necessary. However, within our movement probably fifty years ago or so, there emerged an optimistic feeling that the task of restoration became complete, and the church had restored what it was set out to. The task then moved from restoration to maintaining. Progress was replaced by status quo, innovation became equivalent of heresy, questioning was discouraged.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got my hands on a book by N.T. Wright. I have heard so much about him and had seen many a reference to his works, that I jumped at the chance to purchase The Challenge of Jesus at Half Price Books. While dealing with the quest for the historical Jesus, I think this statement has implications far beyond that, and reference what I began above. Note this:
“As with God so with the Bible; just because our tradition tells us that the Bible says and means one thing or another, that does not excuse us from the challenging task of studying it afresh in the light of the best knowledge we have about its world and context, to see whether these things are indeed so. For me, the dynamic of a commitment ot Scripture is not ‘we believe the Bible, so there is nothing more to be learned,’ but rather ‘we believe the Bible, so we had better discover all the things in it to which our traditions . . . have supposed themselves to be ‘biblical’ but are sometimes demonstrably not, have made us blind.’ And this process of rethinking will include the hard and often threatening question of whether some things that our traditions have taken as ‘literal’ should be seen as ‘metaphorical,’ and perhaps also vice versa – and, if so, which ones.” (p. 17)
If you have no interest in theology or only a passing one, the above comment may strike you as verbose and irrelevant. However, when you consider the implications of this thinking, suddenly you realize this is far from irrelevant from any Christian. The question at its heart is, how have we been jaded by our tradition? It is not asked antagonistically. It is nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for (something that some progressive thinkers often err in), instead it is something to be cognizant of, and reflective on.
We must consider our heritage. What side of which fences do we come? What innate prejudices might we have? What might we have to work hard to overcome? Of course, the task, if done in isolation is impossible. It is meant to be done in a diverse community – something churches so often fall short of. What are Protestant churches, after all, but collections of like-minded individuals who long ago cut ties with those who think differently.
My list of things currently under construction theologically is inifinitely long, but here are a few of the more pressing questions to me that people really struggle to even discuss (why should we be afraid to talk about anything???)
* The place of women in the kingdom. For many this is a long-ago decided issue, but for me it is very alive and difficult. My tradition has not given woman many options for where they may serve. I feel strongly we have turned the corner on centuries of injustice at the hands of men, but how far can we go? Women serving in the role of elders/bishops and pastors/preachers are probably the two roles I struggle with most. I think I can argue myself either way.
* Homosexuality and sin. Another very tedious issue. Always a hot button one politically, but once all that stuff is set aside, how are we to interpret contemporary homosexuality and Scripture? For many conservatives it is cut and dry (in summary: hate the sin, love the sinner). Much too simply stated. Can a homosexual inherit the kingdom of heaven? Can a practicing homosexual in a monogamous relationship be a welcomed Christ follower? Can a practicing homosexual serve in the kingdom as an elder/bishop or preacher/pastor? If you answer these questions too easily or quickly you may not have thought and prayed enough about them.
* Scripture. How are we to interpret it? Churches of Christ no longer have a hermeneutic. Our former method has been debunked by philosophy and has left us gasping for air in many of our churches. Where are we to go from here? I think some kind of quasi-theological narrative approach is on the horizon, but there are many who will never go that directions upon realizing the implications.
* Holiness. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about that any more? Perhaps we have allowed our obsession with the church to distract us from the inseparable call to holiness. What does it mean to live a holy life in this world?
* Church. We’ve just talked messed this one all up. We spend countless hours in discussions with elders and ministry leaders in relatively fruitless conversation because no one is acknowledging the real point of contention: identifying the church. A renewed understanding of “church” would alter our discussions of evangelism, outreach, finances, and ministry in a heart beat.
* Prayer. Something so simple, yet so incredibly complex. I ashamedly admit that I am not a person of prayer and see a life long struggle with prayer ahead. Would that God take control and make me that person.
And on and on the list goes. We need to stop wasting time in our Bible classes discussing obscure Bible passages that are intriguing and deal with Bible passages that are intriguing because they affect how we live our every waking hour.