Friday, May 25, 2012

the godly idolatry of systematic theology... in 5 easy "R"s

Since all theologizing is



demonically infused..

                ... it's a tough  but necessary minefield to (circum)navigate.

In a way, it's our only job (we can't NOT theologize).
In  a way it's eventually ( inevitably?) idolatry.

It's a  Catch 22
(Numbers 22, perhaps...remember something in that chapter about talking asses?)

And if  theology is in essence  translation..

                                   then like translation, it can be messianic and betrayal.

Or worse: messianic betrayal.


 if all theology is written by Judas anyway...

                       ...we might as well prayerfully and carefully take a stab at officially doing it.

But in what form/format?
How to do so in way that serves the present age...and  betrays it?

At risk of sounding like an annoying and alliterating preacherman...

If we had to write a systematic theology textbook..

How about starting with a chapter entitled one of the following:

  •  Radiohead
  •  Revelation
  •  Redemption
  •  Random
  • Relevant

Heck, those might even be the only five chapter titles you  need!
(Sorry for the alliteration..but at least I didn't do three points...and a poem.
Scott the  Spy  noticed that even Mr. Emergent himself tends to write in threes..see here.
(I hadn't caught that..we need more spies in the Kingdom...who pro-phetically see what no one else sees).

Oops,  let's back up. It's all still too systematic...we need first and foremost to think systemic.

It's something we all naturally do, but we have been trained/brainwashed that systematic is the only way to fly.

Of course, systemic thinking can also lead  and breed to idolatry, but it is more innate, intuitive...and like life and like  Theos himself.
(Of course it opens a door to it anyway!)

I DO love teaching "Systematic Theology"..had a great time with these tribesters at Latin American Bible Institute, for example.
We walked through the required systematic theology textbook..

But we walked  and talked in a way that was

\                                       networked,
                                                                                            and Venned.

As our churchthing family has  been  recently praying for our  Chilean member , the poeta Happy Lee,  who has started a seminary systematic theology course,  I thought to take these two photos to tease her a bit..

First photo came with the comment "Here's my systematic theology  bookshelf (look how it's literally so heavy, it's weighed down) If you need to borrow anything, I 'll be glad to email a book or three to you."

Then I caught the book title in the second photo.

Ideally it could replace and render obsolete all the more "theological" titles behind it.
(Though you'll notice it was written by Jerry Jenkins, so inevitably it must be left behind)

Of the making of books there is no end,
but if our end was to make ONE book on systemic theology

We must mess with the mold.


Pick a lyric/line anywhere in their canon/cannon.
Or stick to one album..or one "Airbag""

  • "Like a jackknifed juggernaut, I am born  agaaaaaaaaaaaaaain" (salvation)
  • "In an interstellar burst, I'm back to save the uuuuuuuuuuuuuuniverse"  (Second Coming).

More?  See all my posts on Radiohead. or start here: my character said to Ken's character in the award-winning "Gaithers on Crack" film embedded below: "Radiohead!!  Any questions?"


Why do most books follow the nice and neat narrative:
God>humans> Jesus> end times  etc

And why can't the chapters be





                                      walled off..
There are no chapter divisions in the Bible, so why book them for  a theology book?

I love how folks like Rob Bell and Len Sweet have put table of contents in the back, for example.
It helps us think from right to left...which is the right way, by the way.

I love how McLaren took on the Greco-Roman narrative that had held us captive.

(see "A New Kind of Christianity" McLaren  and holy heteroclite:: "A New Kind of Christianity" review part 2:).
His alternative flow is excellent and exhilirating..but also just as much a grid or system as any other!  (as is mine..or anyone's...How do we put a lock in grids..and gridlock? Awareness is half the battle..) great risk...why not start  at the beginning.
By that I mean with the book of  Revelation.. and work backwards (forwards and forewords) from there.
Not in the Left Behind way.
But in a way that gets the flow of Kingdom  and eschatology.
And that goes with that flow....and flows with the "go":

Try these links for starters (enders):


Okay, I chose the R word, only to be consistent.
I mean atonement.

Rethink/dethink/atone for all atonement theories.

Abandon all atonement theories...theoretically.

There are no theories of atonement.
That's a good theory of atonement.

Or at least draw/systematize all such theories from Jesus' life as much as his death.

That includes his life before his life (preincarnate)
and his current life.

Ask 10 out of 10 Christians to fill in the blank:

"The Bible says we are saved by the ________ of Jesus."

11 out of 11 will say "death" (or resurrection.)
Romans 5:10 says...


 I sometimes draw this chart to suggest that atonement theories
shouldn't just deal only with  Jesus' death and resurrection,  but also branch out to draw  from  his  birth, life and teaching on one end...

...and include  ascenscion and Pentecosting on the other end.
NT Wright has recently reminded us of the   ridicubulous lapses in the creeds:

The creeds were drafted in order to highlight points on which the church resolved major difficulties. But when the creeds began to be used as a teaching syllabus (as they often are to this day), then the problem begins, because of course the creeds jump straight from Jesus’ birth to his death … and I have a mental image at that point, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John standing there saying ‘Excuse me, we spent a lot of time and effort telling you about all that stuff in between, and you just skip over it?  What’s that about?’
Now, I have nothing against the great creeds.  I love them, and I say them or sing them ex animo.  But they have accidentally encouraged—or the way they have been used has accidentally encouraged—a reading of the New Testament in which the main body of the four Gospels is not theologically load-bearing.  For many Christians, it would have been quite sufficient if Jesus of Nazareth had been born of a virgin, died on a cross, and never done anything in between except, perhaps, lived a sinless life.
The four Gospels then, function for many as the dispensible back story for the Gospel as preached by Paul … this is the de facto position of many Protestants and many Evangelicals—many conservativeEvangelicals—the irony being, of course, that it’s the exact same position as that of Rudolph Bultman, with the only difference being that Bultman thought most of the stories were pious fictions.  But the reason why most Evangelicals would differ is not that the stories are doing anything theologically, in themselves, but simply to shore up a view of the inspiration of Scripture.  Not for the only time, swaths of Evangelicals are more anxious to protect a theory of Scripture, than to hear what Scripture actually says.  LINk


Write that book.


Subvert the dominant Greco-Roman narrative.

Start somewhere random...
as nothing is random...........and there is a  wholly and holy randomnity.

Heck, there may even be a  "Random Designer":reigning  randomly in  an ordered heaven.

How random is that?


I hate that word.

Let's go with practical..

Remember that God loves donkeys, sweat, entrails and menstruation:

'Practical' Theology departments at seminaries do not make theology more practical. They ensure that theology, oustide the PT department, will remain practical--that it will remain theology..
..Theology is bad enough, but modern theology is theology cultivated into idolatry. Bowing before science, social science, or philosophy, modern theology has adjusted its distinctive language and insight to conform to the common sense of modernity. Metaphysics or evolutionary science or liberal political theory or whatever determines in advance what can be true of God and His ways. . .
Theology is a specialized, professional language, often employing obscure (Latin and Greek) terms that are never used by anyone but theologians, as if theologians live in and talk about a different world from the one mortals inhabit.
Theology functions sociologically like other professional languages - to keep people out and to help the members of the guild to identify with one another.
Whereas the Bible talks about trees and stars, about donkeys and barren women, about kings and queens and carpenters....
...Theology is a "Victorian" enterprise, neoclassically bright and neat and clean, nothing out of place.Whereas the Bible talks about hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation and genital emissions.
Here's an experiment you can do at any theological library. You even have my permission to try this at home..
Step 1: Check the indexes of any theologian you choose for any of the words mentioned above. (Augustine does not count. Augustines' theology is as big as reality. Or bigger.)
Step 2: Check the Bible concordance for the same words.
Step 2: Ponder these questions: Do theologians talk about the world the same way the Bibke does? Do theologians talk about the same world the Bible does?
Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity, pp44ff

Of course...on the topic of keeping theology relevant/practical..

everyone should read a book with a terrible title that makes it sound heavy and heady.

It is.

But is also really real, relevant.

It's practical, actual and factual.

And the centerfolds rock.


Anyway, hope that made Happy happy.
Hope that messed up everyone's day, hair, and theology.

I hope we are all inspired to go forth and do what we shouldn't do but do do:


Counter systemic evil with sytemic theology...and Theos.
Just make sure it all connects somewhere with the real world:
Jesus in/on the street corner.

If it stays in Ivory Tower, and never hits (or starts) with the man on the street, or the streetwalker..'s worse than a clanging cymbal/symbol....

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