Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Least Favorite Part of Wisdom

I’ll begin this post with a confession: I’m not nearly as diligent as I should be with my devotional life. Over the past several years my dedication in this regard has waxed and waned, and this last year I really began to feel the need to re-dedicate myself to consistent time in Scripture, and so far this year has been a modest success in this regard. Anyway, the first book I read this year was the book of Proverbs, and as I read it I encountered many of the themes that I expected – avoid adulterous women (and men), fear God and seek wisdom, work hard and live honestly, etc. All of it was really good stuff and things that I needed to be reminded of. However, pretty early on in my reading I noticed a theme kept popping up that I had not expected, and it was on the importance of correction. That’s right…correction. I admire those of you who read the last sentence without the urge to roll your eyes. Unfortunately, I did have the urge to roll my eyes, which goes to show why this lesson is one that I needed (still need).

I suppose the reason for my reticence in this regard of Proverbs is obvious. Correction is not a fun experience, and for me it is especially difficult. There is a sense of self-sufficiency that I often feel I’m entitled to, and the crucial nature of correction clearly has to battle this in me. Fortunately, the book of Proverbs doesn’t stop at “accept correction”. It demonstrates that correction is foundational in the pursuit of something greater – wisdom.

That is what got my attention. No matter how I feel about being corrected, I sincerely yearn for wisdom. That’s why I decided to dive right in to Proverbs, I wanted to grow in that area. What struck me is how unambiguous the book of Proverbs is – correction is a crucial part of the search for wisdom (Prov. 13:18). Not only that, correction is seen as being a lifelong need, not something that can ever be outgrown (Prov. 9:9). It seems that not matter how greatly God blesses a person with wisdom, they still require correction from others. Of course, this makes sense when one takes into account the doctrine of human depravity. Even those who hold to the doctrine of holiness can acknowledge the need for correction. This is why John Wesley repeatedly emphasized his belief that, even those who had reached a level of “perfection” still were capable of making mistakes, and always had room to grow (see A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, chapter 12). In fact, as I read Proverbs I see the need to utterly re-define correction. Instead of accepting correction as a necessary drudgery on the path to wisdom, I need to see it as an actual blessing from those who care (Prov. 15:31-33). So there, correction is a bigger deal than I thought it was. So what?

All this reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ assertion that pride is the most dangerous sin that we are capable of committing, because at its heart pride thrives on competition, the assertion that we are inherently superior to the people, expectations or morals around us. Reading Proverbs inspired me to meditate more on the subtle ways that pride (and therefore a resistance to correction) creeps into my life. It also caused me to look at many of the churches I have observed (fortunately none of my recent church homes) in which there seems to be an inability for the body to correct those in authority until it is too late. This is a shame because it not only harms the congregation, it also harms those in authority by taking away the opportunity to be constructively corrected until it is too late. So, I guess my question for you is this: how can our churches better embody a willingness to be corrected often? I am interested in practical ways that the whole body can take on an attitude of genuine humility. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. I’ll leave you with this final thought, from Hebrews 12:9-11. I hope it sums things up for you like it did for me.

"Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."


By the way, I’m currently reading The Rebirth of Orthodoxy by Thomas Oden. Even though it is aimed at mainline churches, I’m finding it a to be a fascinating take on the necessity for responsible, orthodox (small “o”) ecumenism. I recommend it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Am I Rational?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend where I mentioned that I was reading Lee Strobel's “The Case for Christ.” My concession was met with a bit of hesitation. This sort of hesitation seems to be prevalent among many of my friends.

I remember sitting in a philosophy class one day and we were talking about one philosopher’s view of faith (I’m sure you philosophy people will know who it was that we were talking about). The teacher drew on the whiteboard a stick figure climbing up a set of stairs to God. Each of the stairs was a so called "truth" that made the leap of faith to God that much shorter. Then, next to the steps was a stick figure who had dug a whole in the ground, contrary to reason, and thus his leap of faith was much larger. I remember the class thought it would be much better to be the stick figure in the hole so that God would get all the more glory from the larger leap. This sort of attitude always struck me as strange and a bit na├»ve (and reminded me of the kind of logic that lead to Paul's famous rhetorical question in Romans 6:1).

It seems to me that we have a God who has always proved Himself to be trustworthy and true. Though He is in no way obligated to mankind, He has decided to enter into covenants and make promises. In His covenant dealings He is always shown to be faithful and His promises He always keeps. When Jesus came He performed miracles and fulfilled prophecies. One place where we see both is in Matthew 11 when John the Baptist’s disciples ask if Jesus is the one who is to come or should they look for another. Jesus answers them by referring to a prophecy from Isaiah 35 “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5 ESV) Jesus doesn’t answer them with a simple “yes” and expect them to be satisfied with that. Instead, He refers to His own actions as His Messianic claim.

Here is my question, is it not a rational decision to trust a trustworthy person?

(disclaimer - I'm not saying that rationality automatically leads to faith. There is this thing called repentance that needs to be there too and the Holy Spirit's working. Also read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 in reference to this discussion.)


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why theology? Why?

What are we to do with theology? There was a time when a greater sense of optimism reigned, and theologians labored under the hopes that, with the right methods, theology could reach a consensus concerning the meaning of revelation, Christology, historicity, and whether or not Tupac was still alive (well, three out of four). For a wide variety of reasons, such optimism has not reigned within the field of theology for quite some time, and it poses the question, why? If theology is bound to be an exercise that will never achieve its end goal, why continue to practice it? What about the negative effect that theology can have? Does it have value for the everyday life of the Church? These are all valid questions, and they are worth wrestling with. To begin, I believe one of the positives that have come out of this line of questioning is a more humble approach. Those who practice theology have a tendency to do so with an awareness of the pitfalls that they must deal with when attempting to ascertain the ways of God. Of course, it is worth asking whether a chastened approach is enough to make theology a worthwhile pursuit, and I believe that it is. Simply put, I strongly hold that theology is a lasting part of the Church’s role on this earth, and that it is worth the time and effort necessary to make theology accessible and relevant for the body of Christ. Thus, the point of this first entry is to demonstrate what I have seen as some of the weaknesses of this pursuit, as well as the reasons I have found to commit ourselves to responsible theology.

To be perfectly honest, the practice of theology is an easy target, and in many cases this is justified. It is not hard to find examples of dangerous sides of theology. Church schisms, arrogance, and the loss of childlike faith as the result of theological inquiry are just a few of the dangers of the idolization of theology. And yet, those who would propose that we simply rid ourselves of academic theology are often misinformed or overly optimistic. While I think it’s going too far to categorize theology as a “necessary evil”, to a certain extent it is only necessary as a response to our human brokenness. However, there is more to theology than a defense against sin. At its heart, theology is a joyful exercise, because it privileges us to be able to venture into God’s mysterious realms (hence the title of this blog). That’s what this first post is about, it’s about why I feel the study of theology is worth our time and efforts, despite its flaws.

On my read, this discussion has to begin with the flaws in theology. Simply put, theology was never intended to be complete, there are too many weaknesses inherent in our approach. The first weakness in theology is that it is systematic. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this predicament. As humans our mode of thinking demands a systematic approach. Of course, the God of the Bible defies our systems and our ways of thinking, for he is in no way systematic. This is both a flaw and a strength of theology as we know it. On the one hand, even our best efforts will fall short of understanding the one we seek to understand. On the other hand, any God that fits into the systems that we create is hardly worth the effort of studying, much less worshipping. So, we who study theology must be content to live with the fact that our method will never achieve its stated aim, which is to understand the ways of a God who defies comprehension.

The second great weakness of theology is like the first, in that it is rooted in language. Just as God is not limited by systems, neither is he limited by language. Of course, this does not assist in our attempts to comprehend God’s truth. However, the fact of the matter is that theology is a constant struggle to find the language that most accurately sums up a God who defies the very language we rely on. So, just as our efforts to understand God through our systematic way of thinking are doomed from the start, so also is our reliance upon language to grasp a God who is beyond definition.

Finally, to lift from Brunner’s Christian Doctrine of God, a final objection to the study of theology is the assertion that it would be preferable to maintain a strictly Biblical theology, and dogmatic or systematic theology can have the effect of setting up an objective authority outside of scripture. In fact, the very reality that academic theology exists seems to go against the doctrine of sola scriptura. As protestants, and particularly as evangelicals, there is an understandable desire to trust solely in the revelation of scripture, and the dogmatic nature of theology seems to go against this noble goal.

In the face of these valid concerns, the question remains – why devote our attention to theology? Is theology simply an ivory-tower exercise with no edifying value for the Church at large? Well, this may come as no surprise, but I have come to believe that theology, despite its weaknesses, plays a vital role in the life of the Church. The first reason to pay attention to theology is the fact that theology has long been viewed as a necessary component in the Church’s role as a teacher. Whether it takes place in the context of confirmation classes, the creation and memorization of creeds, or the use of apologetics to defend the faith, the study of theology has been an integral part of the Church’s mission from the outset. To me, the story of Priscilla and Aquilla’s correction of Apollos’ theology is revealing in that Acts 18 states that Apollos’ ministry benefited from his improved theology. Simply put, from the outset the Church has recognized the need for dogmatic theology which is teachable and systematic, both as a teaching method and as a defense against heresy. Dogmatic theology is not intended to supplant Biblical theology, but to provide it in a simpler form, and the Church has consistently used it in this manner.

Of course, theology will always fail to grasp the fullness of God. On my read, this is actually an advantage for theology, when carried out properly. The greatness and otherness of God should incite the theologian to be more awed and in love with the God they seek to understand. Unfortunately, theology can often lead to arrogance, when the emphasis is placed upon our knowledge rather than God’s greatness (Eph. 8:1). However, the goal of theology is to devote our minds to knowing God more, and when this is done in true humility, the end result will always be like that of Job, who saw his questions float away when he came into the presence of God. If we could all experience what Job did, then surely our need for academic theology would be exhausted, as it will be in the next life. However, until this takes place, the careful study of God’s revelation is an opportunity to appreciate the truth he has revealed, and to be awed by the truths that are beyond our comprehension. As Proverbs 2:1-6 states, God rewards those who pursue him by rewarding them with wisdom and understanding. So, while one key purpose of theology is to grasp God’s gift of self-revelation, another purpose of theology is to instill a sense of wonder due to the fact that God is too awesome and complex to ever be fully understood.

Finally, theology has a final use as a defense against heresy and incorrect understandings of scripture. Of course, this should not be understood as a statement against the sufficiency of scripture. As an evangelical, I strongly believe that all theology must be responsibly drawn from scripture. However, it is evident that it is all too easy to misunderstand or misuse scripture. This is partly due to human depravity, and our ability to twist the Bible to fit our own ends (Eph. 4:14), and also due to our simple naivety (Rom. 16:18). In fact, it is revealing to look back to early Church history, and note that within 400 years the Church had found it necessary to adopt the Nicene Creed in order to combat incorrect scriptural teachings. Once again, this is a tricky doctrine, because it would be easy to understand what I am saying as an attack on the sufficiency of the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible must be the foundation of all theology. However, history has repeatedly demonstrated that people are very capable of misusing scripture. Therefore, theology serves as a further guard against the misuse of scripture, by delineating a set of truths that that have been affirmed by scripture as well as tradition. Overall, the Church has always seen fit to utilize theology as a set of defenses against those who would misappropriate God’s word, and because this danger persists so too does the usefulness of academic theology.

In the end, theology is a flawed discipline, which must be used with caution. It is intended to be taken on with an attitude of humility and awe. Overall, the odd characteristic of theology is that it has an impossible goal. The goal is to understand God, his truths, and his self-revelation. This task will never be completed in our current state. Nevertheless, theology still has a great many uses. When practiced correctly, it is intended to continually draw us closer to God by increasing our awareness of his self-revelation, and amazement at his grace and attributes. As long as we live we are capable of knowing and loving God more, and the study of theology plays a crucial role in this process.

Saturday, April 18, 2009



Welcome to the newest, hippest place in the blogosphere! (we wish)Sincerely, thanks for stopping by. We'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about Adventures in the Archetypes, and why we wanted to put this together.

First off, we are Danny Marriott and Collie Coburn. We've known each other since elementary school in Hesperia, CA, and we have a lot in common. We both play drums, neither of us are very tall, we are pretty nerdy, and we both enjoy theology. Over the past six years, as we've gone to college and then graduate school, we've developed our own theologies, and have found some areas in which we diverged (Collie reads John Wesley, Danny reads John Owens) and others in which we agree (the need for greater charity during theological debate, ministry strategies). Also, we think Chad Smith is a killer drummer.

Anyway, over the last couple of months we have been kicking around the idea of publishing a blog where we, as friends, can discuss our theological stances, agreements and disagreements. Hence, this website. However, we also had a series of goals for this blog, and they are as follows

1. We intend for our theology to be accessible. This ain't dissertation material, we want everyone to be able to interact with it.
2. We want it to be good. It seems obvious, but we intend to put a lot of effort into what we post, and we want it to educate and provoke those who read it.
3. We want it to be charitable. Our camaraderie within the body of Christ trumps our divergences.

So, that's the idea behind this blog. If it sounds intriguing, we would love for you to sign up to follow it, and comment liberally. Most of all, we know that this will be a place where our own ideas will be shaped and tested, and we'd love to have you along for the ride.

Danny and Collie