Friday, 28 June 2013

You Are Not Theologically Correct

We Christians say the darndest things. We like to ask whether something is theologically correct, for instance. There is something about this question, this pursuit, that sets my teeth on edge.

Right from the heart of the matter, the idea that a statement or a belief is theologically correct probably comes from the early periods of Christian history. We spent a long time arguing about doctrine. We had several ecumenical councils about doctrine. We had schisms over doctrine. Our very identity as Christians has been fought and argued over doctrine. All the creeds are evidence of this. And we do have a lot of creeds.

But wait, Andrew! I don't go in for this "doctrine" stuff. I just believe in Jesus.

Whether you know it or not, you probably hold to several doctrines that have been argued about and created splits in the church. The trinity? That's a doctrine. Communion is just bread and wine? That's a doctrine. Every time we've created a doctrine we do it to establish "correct theology" with the result that there are some people who end up with "incorrect theology." Every doctrine has at least one contradicting doctrine, and both are ardently believed and taught by sincere Christians.

Some doctrines are derived from the finer points of the Bible, or even outside of the Bible. A difference this way or that has divided communities, launched civil wars, unleashed untold evil into the world. Most of it came about because one part of the church was so proud as to enforce their notion of being theologically correct.

In a way, the pursuit of theological correctness is a Sorites paradox. We know that a thousand grains of rice is a pile of rice. And we know that by taking one away we still have a pile of rice. And if we take one more away we still have a pile of rice. But how many grains are required to make a pile? It's not a perfect illustration, but it makes the point that we know when something is A and when something is B, but it's not always possible to know where the boundary exists between A and B.

So I'm wrong to ask whether something is theologically correct?

Not wrong, just dangerous. The pursuit of finding meaning in the faith is good and worthwhile. Faith seeking reason, as Aquinas put forward, is the challenge for every Christian. Even Kierkegaard's so-called "irrational fideism" is argued for with reason. But are we so confident in our reason that we can put the final stamp on it and say that it's theologically correct?

Navigating the boundaries of doctrine requires an intellectual finesse that few of us have. However, it's a finesse that we can learn and develop. In Hebrews we are encouraged to press on to maturity (5:11-14), a maturity that is marked not by theological correctness but by the ability to discern between good and evil, an ability that comes through practice.

This kind of practice is the pursuit of every one who follows Christ. By following Christ we become more mature and gain the ability to discern between good and evil. Following Christ does not make us theologically correct, it just points us in the right direction: the person of Christ.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Unlearn what you have learned

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to forget the interpretation of a parable that you've been taught? It's ingrained in the mind. It becomes part of the vocabulary of belief, and in turn it becomes belief itself.

I'm working through parables at the moment, attempting to read with fresh eyes. It's all too easy to keep reading them as they were explained to me years ago.

Whenever I see them in a new light, it's often because I've learned something about the culture of the time, something relevant to the parable. Historical criticism to the rescue! Without that background, the parable is a translation of an alien idea from an alien time in an alien place. It's a mystery waiting for an explanation.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Evolving Out of the Closet

I like the diversity of the Christian faith. It's challenging and exciting at the same time, and I've been lucky enough to attend a few different denominations and experienced the differences. If you're a believer and never switched denominations you're missing out on a great experience.

Something that doesn't appear in church doctrine but does appear in church culture is an attitude to the theory of evolution. It's never taught from the pulpit, and rarely mentioned in passing. Sometimes it appears as preachers remark about the divine involvement in the physical world. Sometimes it appears in the midst of an apologetic sermon on intelligent design. And separate to the pulpit? Well, that's the interesting part.

From what I've seen, one's opinion on the theory of evolution seems to stay firmly hidden. It is the thought that dare not speak its name. It's almost as if it's left alone for the sake of peaceful coexistence. Almost. There are some quite vocal people who adamantly express their opinions, to the point of stifling alternative views. This sort of thing happens in all kinds of groups, and in the church it certainly happens with evolution. I expect there are probably Christians who hint at it in hushed tones in order to ascertain what the person next to them really believes.

In the end, however, what one believes about it only appears in a coming-out experience. I wonder if we need to mark it in the calendar as the day each of us came out of the heretical closet and firmly said what we believe about evolution.

The notion of a doctrinal unity in the church is not as rigid as its opponents might suggest. If in formal doctrine there are too many differences, this diversity explodes when it comes to informal or folk doctrines. Don't bother to try and count them.

Nevertheless, I know I've come out of the evolutionary closet already. Maybe I should have had a parade.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

How to Win the 2013 Australian Federal Election

Regardless of what the polls say right now, I can't help but wonder if there's an election winning policy just waiting to be grasped. I speculate that whichever major party wholeheartedly embraced the legalisation of same-sex marriage would probably romp in at the next election.

This is probably a cynical view of the Australian electorate, to imagine that it's not interested in economics, industrial relations, education, or any of the other usual issues. However, right now it's probably the only issue that would galvanise strong feeling in the voters. For just about everything else that they've presented in this year's election there's no significant difference between the ALP and the Coalition, with the possible exception of the carbon tax.

Same-sex marriage. There's your vote winner in 2013.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

John Oliver on Gun Control

I know parts one and two made the rounds on social media earlier this year, but I didn't see part three get the same exposure. For your viewing pleasure here are all three parts of The Daily Show's reports on Australian gun control.