A tweet by @MattRWilkins crossed my Twitter stream this morning. Wrote Wilkins, “Many are redefining the theology of the church today & in so doing they are redefining God. Mark it down, God is NOT up for redefinition!” Wilkins’ implications in this tweet are problematic in many ways. I will address five in this post.
1) He implies that theology is somehow “of God.” Quite the contrary: theologies are “of people.” Theologies are human attempts at understanding the inexplicable. Much of the biblical witness is a collection of theologies by the original authors. They often vary because God is inexplicable. They conflict because each of the ancient’s experiences of the Divine were filtered through personal experiences, culture, time and place in history, and scientific understanding of how the world works. The same can be said of contemporary theologies.
2) He implies that the church has a unanimity of opinion. The historical record contradicts the idea that “the church” has ever been of one mind theologically. The times when the Roman church had multiple popes, the Protestant reformation, and the Catholic counter-reformation are but a few examples of times when theologies were far from singular. The only way to argue that the church has ever had one theology is to exclude vast numbers of followers of Jesus from the church.
All who profess Jesus and seek to follow his teachings, however imperfectly, are part of the church, of the body of Christ. We all have spiritual gifts to contribute to the whole.
3) He implies that the theologies of the church have never changed. As humanity has sought to understanding the spiritual realm ideas have evolved. This is true within Christianity. In seeking to understand the nature of God, for example, followers of Jesus developed trinitarian theology over centuries.
The trinity is a post-biblical interpretation of the scriptures which expands upon themes within the Bible. I tend to use trinitarian language because it helps me describe my experiences of God. This language is not the literal nature of God. It is a human construct designed to understand the Divine. Other followers of Jesus, part of the church, do not subscribe to trinitarian theologies.
4) He implies that God is silent in our age. To suggest that our understanding of the nature of God was complete at some point in the past, suggests humans can define God. He intimates that God no longer speaks. To do so is to deny the entire Pentecostal movement, the everyday experiences of billions, and to restrict the Divine. A silent God is a dead God.
5) Most alarming is that he implies that he owns God. In dismissing all but his own theology, and those who agree with him, the tweeter himself defines God. To maintain this arrogance he must dismiss the experiences of those who find the Divine in other ways. He lays a stumbling block before others and acts as the gatekeeper to Jesus’ love.
Reading this tweet, I imagined a man standing with his arms crossed stubbornly in front of Jesus. Those willing to define God in the way in which he defines God, are welcomed and hugged by Jesus. Those who do not, are forcibly removed.
I experience God differently. The One I experience, stands before us all with open arms. Encouraging us forward, smiling and exuding joy in our mere presence. Like a toddler attempting a first step, if we fall God picks us up, brushes off our knees, sheds a tear with us, wipes our eyes, and wraps Divine arms around us. If we are able to take those first toddler steps, God’s face lights up and divine arms of joy wrap around us. Whether we fall or toddle forward, the God I know, whispers in our ear, You are my Beloved.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39 NRSV (Read this passage in context.)