Doing Theology the Other Way Around: Old First E-pistle 02.12.12.

Doing Theology the Other Way Around: Old First E-pistle 02.12.12.

Theology — what we believe about God — matters.

“God” from our relative human perspective is who or what we are willing to acknowledge as our ultimate reality. And that admission determines what we can see about our world, our neighbors and ourselves.

Theology, therefore, can be powerful… harmful… eye-opening… inarticulate… transformative… ineffectual… insightful… abusive… healing.

This has been a hard week for me in ministry: I’ve been reminded — in the painful terms of real people’s lives — how ‘bad theology’ can cause hurt, even cripple someone. I have also watched how ‘weak theology’ can fall short of lifting up or liberating people.

Humans — whether or not they are overtly religious — inevitably “worship” something or someone. The list of possibilities is long and mostly wrong-headed. Power. Possessions. Appearances. Sex. Drugs. Religion. Another person. Ourselves.

When skeptics ask me (often enough this happens, I guess, because I’m a pastor?), “why would an all-powerful God need to be worshiped?” I respond, “Because God knows the mess we make when we start worshiping anything less.” (Truth be told, we can — because we’re human?!?! — make a mess as well when we are worshiping God.)

Worship also matters because it’s “growing room” …space we give ourselves for role-playing or play-acting more mature alternatives to our current realities, sort of like kids dressing up to practice being grown-ups. If we keep at it — by grace, over time — we become more like whatever we worship.

I suspect that God is less worried about whether our theology is correct or “off-base.” But God must be concerned about what our theology makes of us. That’s another way of saying that Christian faith is finally never about who is right and wrong, but always about how much we love.

Does your understanding of God make you more present, appreciative, respecting, forgving or peace and justice-making? Or does it lead towards being righteous, judgmental, arrogant, even violent?

To that end, I want to propose trying theology from the bottom up (instead of the top down).

Humans have traditionally understood the things we know about God are unchangeable realities handed down to us from on high. Considering how faulty much of our knowledge and observations prove to be, I find that unwarranted confidence in our perceptive capabilities, especially considering the particularly unreliable epistemological field that theology is.

So instead of beginning with what we claim are the unquestionable ways we are sure about God, and then deducing a cosmology, anthropology and ethical system, why not go about theology from the other direction?

Formulate the ethical commitments we can build on. Rely on our experience, and best reasoning and deepest feelings and that sense within each of us about what is right. Trusting the Spirit is also in the mix, determine pragmatic behavioral standards. Then let them begin to inform our images of God…

For example, here’s two possible commitments:

1. All people deserve the means of life, respect, nurture, forgivenness and (figuratively and literally) room to live and grow. {This despite all the characteristics we humans, our societies, traditions and history have employed as excuses for discounting certain people, their lives and their needs!}

2. That all of creation is holy, sacred ground. While creation may yield much produce and support other life, it ought never be subjugated as a means to an end other than itself.

If those two commitments were all of our behavioral covenant, what picture of God, or Christ for that matter, would they begin to paint? …Once you cross out all the theology that countenances putting down other people because of their different faith (or lack of faith), their economic status, their race/ethnicity, their gender, their sexual identity, age or abiltiies, what’s left?

With this image of God in your heart and mind, try going back and re-reading the Bible. Reconsider the tradition. Any time you hear the message telling you that you can put down or pass over someone else, question your interpretation or the tradition’s transmission. You might just end up with a very different theology if you stay true to such a practice…

See you at church,


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