There is a war raging in the church right now between so-called “liberals” and so-called “conservatives.” I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately and I have come to a conclusion… We are not asking the right questions. Before we even get-to-know a person we want to give them a litmus test to find out their short-answers on faith and theology. We ask bad questions. We make terrible assumptions. We want to know “Are you a conservative,” “Do you believe homosexuals get into heaven,” “Do you believe in a literal heaven,” “Do you believe that Noah built an ark or that Adam and Eve ate the apple as a historical act?”
In the war between liberal and conservative we have people on both sides with “bad theology.” Bad theology is not about which theological position you take, but how you struggle with it. The right question we should be asking is whether Christians are being faithful by growing in faith and we grow in faith by struggling in our faith. That is good theology. Good theology is about questioning our own faith, reading scripture and trying to look for God in places we never have before.
Bad theology is taking a hard-and-fast ideological position and then sitting in our corner never allowing our faith to be challenged and never inspecting our faith from new angles. When we have a bad theology -an unquestioning theology, such inspection of faith can seem like an attack because we don’t have the language or the practice of struggling in our faith. But such an inspection of faith will actually help us grow in our faith, help us better understand other people’s faith, and give us the practice and language to go even deeper in our faith.
That practice will help us get to the right questions and that is Good Theology!
Title Photo: Worship while on mission in Montana. Photo by Scott Carnes, 2008
My wife, Carrie Carnes, left the following comment on this post on April 13, 2011 (before I moved the blog to blogger.com to be archived):
I believe that theological struggles and studies are a means of grace and therefore ought to reflect the life-giving, invitational and creative traits of God. Certainly, theological positions which are damaging to people’s lives need to be challenged and rejected; but perhaps, its not so much that we need to re-define “good and bad theology” and more that we need to reject these labels entirely. I have never experienced a situation in which telling someone one that they had “bad theology” was helpful. Certainly, there are theological positions which are damaging, outside of orthodox tradition(s) or illogical. Certainly, I value the sort theology that leads to deeper questions rather than quick answers as I believe that that struggle is a sign of faithfulness.
Having said all of that however; I think that it is only fair to acknowledge that we all or at least most of us (including you) hold specific positions which are so core to our understandings of God that we won’t really question or re-think them. For me, God’s identity as rooted in love: invitational, creative and relational love, would be be one such position. I suspect the same it true for you…that if a belief or position is not consistent with a loving God you most likely will reject it. For others that core concept might be the infinite power of God, or the infallibility of scripture. I think these are the discussions we need to have and never do because of the labels of “Good” and “Bad”, I think that it is only fair that we begin not by being open to just anything but by acknowledging which positions we will not compromise so that we can then have an authentic discussion.