Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Toward A New Theology

"Toward A New Theology"
I have to write this post; I may not want to, in a certain way, but it must be done. I borrow my title from a series by my good friend and colleague, Timothy R. Butler. In any case, a brief explanation is in order. In recent weeks and months, I have become increasingly concerned about what I sense is a certain theological relativism inherent in Protestant Christianity. To state it cleverly, the great strength of Protestantism is generally a lack of hierarchical authority; its great weakness is a lack of hierarchical authority. As a result, members of different Protestant communions talk of a "unity" in "the essentials" which strikes one as vague at best, and presumptuous at worst. Commendably, however, these essentials deal quite directly with the person and work of Christ, best expressed in creedal form by the Apostles,' Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian, in no particular order of importance. (I have yet to find a non-Catholic, no matter how distrustful of church authority, who would contradict one of these, if they have a legitimate claim to be Christians. The fact that the texts are not known or accepted changes nothing.) [Editor's Note: I am aware that Protestants generally modify the Athanasian Creed to exclude the niceties of the virgin Mary. That debate will have to wait.] In any case, in accordance with 2 John 7-10, I would exclude from Christian fellowship anyone who denied Christ's full personhood and work, as articulated in the Scriptures, and, more specifically, in these creeds. The fact that I had to spell that all out just to cover the bases is the epitome of my frustration. Who decides what true Christianity is? Who is the final arbiter? It would appear that we each as individuals decide. Now, I know that there are many denominations of faithful Christians trying their level-best to follow Christ, each adding something interesting and often beneficial to that apparently hazy search for Christian truth. Indeed, I have felt true Christian fellowship at every place where I have camped. Still, is it unfair to lay the spiritual individualism and consumerism that we see all around us at the feet of Protestantism? The very idea of it, at least the attitudes which gave it rise? If my mother is correct, and Christianity is about activities and not beliefs, (at least not in the main) then Christianity is of no importance. I could have a kinship, a fellow-feeling, with any group of people based upon any criteria we determined to have in common. NO. Truth is real. Theology is important. Jesus would not leave us in such a state. I am not on a quest for perfect people, or a perfect fellowship, I just want Truth. Jesus tells us he himself is that truth (John 14:6).
As a result, I determine to make a thorough investigation of the claims of Roman Catholic Christianity. It has the strong claim of being the point of origin for all Christian claims. It remains the largest single denomination of Christians on the Earth. They alone, for these and other reasons, can make exclusive claims about being the one true Church without being summarily laughed off the stage. Those kinds of claims are at once off-putting and alluring. But nothing is decided. The burden is this: I must become convinced that to refrain from joining Rome would be a grave, intolerable sin. I can probably live the rest of my days in one of the other communions, in something of a malaise, were the results of my searching to lead me elsewhere.
Rome makes a strong prima facie case for itself in exactly the places of my curiosity and confusion, hence the particular focus on it.
Therefore, I describe myself as "hesitantly and provisionally Reformed" until the matter is settled. (I have learned all I really know about the gospel there, and I don't want to drop out of my seminary, which has that affiliation.) Keep me in your prayers.

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