Why study theology?

I get this question from time to time. You see, I’m a seminary student. And contrary to the opinion of the cable guy who couldn’t find our apartment when we moved here four years ago because he was looking for a “cemetary”, theology, or doctrine, is not a dead or irrelevant thing.

Its a thing of great relevance.

What makes me say this? 2 John 9

“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.

Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”

The author, John, is writing to a church that is entertaining (literally) the teachings and doctrines that were not based in the true person, work and teaching of Jesus. And this had significant consequences. Such that John can say that when you don’t abide (or remain) in the teaching of Christ, you don’t have God.

Jesus came to make the Father known, so denying one, you deny the other. But embracing the One, you get both. (John 17:6)

What were they getting on ahead about? Well, it could have been anything, really. Anything that subverts, or distorts, or diminishes who Jesus was, what He did, and what He continues to do for His people. Those are not just religious opinions; those are statements that bear weight on the world and on your life.

Now anyone can be a yahoo and go off the deep end in either direction. One can go so overboard with the “new”, chic, relevant, or trendy philosophy. But one can also go overboard with the anti-new, anti-chic, anti-relevant and anti-trendy (or to put it another way, the traditional) philosophy.

What we need is a healthy dose of humility to be able to see Jesus in our doctrine, and not just our ability to hold onto the tradition handed down to us, or our ability to let that go.

Knowing Jesus is something other than both. Its knowing a person, not a formulation; but its also knowing what is true and distinctive and timeless about that person, and not just a vague sense of “relationship” with Him that makes doctrine and theology irrelevant.

In fact, our theology might be the most relevant thing for us.

2 John 9 seems to indicate that at least.

The Flow of God’s Gifts

The following quote is great. I love Volf. His insights are penetrating and challenging. And a friend of mine, Jonathan McIntosh who is preaching on the topic of Consummation/Heaven this week made me think of this quote.

The flow of God’s gifts is not aimless spillage. It aims to create human givers and, after they have fallen into sin, to redeem them and finally, to glorify them in perfect communion with God and one another. The flow of gifts is God’s arms opened to the world, enabling us to partake of the gift exchange that makes up eternal divine life and supreme divine bliss. This is our best hope for the world to come: to “enjoy God” by receiving divine gifts and to enjoy one another in God in a perfect exchange of gifts with one another.” – Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving & Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

Of course some would object to Volf’s use of plural gifts instead of the singular gift, but that to me is splitting hairs. The gift God gives us in the Son effects multiple gifts to His people, some being reconciliation with God, reconciliation with one another, the ability to live new lives for His glory, etc.

Still, I leave this for you, the world to enjoy!

Can You Hear Jimi?

I hate myself.

Yeah, I said it.  I hate myself.

I came across this epiphany while sitting in my newfound favorite spot for self-loathing; Starbucks.  As I sit here, I witness business people collaborating on projects, soccer moms just coming back from their grueling morning walk, and dudes (young and old) that have better fashion sense and physical health then myself.

Me.  I look like I will be that guy who will be 50 years old trying to dress like he did in his late teens to early 20’s, without much sense or purpose.  No pressing, important or urgent activity, but to come to a coffee-shop and sip on his drink, because, well, I look like I did when I was irresponsible, haphazard and sloppy.

I hate myself because I can’t fit into the clothes I own, let alone the ones I would like to own.  I shop at Old Navy, occasionally the Gap.  These are the Banana Republic for “bigger” people.

The clothes make the man.  This is what Starbucks, indirectly, tells me.

I hate myself because I have let myself go too far down the road I’m on and I don’t know if I can make my way back to a healthy place.   I’ve always been on the heavier side.  In high school I weighed as much as a Freshman as I would later come to weigh in college – 190lbs.  In college this was healthy.  I was active, hitting the gym several times a week.  I also was on the Rowing team and on weekends would play flag football.  I could run 4-5 miles with no problem.

In high school I lost the weight by not eating for a summer.  Sure I worked out (a ton) and played basketball (religiously for hours a day, ever day, 7 days a week), but the real difference maker was refusing food.  The food I would eat was bad, not even healthy.  I subsisted on 1 meal a day for the better part of a summer.  After that, I would eat lunch and dinner, ocassionaly skipping one of those meals.

Now, I eat.

I eat alot.

I eat regular meals, and sometimes I squeeze in an extra snack or two.  Or three.  Call it stress, call it middle age, call it metabolic slow down.  I call it pathetic.  I don’t monitor what I eat, let alone how much.  And I know better!

Now, I weigh 252 lbs.  This is 20 lbs. less than what it was 2 months ago.

Progress, right?  So why do I still hate myself?

Because its not enough.  I want to weight a healthy weight.  I want to look attractive, especially to my wife.  Not only has she had to put with me (a feat in and of itself) but she’s had to put up with a fat me.  Not cool.

I want to buy clothes that fit, and are from Banana Republic, without having to go into emotional meltdown each time I try to put a shirt on and stuff down the feelings of insecurity that well up inside like a tsunami, with no forewarned reverberations from the earthquake that is getting dressed in the morning.

I want to like me.  Instead I hate the me that I have become.

And I have become what I have eaten.

In a backwards way, the old yarn about “You are what you eat” is actually a stones throw away from a theological truth – “you become what you worship.”  This is idolatry.  It wasn’t necessarily that it was wrong to fashion something out of wood, to have it in ones home or even to sell it to a neighbor.  What was wrong was that you looked to it to satisfy you.

When the bible talks in cryptic language about “hearing, but not understanding” or “seeing but not perceiving” (Luke 8:10; cf. Isaiah 6:9), it isn’t merely providing one of the better dialogues between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump. Its pointing to the ultimate and sad reality that, “What you revere you resemble, whether for your ruin or your restoration.” (G.K. Beale, You Become What You Worship).

“Oh I can hear Jimi, you say?”  No, you’re just listening.  You’re not hearing.

Self-fulfilment through personal effort is self-destruction.  This is the insatiable law of human life.  We all are seeking to carve out the life we think we want.  But in the end it turns around the carving knife we’re fashioning our idol out of   and chips away at us until there’s nothing left.

We are destroyed by the work of our own hands.

Why do I launch into a discussion on idolatry after having cathartically cleansed my consciousness of self-loathing thoughts of angst against myself and expressions of envy towards others?

Because if I’m not careful, I’ll just trade one idolatry of comfort, ease, emotional security and gluttony through food, for another one of status, discipline, arrogance and pride through “the culture of cool.”

This is how sin works.  It promises us something, and we work to fashion something in our life to provide meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment, and before we know it, we’re “seeing, but not perceiving”, “hearing but not understanding”, “eating, but not being satisfied.”  “Living life, but hating the life you’re living.”

What’s funny is this is how Paul the Apostle felt too.  In a weird way, he may have been able to write this little blog post (of course, he would have different details), but he said something very similar to my own opening line.

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:24-25)

That’s who!

The answer to the problem of my self-destructive behavior is not to jump out of  my Starbucks-pot of self-loathing only to land in the fire of the “culture of cool”.  The answer is found in someone who lived the life I should have lived (but didn’t) and who died the death I should have died (but won’t – now).

Can you hear Jimi now?  Or are you just listening?