Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Allowing for Mystery in Theology

December 11th, 2012

I was recently struck by reading Isaiah 55:8-9 by how much of God we probably can’t comprehend.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We can’t measure the distance that is described in this metaphor.  Where is heaven?  How far is it from earth?  If we ever could measure the distance, could we ever comprehend the magnitude of the distance?  We can barely comprehend what 1 trillion dollars looks like.  Can we really comprehend the distance of light-years?  God’s ways are incomprehensibly higher than ours.  God thinks on a level so much higher than us that we are able to think.

The more this sinks in, the more it seems laughable to completely understand God, and instead a desire to revel in the mysteries and incomprehensibility of God.  Libertarianism is a political philosophy that thrives on logically explaining every seeming inconsistency.  Similarly many Christians try to explain away every issue.  But can we really logically explain everything about a God who thinks incomprehensibly higher than we do?  Are you willing to accept mystery in your theology, even more than that are you willing to accept that some of the things you believe may not be true?

Related Post: Is Your Theology Humble?

Is Being Right What is Most Important?

November 21st, 2012

A recent discussion online about evangelicalism made me think yet again on the question of whether there should be something more important for Christians than believing and doing the right things.  Ben Tribbett, one of the leading Democrat bloggers in the state, shared an interesting story.

Willie Deutsch, I’ll share with you a story that is non-political on why evangelicals have trouble reaching people. My mom is Jewish- my dad is southern baptist, and whenever I went to Roanoke as a kid I attended a southern baptist church with my grandmother. One summer when I was about 5 and visiting for a month and my parents were gone the youth minister came over to the farm. I went outside with him and he proceeded to tell me that my mother was going to hell, and he wanted to save me from doing so. He demonstrated this by setting up some sticks on the ground to represent heaven and hell and stomped on the “jewish” sticks. My grandmother was PISSED when she heard what happened- because even though she was a devout baptist, she didn’t like people speaking “ugly” about other religions or people. I was perfectly happy attending church with her until that happened and never liked it afterwords.

This story brought to mind I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the need for Christians to show love.  Here Paul rattles off a number of valuable actions.  Things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great wisdom, great faith, charity, even martyrdom.  All these are good.  But Paul declares that possessing them without love is worthless.

One of the qualities Paul mentions is understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge.”  Understanding right doctrine and right practice certainly fits within the description of “understanding all knowledge.”  Imagine someone who perfectly understands all theology, and how people should live.  Wouldn’t that be pretty impressive?  Paul says if the person doesn’t have love, he is nothing.  Paul believes that all of that knowledge doesn’t matter if the person does not possess love.

Think back to the story of the pastor I shared earlier.  One can argue with whether the pastor was “right” in what he said, but what is undeniable is that he was unloving.  This also answers the question of why love is most important.  What the pastor did turned Ben away from Christianity, and who can blame him for having that reaction?  If your presentation or discussion of truth is not couched in love, how can you expect the listener to be willing to listen?  (As an aside, humility when talking about truth is also a good thing.)  An unloving discussion of truth will burn the relational bridges necessary to be able to influence a person.  How can you expect someone to seriously consider an idea presented in an unloving way?  Even worse, what will they think of Christ, whom you claim to represent?

Before writing off what I am talking about, consider this: when you know someone thinks differently than you do, are you quicker to judge or to try to love and understand?  What about homosexuals?  Do we as Christians love them or judge them?  Abortion doctors?  Those who have had an affair?  Those who have committed other grievous sin?

Thinking closer to home… What about the Christians who don’t act exactly as we do? The church with a different style of worship?  Those who don’t have the same standards of modesty?  Someone who is an Arminian or a Calvinist or Premill or Postmill, or you name it?  Are you quick to judge and distance yourself, or do you love them as your brother or sister in Christ?

“But Willie,” you may say, “These things are important.”  I know they are, but to Paul believing the right thing is worthless if you have not love.

You may also say, “Willie, I’m just showing ‘tough love.'”  Really?  Does the way you are showing love line up with the way Paul describes love in the rest of I Corinthians 13?

Another issue is that of intentions.  You may feel love towards someone, and believe that your actions are motivated by love.  But are the actions themselves loving?  The description of love, describes actions.  It is great to have the best of intentions, but are the actions themselves loving?  Think back to the pastor.  He was probably very well intentioned in wanting Ben to come to salvation, avoid hell, etc…  The unloving way in which he displayed his presumably good intentions had the opposite affect.

Think about the “being right” v. “showing love” dichotomy another way.  It is the difference between being more concerned with what someone does than in developing a relationship or understanding why they do certain actions when responding to them.  When you are more concerned about outcomes than building a relationship, you lose the ability to influence.  When someone thinks you are more concerned with making sure you act or think the way you do, then you have lost the ability to reach them at all.  This is the dangers that Christians face when they value being right over showing love.

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For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.

Open-Handed Theology

October 29th, 2012

I’ve been attending Pillar Dumfries for quite a few months, and recently took their membership course.  While I have loved the sermons, I hadn’t read their statement of faith.  When the course began, I quickly turned to Section 2 (p.6 & 7) in the membership book, entitled doctrine, to read it and check if there were any points I disagreed with.  What I found brought me to tears.

– Two –
Doctrine

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”
– St. Augustine

In the church, unity is of great importance. Churches tend to make primary issues secondary ones, and make secondary issues primary. We feel like it is important to identify which issues are primary (closed handed) and which issues are secondary (open handed).

It is important to note that we are not claiming that “open handed” issues are not important issues. We are, however, claiming that they are not more important than the unity of our church. Some issues are that important; we call those “closed-handed” issues.

Here is a brief definition of how we will use each of the terms:

Closed-Handed Issues represent those issues that we ask every member to affirm and support in good-conscience. Major disagreement in one of these areas makes it difficult to carryout the gospel centered mission of the church. Note, we are not saying that every disagreement within this category separates a Christian from a non-Christian. For example, we have Presbyterian friends that take a different view of the ordinance of baptism, but believe the gospel and we would certainly not argue that they are not Christians because of this disagreement.

Open-Handed Issues represent those issues where disagreement should be discussed and debated but not at the expense of unity around the essential mission of the church.

This laid out an approach to doctrine that was both unexpected and beautiful.  Later the document lists God, The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, Scripture, Man, Salvation, The Great Commission, and Ordinances as closesd-handed issues.  It lists end time views, sovereignty vs. free will, education, giving, and Bible translations as examples of open-handed issues.

I grew up listening to people vigorously defend minor points of theology, and then wonder why the church wasn’t more united.  I’ve seen churches expend more resources and energy working to get their members and other churches to agree with them theologically than reaching the unconverted.  Pastor’s equated their preferred confession with the meaning of the word of God, and made understanding and agreeing with it a prerequisite to church membership.  In practice correctly understanding theology was more important than understanding how it should be lived out.

Being part of a church that truly values the unity of the body of Christ has been a wonderful oasis.  The pastors come from a theological perspective I appreciate, and have spent a lot of time studying theology, but their focus is outward as they focus on reaching the unchurched and stay humble.  Uniting around the heart of the gospel truly is unifying, and it has been wonderfully refreshing.  This beautiful surprising contrast in approaches forced me to fight back tears.  Sometimes crying is good, especially when you know you really are finding a home.

Is Your Theology Humble?

October 15th, 2012

In the quest to better understand theology, one ingredient is tragically often missing.  

Humility.  

Oftentimes, we become so convinced that a principle we have learned from scripture is right, that we respond with a “how dare you” reaction should someone question it.  We believe our “truth” is self-evident.  We want to understand God better, and in our godliness, we wish everyone else would understand God like we do.  

However, we need to be challenged on this perspective, and ask each other some hard questions. For example: does your study of God enable you to look down on other Christians who don’t believe the exact same things you do?  Before dismissing this question out of hand, ask yourself: “Is my church happy that it is better than all the other churches in my region?  Does my theology enable judgmentalism and/or partiality?  Is your church primarily concerned with making sure that its members properly understand this or that doctrine, or is its chief concern telling the gospel–that unites all of Christendom–to those who have never heard it?

Don’t get me wrong. Understanding theology is important, and investing time studying God’s Word is critical.  However, as we do this, we must realize that we cannot completely understand the mysteries of Scripture.  If we could fully understand God, He would not be God.  When we think that we can completely understand God, we will discover that we have made Him in our image, and have not known Him at all.  

We must study theology humbly.  We wrestle with a book we will never fully understand in this life, grappling with paradoxes that we must eventually trust by faith.  How is God three yet one?  How can God be fully God, yet fully man?  How can a good God allow suffering?  How can God be sovereign, yet man still have free will?  I don’t know the answer to these questions.  No one, no matter how much they have wrestled with them, can fully explain these paradoxes.  Yet these paradoxes are central to Christianity, and we accept them by faith.

I Corinthians 13 begins by teaching that something is much more important than having loads of knowledge, that love, in fact, is more important than proper theology.  Humility is crucial to love, and crucial to our pursuit of truth.  We must approach the study of the sovereign, eternal God with humility.  His ways are higher than ours, and there is great to joy to be found in reveling in the mystery of Christianity.  If we presume that every point of theology we believe is unquestionably correct, our arrogance will drive us into isolation.  

God is too big to be put into a box.  So, don’t expect to understand every aspect of Christianity.  Work to understand it better, but do so knowing that some of the things you believe are probably wrong, and don’t lose sight of the deep mysteries of Christianity.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia