catholicity, Theology

>Walking the Tightrope: The Perils of Theological Study

While studying theology, I’ve noticed two distinct categories of attitudes towards theology. I thought I would run this by the community for critique:

1) Theological Apathy

The first attitude is one of theological apathy. This attitude is typified in a comment I have heard more than once: “I don’t see why I need to read all this junk, I just want to tell people about Jesus.” This attitude tends to occur during an experiential period where the student just “feels” they know what’s right and they do not need new vocabulary or other people’s thoughts to figure out what exactly they mean by the Christianese they speak. (“How’s your walk?” – “Um, nice, it’s temperate outside so it’s umm…pleasant.”)

2) The Theological Militancy

The second attitude is what I would like to call theological militancy. This attitude enjoys employing the “h-word” a lot. (heresy) This attitude is typified in the general denunciation of everyone else – the theologically apathetic certainly, but in particular those with a different theological militancy. If the other group is not pre-mill, pre-trib; well, the obviously don’t know Jesus. Or, if the other group does not baptize babies, or does baptize babies, they are not worthy of the term church. Or if they do not share our eschatological chart, or soteriological chart to the letter, then obviously they are heretics, not Bible-believers and not Christian.

Getting Along?

Now, I don’t just share these observed attitudes of what everybody else does, but what I frequently do depending on the moment. Usually when around the theologically militant, I become apathetic: “Am I pre-millenial? No, I’m pan-millenial, it will all pan out.” Then around the theologically apathetic I turn militant: “You just want to talk about Jesus? What do you mean by Jesus? He’s a man, huh, why should I listen to him? He’s God? How does that work? Wait, stop using theological talk…”

The problem is not new. In teaching a mid-week class with my friend Jay Bennett, he posited a model for religion that had on one end emotion and on the other intellectual orthodoxy.
Much of the history of the Church has been a swinging back and forth between those who see religion as an experiential reality, and those that see it as an affirmation of certain intellectual truths. Those on the emotional side err by sliding into emotionalism or enthusiasm and becoming feelings-oriented in the search for true religion. The other side errs in becoming a form of dead orthodoxy, an affirmation of certain truths without a sense of emotion or joy about it. True religion is both of the emotions, and of intellectual truths.
Yet, another factor comes into play. Both Dead Orthodoxy and Enthusiasm become Schismatic – The dead orthodox attack the enthusiasts and other dead orthodox that hold the wrong beliefs. The enthusiasts attack the cold doctrines of the other group or other enthusiasts who have the “wrong emotions” at the wrong times. What is missing is a sense of catholicity. What is missing is the knowledge that Christians must have an emotional reaction and certain doctrines they confess without anathematizing the other side as agents of Satan. This is especially true when we assume the role of the theologically militant. The theologically militant can have a lot of emotion with their doctrine, yet this is not displaying true religion as it is damaging when it is directed against fellow Christians that may truly just have a difference of opinion. True religion will be able to have a difference over non-essentials -still holding them with conviction- yet accepting the other person as a Christian and treating them with loving respect. Of course, that takes a lot of humilty – much more humilty than anyone can muster without help…


10 thoughts on “>Walking the Tightrope: The Perils of Theological Study

  1. >Interesting post!I wonder if there is a similar pendulum swing with regards to the various theological issues that have come up historically as well? I mean, I wonder with regards to the secondary, “non-cardinal” doctrines, if these schisms between extreme orthodoxy and emotionalism are simultaneous?Any thoughts?

    Posted by hylander | April 27, 2008, 7:44 pm
  2. >That’s right, man…demand your glory! 😉

    Posted by Jeff Wright | April 22, 2008, 11:41 pm
  3. >I love how he calls me “Jerod Nelson.” Oh that Micheal Paten, what a hoot! 🙂

    Posted by Jared Nelson | April 22, 2008, 11:14 pm
  4. >Thanks to Parchment and Pen for linking to this post here.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | April 22, 2008, 10:24 pm
  5. >I don’t have anything to add…but good post!

    Posted by J.Wizzle | April 22, 2008, 7:29 pm
  6. >Yes, I think anti-theology is itself a theological position.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | April 22, 2008, 3:48 pm
  7. >No need to include the post-moderns on the chart since I’m only including Christians. 🙂

    Posted by Jared Nelson | April 22, 2008, 3:23 pm
  8. >You might want to add a third category–the growing number of pretentious postmoderns who are anti-theology. 🙂

    Posted by Matt | April 22, 2008, 2:31 pm
  9. >To state the elements of the final graph positively, could we replace emotionalism with religious affections and intellectual orthodoxy with just orthodoxy or humble orthodoxy?Good stuff!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | April 22, 2008, 11:23 am
  10. >Jared,I like this a lot. This combines this combines the continuum of Unity & Purity (which we covered this Wednesday) with the continuum of Emotion & Doctrine. The triad is purity-fervency-unity. I like it!

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | April 22, 2008, 3:36 am

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