Mnday Morning, March 10, 2008
I got up before sunrise to breakfast with a bona fide, card carrying, published theologian. I needed some counsel. I was eager ask some key questions. I read some of his stuff. His blog site intrigued me. If it’s true that the way we think about God is the most important thing about us, then who better to talk to than a theologian?
He taught at the seminary I call my alma mater. Of course, he began his tenure there a few years after I graduated. My era is considered history now. Not quite ancient history, but history nonetheless. Some of my favorite professors from back then have since been labeled heretics by the new batch of “scholar/theologians.” It’s a new world.
The battle to be the Leading Evangelical Voice is as intense as it is diverse. Some of us have only one or maybe two favorites. We adopt their label proudly. We claim to have come to the conclusion that they are right based on our unbiased research. We’ve considered all the alternatives and in the tradition of Martin Luther (not King) we declare, “Here I stand!” Stay on your chosen track long enough, and you may not even be aware that there are others out there who are deeply convinced you’ve missed the mark – by a mile.
Most of us who have thought about it have some trouble with the label “Evangelical.” A long time ago, “Fundamentalist” was a badge of theological courage… until the Scopes Monkey Trial got the nation sneering in ridicule at Bible-believers. Evangelical was a step up over Fundamentalist on the scale of sophistication. And it remained in place for decades. But now with the media caricature of “Evangelical equals Religious Right,” many jettison the “E” word for something else. Some of the more recent tags, as I’ve encountered them, are “Reformed” (better neo-Reformed, or as some call them, neo-Fundamentalists), “Emergent,” “Postconservative,” and “Postmodern” to name a few.
If you are confused by now, don’t feel alone. Ever since there were twelve, we followers of Jesus have competed for the First Chair (like the First Violin in the Symphony Orchestra). Of course, we’re not the Conductor. But oh, that First Chair. Now there’s a role! You’ll find candidates from every grouping who figure that’s their place in the Kingdom. (I prefer the concert metaphor to “Top Gun,” or “Top Lieutenant” which evoke a militaristic view of the Kingdom. But either one works.)
We wonder at the end of time when the Great Orchestra gathers for the first celestial symphony whose hand Jesus will shake as he takes the baton for the music to begin. Who will be honored as the grand master theological virtuoso?
So it’s dangerous territory to be a Theologian. Tough enough to be a Pastor. I had breakfast with one (a theologian) who is tough minded but possesses a humble heart. He was delightful company for two hours that went by way too quickly.
It’s human nature to have heroes. The historic church called them Saints. Just to be sure, they developed an intricate process called “canonization.” We evangelicals take pride in knowing that we haven’t carved statues of ours and put their images in conspicuous places in the entrance hall. But when Paul warned the Corinthians about the tension between the followers of Paul and Peter and Apollos and Jesus, his message still applies.
Christian theologians must root their conclusions in biblical truth. The Bible trumps Systematics. When a doctrinal System defines the Scripture rather than the other way around, you’ve got yourself a theologian vying for that First Chair.
Maybe one of the first clues that he’s off track is when a theologian/pastor begins to call for the shunning of others who challenge the integrity of his System.
My friend the theologian, along with the pastor/theologian/author who introduced us, who was also there on that sunny morning in San Diego, helped me to understand these things.
And the journey continues.
Copyright 2008 Kenneth E Kemp