theology is open-ended

Richard Wurmbrand once said something like, “Jesus is the truth. The Bible is the truth about the truth. Theology is the truth about the truth about the truth. The farther we go from the truth himself, Jesus, the farther removed we are from truth.” (That last sentence very much a paraphrase, but something of what Wurmbrand was getting at, I think.)

When I post here, or when I teach I want to do so making the points with truth that is clear enough to us. Truth on which we followers of Jesus can agree. Concerning the truth as it is in Jesus.

But there are matters that are open to dispute among us. Some of us hold to a Calvinist understanding, and others like myself do not. Some insist that a Christian can participate in “just war,” while others believe Christians should never kill under any circumstances. I give these examples not to debate them, but to show that there are significant disagreements among us Christians.

Theology is open-ended. I don’t trust any theological scheme that has everything nailed down. In which there is no sense of uncertainty. In which nothing is nebulous, but everything clear. Of course in America I would think such theology which is clear would win the day. We want answers and we’re pragmatists. But scripture is not meant to answer all our questions. And God has given us the truth as he has to make us keep searching, and working through it for our own time and culture.

That is why giving a tentative answer as opposed to one cut and dried and maybe even established may be better. We want to test all by scripture but that itself can be tricky. What is scripture doing, or what is happening in scripture is an important question. (See Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.)  And where does that leave us. Can we have a systematic theological book which pretty clearly gives us all we need to know. The answer to that in my view would be no.

That takes us back to square one. To Jesus himself, the truth. And then to scripture. And also to a sense or understanding given to us by the Spirit. And the us itself would refer to God’s people in Jesus, the church. This is a plural endeavor, not a bunch of individuals doing it ourselves, and consequently often going our separate ways.

This is why I believe the best theologies and theologians often don’t come from the most conservative of circles. In the conservative circles you have to hold to certain understandings. Some of those I think are non-negotiable, what we would term dogma, what every follower of Jesus must come to accept. But a large portion of our disagreements, while they may well indeed be important we could term doctrine, and not essential as to what we are united on through Jesus. (See Christian Smith on this distinction and much more in his book, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.)

And so I want to continue to major on what we can all agree on. Even if some of that is actually developing in our common understanding. While sometimes pushing the envelope to challenge myself and any reader to an understanding which actually may be more in keeping with the truth as God has revealed it. Or how God wants to lead us where we are now.

This requires humility and an ongoing dependence on God and interdependence on each other in Jesus, as we carry on as Jesus’ followers together for the world.