Grateful for Ingratitude

Holidays don’t usually hold much weight for me. My birthday? I often feel insecure about it. Christmas? I celebrate Jesus everyday. Valentine’s day? Gross. For one reason or another, none of the holidays ever grab me. Usually.

It’s now the weekend of Canadian thanksgiving and I’m left with some uncomfortable convictions. The past year has been difficult for me. I’ve been unemployed, confused, discouraged, lonely, and feeling rather useless. Meanwhile, various friends from my graduating class have had jobs, mentorships, apprenticeships, travels, relationships, weddings, and successful projects of various kinds.

At least, that’s the way I’ve been thinking of it. My apparent failure contrasted with theĀ  progress of my peers.

About a year ago, I decided to conduct a little thought experiment. The Dwarves in the Warhammer universe maintain a Book of Grudges, a record of all the offences committed against their race to be avenged. I was also thinking of the part of Esther where the sleepless king has the records of his reign read to him, and the passage in 1 Corinthians that says “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” and all these thoughts turned into the following.

book of gratitude

The Book of Gratitude – A record of the people in my life and the kindnesses they pay me, from favours to good conversations. And the occasional note of gratitude for health or something like that when I feel like it.

So after a year it should be about full right? I have filled… two pages. Two. There are about 25 entries. If in 365 days I can think of only 25 things to be thankful for, something has gone wrong. I am not in absolute control of my circumstances but I am in control of my attitudes and clearly I have dropped the ball.

A successful thought experiment! For the reason that it has exposed the destructive tendencies of my thinking. Gratitude can be difficult sometimes, but it may be in those times that gratitude becomes the most important. Even if you can only remember 25 things over the course of a year, that’s far better than being completely alone and hopeless.

And if gratitude is a skill then, like any skill, it must be cultivated through exercise and effort. Through strain. It’s easy to have a superficial gratitude when things are going your way. When things aren’t going your way, you find deeper and more important reasons to be thankful. For life, for relationships, etc. Then when fortune turns in your favour again, you won’t take life and relationships for granted.

Furthermore, we should never forget that the good things we enjoy from conversations to cars are all gifts from God and so long as we have him with us (we never don’t) we always have a reason to be grateful.

So this Thanksgiving weekend, I will remember to be grateful for friends, family, food, health, hope, heaven, and all the other things we are normally grateful for. But I’ll also be grateful for the lesson I take from my own ingratitude. I may not have traveled or gotten married this past year but I will be grateful for how this year has informed my character. By October 2018, I think the the Book of Gratitude will be full.

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Insecurity and Prejudice

I’ve struggled with low self-esteem for all my life. I’ve always second-guessed my abilities and and wrestled with self-deprecating thoughts.

At the same time I have been frequently accused of being proud, arrogant, bigoted, and all the rest. On a few occasions I’ve had people ask “You think you’re better than me?” Or some similarly phrased question. Being a rather shy and insecure person, nothing frustrates me more than when people flippantly assume I struggle with the opposite problem.

As I’ve put it to my friends, “I don’t think I’m better than anybody except those idiots who think that I think that I’m better than them.” The moment they accuse me of it, it immediately becomes true.

So I’ve become hostile towards accusations of arrogance or pretentiousness in any context. As towards artists, I love how I once heard someone put it: “Pretentious is a word that non-artists use to describe people who have done something with their lives.”

Transition: I had never read Pride and Prejudice. I tried to read it in my spare time during university. Of course, “Spare time during university.” Laughable, right? So that didn’t quite work out. I got part way through but had to stop. Fast forward to now and I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a community theatre production of a Pride and Prejudice stage adaptation. So I picked up the book again to do some digging, paying special attention to my character – Mr. Darcy.

As I read through the book, I began to find some uncanny similarities between Mr Darcy and myself. His reservation, his refusal to participate in social mores, his terse disposition but apparent ability to write very long letters, etc. I also began to realize that my behaviour towards the other characters onstage was not entirely dissimilar to my behaviour towards the other cast members off stage. Not that I’m rude towards them, just a bit distant since I have trouble approaching people.

And then it clicked. To the untrained eye, shyness and pride can appear similar. Add to that the fact that my interests tend to be academic or artistic interests, and my saying things like “Pretentious is a word non-artists use to describe people who have done something with their lives,” and I suddenly get how people might get confused as to where I’m coming from.

They’re still wrong! And I’m still frustrated! However, now seeing where they might be coming from, I can look for courteous ways of dealing with the accusations when they arise.

There’s a lesson for me here too. They’re guilty of not trying to figure out where I’m coming from but I’ve been a bit blind as well. I’m not going to change who I am to cater to people whose opinions don’t really matter, but I can at least learn how to best present myself when it does matter.

And really, a person who asks “You think you’re better than me” is probably dealing with some insecurity themselves and could use some patience and love.

The Irony of Failure

Throughout elementary school, high school, and university I never failed a single course. Realistically, most people cannot say this. Most current students would feel some irritation on hearing someone say they’ve never received an F and they should. Failure is a normal part of everyone’s life and we sense that something is somehow wrong if a person doesn’t ever fail.

As did I. As I grew into an awareness of myself, I realized that I had an unconfronted fear of failure. I would see the people around me who had experienced a failing grade and emerged from it alive – alive and with an experiential knowledge that failure is not the end. As crushing as failure may be when it happens, your life progresses and you begin to appreciate how little it effects you in time.

I sometimes hear the comparison made with Arborglyphs – patterns or symbols carved into the trunks of trees. The mark on the tree never disappears or diminishes but the tree keeps on growing and the relative size of the mark shrinks in comparison to the whole.

arborglyph

So it is with our failures. They aren’t ever fun and we may never look back on them and laugh, but when we survive the ordeal there is no longer a mystery as to what happens on the other side. The next time an ordeal comes, you know from experience that you’ll survive. You know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel even if you don’t yet see it.

I never had that experience. I’ve seen it in others, but I’ve never experienced it myself. Part of me used to wish that I could have that experience and in the past year of my life I’ve gotten my wish. Everything about my current life situation feels like failure (feelings of course being fickle and unreliable things, not always to be heeded).

So I’m in the proverbial tunnel. A little later than some of my peers. I’m not sure what choices I can or should make here apart from the obvious choices to keep moving forward and to keep trying. But I do know that once I emerge from this tunnel, the next one won’t be as terrifying.

And it is from here that I reflect on the great ironies of the Christian faith, including its most prominent symbol. The poetically inclined will appreciate that I move from talking about arborglyphs to another “tree”, the cross. An instrument of torture and death became the means by which God offered new life to humanity. And in our day to day lives, our own failures, when properly interpreted, can be proof of our own resilience.

And so I will recognize, in the middle of my personal discouragement and lack of direction, that even this period of my life may be a means of encouragement and insight. Failures are never fun but when we survive them they may becomes symbols and reminders of triumph.

Contributing the Insignificant

We often hear the same Bible stories time and time again, intellectually understanding what’s going on but not fully appreciating it until we live an analogous experience. I just had one such experience and I figured I would share it.

Finding employment and a sense of direction in life have been challenges since I graduated university a little over a year ago. This has left me humble in my best moments and furiously, jealously, bitterly insecure in my worst moments. While a lack of sense of accomplishment is predictably discouraging, a lack of income is unanticipatedly so. The thing that discourages me about not having money is not so much my lack of ability to spend on myself. It’s my lack of ability to use my wealth for others.

A month ago I visited my family and we went out to a restaurant. At one point I took out my wallet to see if I had anything to contribute but I was assured that anything I contributed would just have to be given back to me later since my parents are supporting me. Which was true, but a sucky thing to think about. So my monetary contribution was nil. Perhaps it could be said that I contributed to the conversation.

This evening I went to a service at a church and they took an offering. As they did, I suddenly recalled many different stories and conversations I had heard about stewardship – about people contributing out of meager means in faith that God would provide for them according to their needs in good time.

And I thought of the story in Mark 12 about the poor widow who could give only two copper coins to the temple. Jesus, as you recall, commends this. And so with this in mind, I reached into the pocket of my wallet where I keep loose coins (only ever spent on tea when catching up with friends) and I gave what I had – 25 cents.

Obviously I’m drawing a parallel between myself and the poor widow Jesus commended but I’m not writing this to brag. Quite the opposite. This was my discovery: I felt then, and I feel now, an immense sense of shame and embarrassment. People around me were putting in toonies and bills and I put in a quarter. That’s what I had to spare. I’ve grown familiar with not contributing, like in the restaurant. But there’s something about making a contribution but having it be the tiniest most insignificant little bit that’s somehow more embarrassing than not contributing at all.

And now I think about the poor widow and what it must have been like for her (who was in a much worse situation than I am) to have been in that crowd. To have shown up. In the world of performing arts, you take your bow no matter how many times you screwed up or how bad a job you did. You can just hide backstage and avoid getting booed, but you don’t. You show yourself, say “This is what I contributed,” and you risk people’s judgement.

And then that one lunatic in the audience starts clapping.

I always imagined the poor widow just walking up to the collection box, casually dropping in two coins, and walking away. Now I wonder – maybe not. Maybe it took her incredible courage to go up and do something that felt meaningless and insignificant. “The courage to do something that feels insignificant.” There’s an idea to chew on.

Incidentally, the morning sermon at a different church was about Matthew 20, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard that ends with how “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” It’s either a coincidence or God has been trying to tell me something today. I suppose the lesson for today is to do the insignificant. Have the courage to do the things that seem embarrassingly meaningless because in God’s eyes they aren’t meaningless at all.

“That which you do to the least of my people…” and all that.

A Quick Lesson in Evangelism

I had grown up learning the Bible from my parents, learning the Bible at summer camp, and learning the Bible from community youth leaders. I went a Christian university and minored in Theology and then spent uncountable hours listening to debates and lectures on Christian theology. I had all the apologetic arguments and refutations memorized and rehearsed. I was ready.

And then I found myself in a pub with a bunch of non-Christians and I tried to talk about my faith but I could barely stumble through a complete sentence.

In my defense it was late at night, I was tired, it was loud, and I was surrounded by strangers which activated my introversion. I’m not stupid and I’m not ashamed of the gospel (and I certainly wasn’t inebriated) but all my book-learning didn’t serve me anything when the time came to have a real world conversation about faith. All it took was a late hour and a noisy room to reduce the armchair theologian and trained orator to a stuttering mess.

Is book-learning useless? Absolutely not. Not only is it fun but being discerning and shrewd is personally very useful. It is also useful in service to others. The more you know, the more you’re capable of sharing. But just because you have something to share doesn’t mean you know how to share it.

I made friends with a Muslim for the first time over the summer and one of the things I’ve realized is that our conversations aren’t as simple as opening statements and rebuttals. We have to learn what the other person values, what vocabulary they use, what issues they prioritize, and what categories they use. We have to learn what questions to ask. I’ve come to think of it this way – each conversation, each relationship, is a new game with a new set of rules on a new playing field. You have to learn what rules that conversation is going to play by. Then real conversations can start happening.

Not only do you have to get to know the person, you have to learnĀ how to get to know them. And when you’re not playing the home field, the learning curve might be steeper.

There are layers and layers to your witness beyond familiarizing yourself with the facts and figures. The facts and figures are important, but they are also “hevel” in the words of Ecclesiastes. Wisdom is hevel. Book-learning is hevel. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant but it does mean that if you don’t know how to have a conversation in a pub, the book-learning will yield you nothing. If you do know how to have a conversation in a pub but don’t have the book learning, your witness may be limited in effect. You need both.

Guinness and Genesis. Hops and Gospel. Devout with Stout.

I will have other opportunities to witness to those individuals who I was in the bar with. But before I share my faith with them, God shared an important lesson with me. Having theology doesn’t automatically make you a good evangelist. You’re not a good evangelist without it but you might also need to be able to survive a pub.

Though I’m really more of a coffee shop kind of person.

Heroes

I had never been one to have heroes, or “idols/role models/etc.” My classmates in school would admire celebrities or athletes but I never really got that. I recognized good traits in the grownups around me and I would feel appreciation and respect but never anything like awe.

Such remained the case until last summer. I had just graduated university and I stumbled into the world of apologetics and I quickly discovered Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel

Nabeel’s powerful testimony was a bestseller and his personality and academic prowess strongly impressed upon me. I watched his debates and lectures, always admiring how he could be so firm and passionate in the truth and yet respectful and irenic at the same time (and the world of Christian apologetics can be rather deprived of irenic personalities.)

There’s a scene in The Hobbit where Balin, upon seeing the heroism of Thorin, says “There is one who I could follow. There is one I could call king.” My impression wasn’t quite that strong but I think I now know where Balin was coming from.

I felt rather insecure for a while. Perhaps I had put the man on a pedestal. Basically I felt as though I could never be content with myself until I had reached his level. There was a jealous corner of my heart that thought “I just have to be like him.” Specifically, just as smart as him.

Then, after only a few months of getting to know his work, he was diagnosed with advanced stage stomach cancer and given a grim prognosis. He vlogged his experience over the next year and his physical conditioned worsened. Then on the 16th of September 2017 (yesterday) he passed away. Obviously this is to be taken seriously and his and his family’s experience of all this is what matters most, but I hope the reader won’t mind if I share my own experience of this.

In a year, Nabeel went from being someone I new nothing about, to being the person I admired the most ever, to being dead. So what happens to a man of such reserved admiration as myself when his hero suffers like this?

In my case, he only admires him more but that admiration changes. The hevel (the word in Ecclesiastes that is translated ‘vanity’ or ‘meaninglessness’) of health and academic achievement blow away and we see what really matters – a soul that loves God. Doctorates are hard but loving God is accessible enough a concept, I think. We also see a spirit that hopes and trusts in the midst of suffering which is a far more important (and more practical) lesson than anything taught in the halls of academia.

I wonder how Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion, having seen the great man they had followed and in whom they’d hope die.

As for my own experience, I now get how how unabashed childlike admiration for a person can transform you. I was drawn to Nabeel for his knowledge of books and histories and theologies, but he taught me (and I hope all of us) a greater lesson. He showed us what it looks like to love and hope in Our Father.

As for my envy over academic accolades, I now feel that disquietness lifted. While his mind was impressive, it is for his heart that I will remember him as being great. Perhaps that is the more effective apologetic. As the church does, remembering great writings from her history such as the letters of Clement or the 95 Theses of Luther, I hope we also remember Nabeel’s Vlog 43, his last public words to the world, as a pattern of conduct for how we are to share our faith.

If you allow yourself to admire a person you might just get hurt. You might just agonize over their suffering. But the strength of God is made perfect in the weakness of man and I cannot at all reflect on the life of Nabeel Qureshi without seeing the love and the power of God behind it all. The Spirit of God has not left us. And He just as might shine through us as well.

Choose your heroes well. I know I did.

The Nashville Statement

My turn!

I haven’t been counting the days but it has been at least the better part of a week since the Nashville Statement emerged. Since then I have had time to think about both it and the common reactions to it. You will note that most if the internet jumped upon it right away. I find it rather discouraging to see that most people have gone with their gut on this one. When it comes to such sensitive subject matter, we ought to err on the side of patience.

Now that I have a more clear head on the issue, I figured this might be a good time to speak some sanity. Rather than write an essay with a thesis and a conclusion, I’ll just go issue by issue and offer some perspective.

1. Polarizing Issues. It is always a tragedy when issues like this devolve into factions. We tend to clump around certain ideological communities for security and avoid giving the other side a fair hearing. In the hands of a more prudent generation, The Nashville Statement could have been a centerpiece for constructive conversation. We have chosen to react in emotional group-think on both sides. I find this very discouraging.

2. Content vs Context. We live in a very charged milieu, on account of the above phenomenon and others. The climate of discussion is a mess. People on both sides feel threatened. We ought to consider this when weighing the value of these kinds of statements. One may, at the same time, univocally affirm the content of the statement, while asking such critical questions as “Who is the target audience?” “What can a statement of this nature accomplish in our time?” “Will this bring clarity and unity, or only further charge the milieu?” “If we accept this as theologically true, how then do we apply this to the public square?” This was not the time and manner to affirm these truths and important questions remain unanswered. We can treat the content and context with different criteria.

In the words of the prophet Amos, “The prudent will keep silent in these times, for the times are evil.” The prudent may be selective if not necessarily silent.

3. About “Unity.” A mantra of mine lately has been “United by what?” It is not enough to talk about “Unity” if we do not know what it is that unites us. The moment you articulate what that is, you will necessarily exclude people. The alternative is silence, which I would hardly call an expression of unity. Given the choice between nominal unity and open exploration of truth, I choose truth.

4. Some Invalid Objections.

“Poorly Named”

Mayor of Nash

I sympathize with the Mayor of Nashville wishing to clarify and defend her position on this issue, and to dissociate the Nashville Statement from the beliefs of the citizens of Nashville. That is her right. However, this does not mean the statement if poorly named. It is conventional to name statements after where there were ratified or delivered. I’m sure there were Arians in Nicaea. That’s not the point.

“Hateful / Fearful / Bigoted / etc.”

The statement speaks very courteously and addresses sexual sin even among heterosexuals. Furthermore, it affirms that we all have shared hope for forgiveness in Christ. However, we should acknowledge the sensitivity of the subject matter and aim to be as gentle as possible.

“It was written by white people.”

If this were a statement about race, this would be worth considering. As a statement on sexuality, this is entirely immaterial.

“People before Piety.”

Do not conform any longer to the ways of the world but be changed by the renewing of your mind. See to it that no one takes you captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human traditions and elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. People before Piety is a blatant rejection of the revealed will of God. However, we may still affirm the humanity of all people and treat them with dignity without celebrating their lifestyles.

“We don’t need statements / creeds.”

That statement is, in fact, a statement. Not as coherent a statement as others might be, but a statement nonetheless. Creeds are inevitable, so we should at least construct them thoughtfully. However, we should acknowledge that statements and creeds are not authoritative in and of themselves and that their truth is contingent on the accuracy with which the clarify the revealed will of God.

5. One Thoughtful Objection. There is a school of thought floating around the internet that children will be traumatized if they are taught that anything less than sexual purity renders them incapable of being loved, valuable, and images bearers. Of course, all human beings (including myself) will inevitably experience sexually impure thoughts, desires, or even actions. While I don’t believe this to be a fair reading of what the Nashville Statement says, it does seem fair to address the fact (and it is a fact) that all human beings will inevitably fall short of God’s will for their lives, including in their sexuality. We should be intentional in acknowledging this and in acknowledging that this does not separate us from the love of God. We trust in him for our deliverance, not in our own righteousness.

In conclusion, my concern is not so much for whether or not you agree with the statement as much as it is how we agree/disagree with the statement. If there is a unity to be found, it must begin with a fair and thoughtful hearing of the different sides, not an emotional and impulsive one. Most importantly, upon reading the Nashville Statement, we should have gone to prayer first before going to our social media feeds.

I fear that we live in a time where we don’t go to the Word of God and his revealed will to find the answers to the most sensitive issues of our time. We cling to our own personal visions of what we think the church should look like, conservative or liberal, and are quick to pigeon-hole those who disagree. The ultimate authority in the faith of Christ is neither the Nashville Statement nor the gay couple in your congregation – it is Christ and his teaching, sought prayerfully.

If we are to speak the truth in love, we need not just love but also truth. Neither can abrogate the other and neither can constrain the other. We will be able to share both these things in full cooperation with each other only if we understand “truth” and “love” not according to the changeable definitions of the world, but according to the words and works of the person of Christ.

“Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither. But as a soldier in the army of the Lord, I have blogged.”

Creatively Holding Your Breath

Some may be tired of the analogy by now but it still holds truth. Creativity is like breath. You go through cycles when you’re inhaling, taking in other peoples’ works and and not necessarily producing much yourself; and cycles when you’re exhaling, creating a lot of work and perhaps wishing you had more time to enjoy that of others.

This was my experience going into university. I wrote short stories that I would share with my friends and poems that I would share with lots of different people. I would also look at other people’s work, be they peers or professionals, and I found it inspiring.

Having been out of university for over a year now, I’ve found myself in a rather frustrating state. I find myself unable to produce. Or, more accurately, the inspiration and passion isn’t there as it was at the end of highschool. The conventional wisdom is that you don’t wait for inspiration or passion to come. You just sit down and write. But write what? “Anything.” So I sit and stare at the white screen trying to think of literally anything and nothing comes. I am unable to exhale.

On the other hand, I find it very easy to lose an hour of my day going over Greek conjugation tables, learning about theology, reading poetry, learning about music, learning about literature, learning this, learning that, learning everything. When I sit down and try to do something creative – nothing. So what’s going on? It’s like I’m creatively holding my breath but I have no control over it. What gives?

And then I realized something. I was in university for four years. For those four years, I was constantly asked to exhale even when I had nothing to exhale. My lungs were empty, but I still had to write an essay about this that and the other thing. My capacity to produce was always on the verge of tanking. Not to mention that as the years went on, more and more was asked of me.

So if I was constantly exhaling work for four years, maybe I don’t panic yet if it’s been one year and I haven’t completely caught my breath yet. Especially if I can tell that it’s slowly catching up again. When you’re underwater and you come out of the water, it takes a moment to regain your breath. That’s me right now.

The frustrating thing is that creativity is a big part of my identity. It’s who I am. I’m a poet. I have been nicknamed “Scribe.” I went to university to learn how to write. There’s a bit of an identity crisis wrapped up in all this but I am confident that whatever I’m going through will lead to valuable discoveries and expand my skills in the end.

And maybe it will be something interesting to write about.

God and the Search for Home

My love for things like choral music and liturgy have taken me away from Evangelical church circles for quite some time now. In highschool I attended a Pentecostal youth group which I absolutely loved. During the same time period, I worked at a summer camp that was rather contemporary in its style of worship.

Then I began attending a private Christian university which provided me with all the Christian community and scriptural focus I needed. After university I spent some time attending Reformed and Anglican services.

And then yesterday (which was Sunday, for future readers) I attended a local Meeting House. They sang the contemporary worship and conducted the service in the contemporary style. And as much as I love the form and the artistry of liturgy and choral music and hymns, I felt moved by something very familiar that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. These people were passionate.

Now, don’t understand me as saying mainline churches and liturgical congregations can’t be passionate (although there may be a curious trend.) The members of my university choir took their faith seriously and sang with conviction. An actor like myself knows well that the same script played over and over doesn’t have to become a meaningless and dispassionate repetition, but the personal passion and conviction of the Christian faith does seem to escape some older styles of churches.

And, of course, if you truly understand who Christ is and what he did, how can you not be passionate?

For as long as I was in the worship portion of the Meeting House service, I felt a sense of being at home that I hadn’t felt in a while. I remembered the feeling of my days in youth group and summer camp. And this is only one instance in a series of experiences in my current life that I could describe as a yearning for “home.” I have dreams about the summer camp and my home town. I have dreams about my experiences in university. And I ask myself “Why it is that God would lead me to this place in my life where I always feel disconnected from one thing or another?”

“Why am I in this time in my life where I either feel disconnected from the style of worship I love, or the passion and conviction of worship? Why have I not settled into a career? When will I get to own my own home? When will I get to start a family? What is God’s involvement in all this?”

I don’t have any definitive answers, but I do know one thing I can take away from this and that is a reminder that our home is not on this present earth but with God. Home is not a particular style of worship, a feeling of passion, a career, a building, or even any particular relationships – as vitally important as those may be. Home is wherever we are with our Creator who created forms of art, feelings, vocations, places, and people. It’s when we forget this that we become truly estranged, as momentarily at home as we may feel.

When we remember the times in the past that we felt at home, find pieces of that feeling along our path, and plan for our futures on this earth, we should remind ourselves that all good things come from God and that we will find everything we’re looking for when we’re with him.

Theology and the English Major

Philosophy courses were a mandatory part of my university liberal arts education. Despite being a double major in English and Theatre, I had to take several courses in various other fields of study and I am very grateful for this. It opened my eyes to a lot of different disciplines that are relevant to my majors to varying degrees.

Philosophy is, of course, very important to the English major. A grounding in philosophy makes it much easier to discern and engage the worldviews of the author and characters of a story. This obviously carries over to theatre, where understanding the worldview of the characters is paramount to portraying them on stage.

One of the things I remember being told in Philosophy 101 was this – “Theology is Philosophy applied to God.” We were told this in the context of why philosophy matters. Students of my private Christian university would certainly understand the importance of theology. If philosophy is the discipline undergirding theology then of course philosophy is important.

Having had four years to think about that claim, I think I’ve come to understand that it has some limits.

When I hear philosophical arguments for the existence of God, usually they begin with the nature of the physical universe or with our ability to reason and make moral judgements. Then they explore whether these givens suggest the existence of something divine and whether a divinity is consistent with these givens. A common criticism for philosophical arguments for God is that they don’t lead us to a belief in any one particular deity or groups of deities.

I do see a lot of very interesting and engaging philosophical discourse on the nature, implications, and consistency of the Christian Trinitarian God. Recently, I keep coming into the idea that the Trinity and its plurality of persons allows for God to be loving in eternity past; love requires a subject and an object so a monadic God could not be loving in his eternal nature. Complex and fascinating ideas, but you can only discuss them once you have a doctrine of the Trinity and we didn’t get that from the philosophical arguments. So where did we get it?

This is the limitation of thinking of theology as merely philosophy applied to God: it ignores one of the major fundamental believes shared by all the major Abraham faiths – revelation. We don’t just do guesswork to figure out what God may be like. He told us what he’s like. And while revelation may take different forms, one of the most important (if not the single most important) to the Christian faith is the Bible.

We have a book with recounts to us the words and actions of God and we can explore that narrative, in its varying contexts and genres, to learn about the worldview of its author and main character – hey, wait a minute! This sounds familiar!

Theology is not just philosophy applied to God. Christian theology must be the craft of the English major applied to the Bible. Anything less ignores what God has said about himself.

Any specialist in a field faces the temptation to view their own discipline with a sense of inflated self-importance and I am no exception. I often scowl in my heart at those who pick up the Bible with no experience in, or knowledge of, how to interpret the meaning of a narrative. Many different disciplines have to come together to make Chistian theology happen; if we didn’t have people working homeless shelters and soup kitchens we could understand all the mysteries of faith and never actually live them. I only wish to defend the importance of one more discipline.

And we all need to understand that the the discipline itself is not to be an object of worship but a tool we use to understand the one who is.