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Stick Figure Theology

First, a little caveat to say I like theology. Really I do.

No, really. I do.

It's just I believe we haven't been doing too good a job doing theology for awhile now. Like, say, the last two millennia.

I really don't intend this to be another typical rant against the practice of Christian theology, with stuff like "theology divides and Jesus unites." It does and He does, but that's not my point. I don't want to attack theology with simple and easy put-downs. We need theology. We need vigorous and life sustaining theology. Heresy, is real and especially dangerous when the Gospel of Christ and his kingdom is distorted. Theology, or the study of what we believe about God, is important.

We just haven't been doing a very good job I fear.

My basic complaint against the practice of theology has to do more with the practitioners, us, than with theology itself. We think we understand more than we do. It's a worldview thing. The underlying assumptions that affect all areas of human thought here at the end of the modern age have not been good for the pursuit of theological studies. Since the shift to a human-centered worldview, beginning in the 1400 and 1500's and culminating in the Age of Reason, we believe our human mind is sufficiently wise to discern truth from error just by using our own intellect. Reformed philosophers like Herman Dooyeweerd describe the modern age as a freedom/nature-based dualism, where the human intellect is free to set it's own course, act independently of any constraints, and determine by its own powers what to believe and what to reject. The human mind, therefore, will not submit to any authority but itself.

In other words, we think we are a heck of a lot smarter than we really are.

To help get this point across, I asked my 4-year-old granddaughter for some help. I asked her to draw a picture of her daddy, which she did, on his computer. It's a good likeness I think. Just like the picture, he has two eyes, a head of hair, a mouth, and some other stuff, ears, arms, and legs. He's taller than he is wide, unlike me, and he is happy, just like me. By looking at my precocious progeny's artistic effort, could you pick her daddy out of a police lineup? Nope.

Does that mean she failed? Not in her mind. When I ask her days later who is in the drawing, she knows it is her daddy. Should be obvious. Why do I even have to ask? "Duh, Poppi." (I'm Poppi)

To grown ups, however, the gap between her 4-year-old artistic abilities to represent her father and reality are obvious. It's not even surprising.

What is surprising is how we think our intellectual abilities to portray our heavenly Father in our theological expressions are perfectly accurate. We fight tooth and claw over words, thinking by them we can create a portrait of what God is like and be accurate 100 percent. Let me suggest, the gap between our three-and-a-half-pounds of brain and an infinite God is much, much larger than the gap between my granddaughter's artistry and her father's image. Am I too cruel to suggest our best theological efforts are at best a stick-figure drawing of God? Actually, they probably aren't even that good.

That is why I think it is important to remember what theology is. Most of the time we say theology is "the study of God," because that's what the words theos (God) and logos (word) mean. We can't, however, study God. Not with the scientific implications those words bring to mind. We can't put on our lab coat and slice God up to study under a microscope. Nope. We can't study God. We can know him, have a relationship with him, but we can't study him like a scientist trying to determine his genus and species. That put's us over God, judging him to see what He is like. That definition puts the human intellect over God.

Better is the idea that theology is the study of what I believe about God. That puts my beliefs on the table. It is not I who determine God's makeup, it is God who judges me and my heart attitudes. With humble heart and mind I bow before God and ask if my beliefs measure up to his divine Word.

When I write a theology, I am holding out my stick-figure drawing and asking God if He likes it. Hopefully he will put it on his refrigerator.