Why I Study Theology – Redux

2019 Update…

I wrote this three years ago when I relaunched my website. As I reread it this past week, I found it to be a perfect starting point to talk about where I’ve been and where I’ve landed over these years. In particular, in light of my recent dabbling in “deconstructing” my faith, I felt this, along with a few updates, best represents where I’ve settled. I have come full circle, really, and ended up where I started in many ways, except that I now have a better grasp of the why behind the what. Anyway, here goes…

A question that is frequently asked of me when people find out I went to Trinity is, “Why did you go to seminary?” They are usually expecting a response that I have been called to this or that kind of ministry. And usually I simply say, “Because I wanted to study theology.”

I’m not trying to be coy in that response. That’s about as accurate a statement as I can give. I would not say that I am called to what would be termed “vocational ministry”; but I am called by a deep desire to know the Lord, understand the faith I proclaim, and then share that truth with others. (2019) – In recent years I have questioned whether I should be in vocational ministry. My final conclusion is no, I am called to be a light in my current vocation in the marketplace, using the skills and talents God has given me to serve others where I am. This is a high calling, as we are all part of the royal priesthood, and do not need ordination or a position on a church staff to do the work of the Kingdom. Our ministers are called to equip is to go out into the world and do the work of the ministry in our everyday lives. My ministry is the life I live in front of my friends and coworkers.

In reality, all of us on some level study theology. We are all armchair theologians. Everyone has their own idea about who God is, what He is like, etc. Even an atheist has a “theology” – they have determined there is no god. That is a theology – it is a conclusion about who God is (or in this case isn’t).

But this is not an apologetics site, so I will not be arguing for the existence of God, or the veracity of the Bible, etc. (2019) – Well…okay, maybe it is. Yes, I have links to resources and websites that have helped me to better understand my faith. But my task here is to help you do the same. There are excellent resources available from people much more capable than I that can wrestle with those questions, some of which I have links on this site.

I am a Christian, and therefore I come to my writing with a set of presuppositions that I have already worked out. Some of those presuppositions are that God exists; He has revealed Himself to us in His Word; and that His Word is true.

My desire in writing is to encourage believers to think about what we believe and why…and then to go beyond that to decide how this belief should impact our daily lives. It seems that thinking gets a bad rap these days, and yet our Lord tells us to love the Lord our God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength. In other words, with our entire being, and that includes our minds. We don’t check our minds at the door of the church. We cannot reduce the Christian life to merely an intellectual pursuit; but if we are going to look at our lives as believers holistically, we also cannot discard the life of the mind. It is a part of our being that is being changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit as we grow in the Lord.

We are called in many places in the New Testament to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10). How are our minds renewed? By the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. This sounds so mystical, but really it is not; supernatural, yes, for it cannot happen apart from the Spirit’s work. It is a reality, a gift we receive as children of God. The Holy Spirit enlightens the mind and the heart to receive the truth revealed in Scripture. (2019) – Of late, I have felt less than “spiritual” because my primary means of connection with God is through this intellectual pursuit. I am not a giant brain walking around; there is more to me than my mind. But the Lord has given me this mind and this passion and wants me to use it to glorify Him. To that end, my primary focus going forward will be capturing the wonder and awe of God through the study of Him, how He has revealed Himself, not how I wish Him to be. This will require I be courageous and go against the grain somewhat.

An important factor in any relationship is knowledge – we must know the person with which we are having the relationship. If I know nothing about you, how can I relate to you? This is no less true with the Lord. The study of theology is the pursuit of knowing God. Knowing His character, His ways, His purposes. It is important to note, however, the knowledge is not an end in itself. We should not pursue knowledge so that we can boast in how smart we are, for no matter how much we know about Him, we will never exhaust the depths and riches of who He is. Rather, we should seek to know God more so we can love Him more deeply.

(2019) – The bottom line is: God has provided revelation about Himself via His Word. We cannot know Him exhaustively; but He has given us enough to know Him salvifically. His revelation is not wrong simply because we don’t like what He has to say. While we can never remove our own lenses to see the world exactly as God sees it, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the community of faith, and with the help of 2,000 years of theological reflection, ascertain that which makes us wise unto salvation. I trust His Word. I believe His Word. I want to know His Word more deeply so I may know Him more deeply. Only then will I be able to engage the world and the issues that abound with clear eyes and a steady spirit.

That desire – loving God more deeply – is why I study theology.

I pray you would join me in that pursuit.

Grace and peace…

 

 

Deconstructing my deconstruction…

Can we talk? I need to vent for just a sec…

I have to be honest about this. I am tired of deconstructing everything. It is exhausting. It is exhausting to be constantly in flux. It is downright demoralizing to be enraged by every single thing that comes across my path. This is not about being close-minded, or unwillingly to think of things differently. I don’t particularly like the idea that a person is somehow morally or spiritually superior if he or she is in deconstruction mode. It seems that these days, if you have come to a place of resolve, it is implied that you are bigoted, close-minded, unloving, unable to think for yourself, etc. For all the lament in the progressive Christian (PC) world about the arrogance of conservative Christians (CCs), PCs have their own brand of arrogance. Some are proud of their uncertainty in a way that some CCs are proud of their certainty. They lord if over others and judge people based on how willing they are to question everything. I would argue that is not a biblical view – on either side – but rather a symptom of the spirit of the age.

I’m just mouthing off here, and generalizing to a certain degree. But firsthand experience of this very situation has me up in arms today.

This is my thought here – there is nothing wrong with doubts and questioning. I suppose because I was born with the natural inclination to be nosey, I have never shied away from asking questions. “Why?” is my personal favorite. I also have a (sometimes) annoying need to figure things out, to figure how things work. I am like a dog with a bone when something is confusing: I will not stop until I feel I’ve mastered it. I met my match when the Lord apprehended me – He is beyond knowing and He reminds of this daily. But I digress…

When I first went to college, my career objective was to be an investigative journalist. That questioning, inquisitive mind is just a part of who I am. And I take that into every area of my life. I thrive on learning and developing new skills and knowledge. It can get me into trouble for sure; I want to explore every new idea that I encounter. I want to dissect it and study it. I will analyze something to death and then resurrect it so I can analyze it more. Some people get caught up in fear of missing out; I get caught up in fear of not knowing all the things. Which isn’t exactly a “thing”, but it’s my “thing”, and it can make me crazy sometimes.

Although I did have a very distinct and emotional moment during what you could call my “conversion story”, I didn’t start there. I started where I start most adventures – researching and questioning. I grew up in church, but had essentially become an agnostic in college. A number of “coincidences” in my mid-20s led me back to a familiar place: church. So I started off by studying about the reliability and authority of the Bible. I researched how the Bible is translated, how textual criticism is used in the process, and how we got the manuscripts used in translation. I learned about translation philosophies, read treatises about the value of word-for-word versus thought-for-thought translation, and the role of interpretation in the translation process. The evidence I found gave me confidence that the Bible I held in my hand was reliable in what it said. Were all my questions answered? No. But that journey formed the basis for my eventual surrender to the truth of the Gospel.

I don’t say all of this to brag, but to point out something that many of the deconstructionists – myself included – out there seem to forget: Not everyone who believes in all these things we are busy deconstructing do so blindly or thoughtlessly. Faith has its reasons. It is reasonable to believe in Christ. But because our reason has limits, faith is required to accept the evidence presented. There are thoughtless believers who just want someone to tell them what to believe so they won’t have to work hard figuring it out. But there are also thoughtless doubters, who are seeking something to believe that is easier to stomach, or feels less constricting. I don’t want to be either. And we should not be so quick to assume that the only expression of authentic faith is one that glories in our doubting. Faith brings assurance, even when doubt exists.

I have begun reading a book called Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty by Lesslie Newbigin. This particular quote is fantastic:

One does not learn anything except by believing something, and — conversely — if one doubts everything one learns nothing. On the other hand, believing everything uncritically is the road to disaster. The faculty of doubt is essential. But as I have argued, rational doubt always rests on faith and not vice versa. The relationship between the two cannot be reversed.

I love that. “If one doubts everything, one learns nothing”, but you can’t believe everything, so “the faculty of doubt is essential”. For doubt to have any meaningful end, it must rest on faith. Otherwise you live in a swirl of doubt with no hope to be found. In my view the question lies in what builds that foundation of faith upon which doubts can be constructively worked through. If everything is up for grabs, what is the centering point? What is the True North?

In this journey, I have left behind many things I have believed to be true that really are not. I have laid down certain convictions and sworn them off forever, only to pick them back up again after deeper study and reflection. I have been challenged by folks who believe differently from me to see things from a different angle, to consider another path. But if I had no True North, I would have no way to navigate those different ideas without losing my faith altogether. There is a sense in which I do not have a say on what “True North” is – the Christian faith is not simply a set of propositional truths, but there are certain truths I must affirm to rightly call myself a Christian.

There must be a rock upon which I stand, so that when waves of doubt and downright unbelief come crashing in, I will not be completely lost. So I must take a step back here and deconstruct my deconstruction. What exactly am I trying to prove? Is it healthy or necessary for me go through this practice, or am I doing it merely to prove how authentic I am (i.e., for self-centered motives that have nothing to do with truth-seeking)? Who exactly am I trying to impress and why?

Thank you for indulging me. Back to regularly scheduled programming soon…

Grace and peace…
m.

A solid place to stand…

More random ramblings about men and women and church and all that stuff…

One: My greatest frustration with this whole Complementarian discussion is that the vast majority of what I read is focused on telling women what to do and what we can’t do. Precious little of what I have observed takes time to exhort men to be men worthy to lead.

Two: The major freak-outs that happen (especially on Twitter) are focused in on a woman stepping out of her prescribed lane and doing something the Comp crowd has forbidden. But there is no equal freak-out when men are found to be less than worthy to lead, or have blatantly abused their position of authority and harmed women. Why is that so?

Three: I am still on the fence and have so many questions. I have, however, come to an important conclusion that I personally am not “called” to be ordained, or lead in a church setting. But what about women who do have that calling, and are clearly gifted to do so?

My quest has led me to revisit the first three chapters of the Bible. This is what I have observed so far:

  • I can’t help but notice that the man was called upon to answer for their misdeeds, even though it was the woman who was deceived.
  • It’s also noteworthy that in the first chapter of Genesis, God commands both the male and the female to be fruitful, multiple, “have dominion” over creation and subdue it. He said this to them not to him. Later in Genesis 2, where a more detailed account of the creation of humanity is given, the command given to the man only has to do with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The command to “have dominion” is not discussed in that context. That’s interesting to me, although I have yet to really dig into what that might mean. But it’s worth noting.
  • It is also notable to me that the man was there as his bride was being led astray and did nothing to intervene; and that he did not take ownership of that when he was called to account. At that point, it was the woman *God* gave him that was to blame for all his troubles. Sound familiar? Ultimately, the consequences for disobedience fell upon both. It’s interesting to me that God called out to the man to answer first, perhaps because He was given the command about the tree in the first place.
  • The man “ruling” over the woman was a consequence of the Fall, not a result of creation. Even if man is called to a “role” of leadership, “ruling over women” is not what it should look like (see Eph. 5:22-30). Note also that this is spoken of in the context of a marital relationship. Woman’s desire shall be for her husband; man’s desire will be to rule over his wife. Read in context, that cannot possibly be seen as a positive outcome for either the man or the woman.

My next task will be to take a look at how New Testament authors spoke about men and women, and how they interpreted Genesis 1-3 in their treatment of the subject. But that is for a later day.

All of this leads to a whole host of secondary questions. For one, how does this translate to men and women who are not in a marital context? I’ll use myself as an example. I am single. I have no husband to “submit” to. So what does this look like for me? Am I to submit to any man? Even Paul doesn’t say that – he calls upon women to submit to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22). So how am I to understand that command as a single woman?

And that’s just one set of questions! Here’s another thought: If it is true that the Holy Spirit gives His gifts as He wills, and a woman is clearly given gifts of leadership, teaching or shepherding, did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? How is that woman to exercise those gifts? One could argue that is her function with her children – but what if she has no children? Or, as is my case, cannot have children? Even if we grant that men are called to be the pastors and elders in the local church context, how is a woman so gifted to use those gifts? And are the elders really doing something wrong if they call upon that woman to share her gifts with the local body?

A final observation: All of this looks and feels so much like our current political climate in the US. There is no such thing as middle ground or compromise anymore. Neither side is willing to give an inch, or concede anything. If you walk into the fray from the right and even suggest someone on the left has a valid point, you are branded a traitor and banished. The left has a similar sifting system. No room for nuance, for possible correction, for learning anything from folks to the right. This is, admittedly a generalization, but one that I think holds true in so many situations.

This is hard for me. Most days I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. I see the black and white issue – but I also see the many shades of grey in between. Sometimes a lot of truth lives in that grey. But when ideological purity is the promised land you’re seeking, the grey is your enemy. I’ve witnessed this same phenomena in theological debates. This makes finding a solid place to stand on this subject all the more difficult.

That’s all I have for now…thankfully. And of course, I have more questions than answers, as per usual. More to come…

Grace and peace…

m.

Reading (the Bible) is fundamental…

Over the years I have been a voracious Bible study student. I used to love to pour over a study guide; I suppose my Type-A love for filling in blanks had something to do with it. This has been the case since first becoming a Christian, when I would swing by the Family Christian Bookstore, buy a few study guides, go home and spend the evening looking up Scriptures, filling in all those wonderful blank spaces and praying. My hunger for the Bible was fierce; and although it has ebbed and flowed through the years since I was a baby believer, my love for God’s Word still burns in my soul.

Lately I have been less inclined to study the Bible, at least as I had traditionally done. I am not so enamored with study guides and video teachings. I am more enamored with just an open Bible, a journal, and Jesus. I’m not trying sound super spiritual or anything; but sometimes I wonder if the mediating presence of the Bible study author or the video teacher keeps us from fully engaging with the text. At least in my case, there have been times when I let the teacher do the thinking for me, versus engaging my mind as I interact with Scripture.

Right now, I am trying to make heads or tails of what I believe about women in ministry. I’ve started this adventure by delving into the nature of Scripture. I know – strange place to start, right? But I have this suspicion that a lot of the differences in interpretation have a lot to do with how one views Scripture. There are technical terms like inerrancy and inspiration, perspicuity and infallibility.  I might consider defining those words at some point; but what I’ve really wanted to do is just read. Soak in the Word and let it soak into me. I cannot tell you how nourishing this has been to my soul.

As much as I want to dig into the theology of the different views of women in ministry, this slow soak in the pages of Scripture is exactly where I need to be right now. To be perfectly honest, I’d like to just forget the entire enterprise altogether. To give up on the idea of thinking deeply of theological ideas and concepts. Perhaps the reason this is so hard is because I’m trying to fit my hopes, my wants, my desires into a space to which God has said no.

This is why reading the Bible is my fundamental need right now. I need to be grounded in His Word, and shaped and reshaped by it. Then I can go about the task of figuring out the rest with my feet planted firmly in soil of His Truth. We may not be able to know truth exhaustively, but I want to know as far as I am able. That is my life pursuit.

All of this started for me back in 2003 when I began co-leading a Singles Sunday School class at my church. I wanted to teach the Bible well. I recognized the significance of the task. I wasn’t teaching English grammar – I was teaching the Word of God! Even as a layperson, it was important to me to do it right. My love for the Scripture compelled me to go to seminary. And that’s when it all went sideways for me. How it all became so complicated and confusing is beyond me. I wish I didn’t know the “backstory” of most things that happen in the church. At times blissful ignorance sounds so appealing. But I’m too nosey for that sort of bliss…bless my heart…

So, as think about the myriad theological questions that I would want to explore, not the least of which is this issue of women in the church, I feel a tinge of nostalgia for those “innocent” years when it was all new and exciting to me. When my hunger for God’s Word was insatiable, and I let nothing get in the way of pursuing understanding and communion with God. When the light from the flame in my soul blinded me to any lesser pursuit than fellowship with Him.

I can’t reclaim that innocence of those early years of faith. But I do want to reclaim a simple love for Jesus and for the Word that points me to Him and that single-minded pursuit of understanding and fellowship with my heavenly Father.

More later…until then, grace and peace…

m.

 

Praying for our leaders…

I will make this brief.

Franklin Graham has issued a call for all Christians to pray for our president because of the so-called unprecedented attack he is under. There is much that could be said about that reasoning; I will only say this:

The leaders Paul admonished Christians to pray for were dictators. There was no democratic government in that time. Christians were being persecuted and killed because they refused to worship the emperor. And yet Paul called on them to pray for all – all – who were leaders.

ALL.

I believe in praying for our leaders because it’s, well, biblical. But there are no qualifiers in the biblical calls to pray for people in positions of power. We are not called to pray for just the leaders in our preferred party, or with whom we agree on most issues. We are not called to ignore or actively pray against leaders whose political positions do not match our own. We are called to pray for our leaders. Period.

I continually pray for the president, but not for the reasons Mr. Graham has outlined. I will continue to pray for him because that is what I am called to do by Holy Scripture. I have prayed for every president since becoming a Christian, regardless of their politics, and will continue to do so. Because it is…well…biblical.

I also have to say this: Major Evangelical leaders have sold their birthright for a bowl of soup and a few federal judges. They seem to willfully overlook inappropriate conduct in this particular president that would have driven previous presidents out of office. The lack of consistency or integrity that I have witnessed causes me to look upon this appeal with cynical skepticism. I tire of partisan politics infiltrating and overtaking our Christian witness.

To that end, I pray all the more for the Church. I pray that we will become more devoted to Christ than we are to our political preferences, and trust in His power to accomplish His purposes without our having to resort to actions that do not represent the faith we profess.

More later…until then, grace and peace…

m.

The end goal…

I am going through a bit of theological transition right now. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. It has been difficult to put it all into words, but this is my attempt to do so. I’m speaking from the heart here, so don’t take any of this as final, completely formed thoughts. This is only the beginning.

It started for me the weekend of Mother’s Day. I drifted back onto Twitter a few days before that, and found it in freak-out mode over some SBC churches allowing women to speak from the pulpit for the occasion. Beth Moore was the subject of particularly hostile rhetoric, and the ensuing conversation roiled me. In addition to that, much Twitter “ink” was being spilled over matters of social justice, critical theory, and progressive Christianity. On still a third front, the responses of some to the shocking death of Rachel Held Evans were appalling. Instead of mourning the loss of a fellow Christian, so young, with family and two littles and a sea of friends left behind, certain groups took the opportunity to politicize the loss and trash her life’s work. Classy.

All this drama left me rattled, and seemed to accelerate what was already becoming a major thought path for me. Where do I land on matters of social justice and the church? Or women and the church? Since I am a Black woman, these two subjects are deeply personal to me. I am not a spectator in this debate.

I’ll start with the question of women in ministry, as this seems to be the most pressing issue for me right now.

I love the Word and love to share it with others. That is the passion of my heart. Where did this passion originate? I have no interest in usurping anyone’s “authority”; I don’t care about titles or platforms. I just want to preach Christ and Him crucified. For those of us who don’t know what to think or believe about women in leadership or teaching roles in the church, this most recent (and ongoing) Twitter spat has been disorienting and demoralizing. Everyone says theirs is the *right* biblical view – who do I believe? What do I believe? It is frustrating and wearying. This is not theory for me. This is life, this is my love for Jesus. This is real and tangible.

Thirteen years ago I walked away from seminary jaded and disillusioned because I didn’t see the point of having the degree. I’m a woman after all – and the seminary I attended didn’t encourage me to explore what this passion for ministry meant, unless it was restricted to women or children. I still wonder, I still question, and still feel the confusion and frustration of this conversation. This is a soul ache, not an academic exercise. I want to be faithful to the Lord. I am less confident of my ability to do so now more than ever.

The Bible is life to me, my spiritual food. I love thinking about it, talking about it, meditating on it – and teaching it. I love theology. I love the pursuit, the acquisition – and yes, the teaching of it. I love to teach. I love to declare truth. I’m passionate about it. Where did that passion come from if not from the Lord?

This is the challenge: I have been for the most part fairly conservative in my theological leanings. At one point I strongly held a Calvinistic view of soteriology. Reformed Theology (RT) in general is fascinating and deeply satisfying to me on a certain level because it is so systematic and tidy. I like all the blanks filled and the PowerPoint presentation with multilayered bullet points to define and refine every detail. My brain is wired to analyze the life out of darn near anything – and then analyze my analysis. I think it’s a sickness…

But for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, the fascination with RT has led to dismay on many fronts. I am especially dismayed by the marriage of Reformed Theology with Complementarianism, and the implication that Complementarianism is integral to an orthodox belief of the Gospel message. The favored translation of Complementarians (the ESV), is “unapologetically Complementarian“, and their changes to passages like Genesis 3:16 in their 2016 revision proves the point. The implication is that you can only be “biblical” if you believe Complementarianism is true. If not, well…

This is essentially what was taking place in the Twitter freak-out over women preaching on Mother’s Day. The question that rang louder and louder in my ear was, “But is that true”?

Let me be clear: I do not doubt the Gospel, the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, or any of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (read my most recent post). What I am arguing here is that Complementarianism is not one of those foundational doctrines. It should not be used as a measuring rod for biblical faithfulness, orthodoxy, or saving faith (especially saving faith) – and the insistence that it must makes me queasy. At bottom, I am questioning the notion that is the only “biblical’ way, or the best way.

I’ve started on this journey before and stopped and turned around because it was too uncomfortable. I’m sure if I look in my archives, I will find a similar post with similar laments and frustrations. I have been avoiding this path. I don’t want to take this journey. But it keeps coming back. The “certainty” I once had about complementarian views of biblical manhood and womanhood no longer hold as much weight. The cognitive dissonance is becoming too much to bear. I can no longer avoid this question. I must take a deep breath and dive in.

The end goal is drawing deeply for the well of God’s Word, drawing closer to Him, and growing in my understanding of who He is and who I am in light of that.

Comments about the Gospel and justice will have to come in a later post. Right now all my emotional and mental energy is focused in on this question of women in ministry.

I don’t know where I will land. I just know I want to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

More later…grace and peace…

Full stop…

I am a Christ follower – I believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in the virgin birth, the sinless perfection of Jesus Christ, the God-man, and His sacrifice for our sins. I believe in His bodily resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high; and the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son and indwells me and enables me to see Truth in the Word, both written and incarnate. I believe in Word of God, that is the measure for life and faith. I do not worship the Bible; I worship the God to Whom it points. I believe Jesus is coming again to consummate His kingdom, and make all things new. In Him are truth, righteousness, and justice, and He will establish these at His return. I, along with all my brothers and sisters who have called on the name of the Lord, will reign with Him forever. Amen.

My life’s mission is to love Jesus and love people. To help people draw closer to Him. To magnify His name as I seek to follow after Him. To share the good news of the Gospel to those who do not know, and trust in God to do the work in their hearts that bring them to repentance and faith. I am to bear witness –  that is all I can do – to the wondrous works of our Lord. I am called to share His truth to all who will hear, and pray that all would come to know Him. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

It does not say all who call on His name – and believe in Complementarianism/Egalitarianism, and cessationism/continuationism, and Calvinism/Arminianism, and…fill in the blank. It says ALL who call the name of the Lord will be saved. Full stop. It is okay to have convictions on these finer theological points, and to decide which make better biblical sense. But don’t hang my orthodoxy and ESPECIALLY my salvation on pet theological positions on secondary or tertiary doctrines. I am willing to be taught; but I am unwilling to be manipulated.

I am not a Calvin follower. Or Arminius follower. Or MacArthur follower. Or TGC follower. Or Strachen follower. Or Moore follower.

I am a CHRIST follower.

Full. Stop.