Sunday, February 15, 2015

"There have been millions of 'simple' Christians throughout the centuries.  I do not mean 'simple-minded' in a pejorative sense; I mean the people for whom the life of the mind was not central to their Christian lives.  They were neither preoccupied with correct beliefs nor bothered by intellectual issues.  Instead, Christianity was about loving God and Jesus and seeking to love one another.  Many of the saints were 'simple' Christians in this sense.

Thus Christianity is not about getting our theology right.  Theology is the intellectual stream of Christianity.  In its narrow sense, it refers to an intellectual discipline that has been practiced by theologians from the earliest centuries of Christianity: the thoughtful articulation of what it means to be Christian.

Theological controversies over the centuries have sometimes been treated as if they were really important even though they were also often arcane.  For instance, a Trinitarian conflict split the Western and Eastern churches in 1054: Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or from the Father only?  In the 1600s, 'supralapsarianism' versus 'infralapsarianism' almost divided the Reformed tradition.  At issue was whether God decided to send a messiah (Jesus) before the first sin (because God knew it would happen) or only after it had happened (because only then was it necessary).  More familiarly: infant baptism or adult baptism?  Christians have often thought it is important to believe the right things.

In a broader sense, theology refers to 'what Christians think.'  In this sense, all Christians have a theology--a basic, even if often simple, understanding--whether they are aware of it or not.  In this broader sense, theology does matter.  There is 'bad' theology, by which I mean an understanding of Christianity that is seriously misleading, with unfortunate and sometimes cruel consequences.  But the task of theology is not primarily to construct an intellectuallly satisfying set of correct beliefs.  Its task is more modest.  Part of its purpose is negative: to undermine beliefs that get in the way of taking Christianity seriously.  Part is its purpose is positive: to construct a persuasive and compelling vision of the Christian life.  But being Christian isn't primarily about having a correct thoelogy by getting our beliefs right.  It is about a deepening relationship with God as known especially in Jesus."

-- Marcus Borg, Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most


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