Saturday, May 22, 2010

Donald Miller on Theology

I have only read one of his books, Blue Like Jazz, but Donald Miller is someone whose perspective I respect. I have heard Miller speak in person and am a regular reader of his blog and I think his voice is one that has the power to resonant with a younger generation that is disillusioned with traditional forms of church and Christianity.

I especially appreciate Miller's emphasis on story and relationships in that we are all part of God's bigger story and that life is really about relationships. In his book, Searching For God Knows What, Miller takes on a false idol that is possessed by many unsuspecting Christians -- theology. As Christians committed to having a sound belief system, we can take offense to someone suggesting that our study of God could be an idol. But, in many ways, I agree with Miller. Look at what he has to say:
"You might think I am saying truth should be thrown out, that theology doesn’t matter. But this is not what I’m saying at all. What I’m intending to illustrate is our drive to define God with a mathematical theology has become a false God rather than an arrow that points to the real God. Theology can become an idol, but it is more useful as guardrails on a road to the true God. Theology is very important, but it is not God, and knowing facts about God is not the same as knowing God. Let me give you an extreme example of how very bad we have gotten about this in the west.

About the time (and I share this in the book, so forgive the repetition) I was thinking through these things, I was teaching a class in Canada, and my students were freshman college students, all of whom had grown up in the church. The class was called “The Gospel and Culture.” I started the class with an experiment, I told the class I was going to share the gospel of Jesus, but I was going to leave something out. I wanted them to figure out what I’d left out. I talked first about sin, about how we are fallen creatures. I told some stories and used some illustrations. I talked about repentance, and again told some stories, then I talked about God’s forgiveness, and I talked about heaven. I went on for some time. And when I finally stopped and asked the class to tell me what I’d left out, after twenty or more minutes of discussion, not one student realized I’d left out Jesus. Not one. And I believe I could repeat that same experiment in Christian classrooms across North America.

What I came to understand, then, is Christian conversion is relational. It is not theological or intellectual any more than marriage is theological or intellectual. In other words, a child could become a Christian if they had a mysterious encounter with Jesus, and a simple thinker could become a Christian if they had a mysterious encounter with Christ, and even a person who was a Muslim or a Buddhist could become a Christian if they had a mysterious relational encounter with Christ. This is the only answer at which I could arrive that matched the reality in which we live, the complexity of scripture, and the mysterious invitation offered to us by Jesus."
Miller is not saying that theology doesn't matter. In fact, it matters greatly. But having correct beliefs about God doesn't mean that we know God. We can all probably point to people we know that are seminary trained...and total jerks. It is part of human nature to take pride in what we know and this plays out all too frequently when it comes to religion. Jesus himself said to the religious leaders of his time,
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (NIV, John 5:39,40)
Knowing theology does nothing for us if it doesn't draw us closer to God and affect our lives in a positive way. Just like the Pharisees of old, we can fall into the trap of thinking that reading tomes of books about God automatically leads us into a deeper relationship with Him. It doesn't. Not if what we learn about God doesn't change us as people. A sincere study of the Scriptures and the character of God will only cause us to have a greater understanding of our own sinfulness and His righteousness. Those that believe they somehow have a better standing with God because of the books they have read or because they have letters after their name are simply mistaken. The person that has rightly applied the study of God to their lives will only have greater compassion and humility towards others.

I can study the Bible and teach others about God and still miss Jesus in the process. My theology is important for it forms the foundation of what I believe about myself, others and, most importantly, God. More specifically, what I think about Jesus and how I respond to that knowledge sets the course of my eternity. Therefore, it is critical that those seeking to follow God continually examine their doctrine to see if it matches up with God's Word and His revelation of Himself. But if conviction in my beliefs causes me to treat others with greater coldness, arrogance and pride, then I probably need to do a heart check because something didn't sink in along the way.

Thanks for the reminder, Don.

1 comment:

Bryonm said...

You'll love Miller's other books, too. Look for reviews of them on my blog.