Thursday, July 13, 2006

[THO] Convenential Extremes

There are a lot of ideas in popular Christianity that are quite disturbing when you think them through. Most of this poor theology comes out of a singularity of focus and a utilitarian approach to scripture. I want to explore both of these thoughts in relationship to what I call extreme covenent theology.

When we focus on anything to the exclusion of all else we create an object of worship out of that thing (which could be an idea or a practice as easily as it could be a physical object). And when that thing is anything but God then the imbalance leads us into strange places. This happens when we place a particular practice at the front of our theological musings as I have been recently discussing with regard to the affection of tongues over on Joe's blog. In a covenential setting it is seeing covenant as the defining quality of our relationship to God that creates the most trouble. When covenant takes the place of the mediation of Christ then we are thrown into a legalistic framework. Both God and man seem to be bound by the rules of this framework, and what gets espoused by proponents of this thinking is that if we pray just the right way, or give the right way, or even witness the right way then God is forced to respond in a pre-determined fashion. This smacks of witchcraft when we think about it.

God cannot be forced to heal, forgive, bend the laws of reality or anything we might try to manipulate God into doing. If this were the case then somehow the creation has gotten the upper hand on the Creator and the last time I read the bible God was still King and on the throne. But isn't that just easier to relate to than a God who freely gives, freely forgives (even folks we secretly don't want forgiven) and even freely heals?

The second problem stems from an approach to scripture that I would define as utilitarian, but might also be appropriately named instrumentalistic. Seeing Scripture as a series of "priciples" that when applied in just the right way will affect the desired results. Again this smacks of witchcraft.

Proponents of such theologies tend towards endless prooftexting to build their "principles". Often building an entire theology from one or two verses lifted entirely from their context. This type of thing always makes me cringe, and for good reason. It completely misses the point. Scripture is not some magic spell that makes God dance to our beat. On the contrary Scripture beats out the heartbeat of God so that we can join the dance that God has initiated. It is the story we find ourselves in, not the one we get to rewrite basd on our percieved needs and twisted desires.

Sometimes that song is disturbing to us. I know recently the dance has been hard because reading Volf's Exclusion and Embrace has been uncovering some real unchristlike aspects of my life. But there is no magic mantra in the bible that I can say to make that go away. Rather I am drawn into the dance that takes me into these places so that with God, as my dance partner, we can begin the hard work of salvation deeper and deeper in my soul.

So next time someone tells you to pray this way or follow this principle. listen for the drumbeat of God. That one might not sound as enticing, but trust me it is the one that will change your life. Sure I believe in covenants, but the one covenant that matters is what Jesus did for me on the cross. And that one lets me dance the dance that God has begun. That one removes me from the legalistic frameworks that can never lead to life. That covenant leads to freedom.


byron said...

Thanks for this post.

I'm curious, what do you feel you've gained from Volf's E&E? You've mentioned it as significant a number of times now. I loved it when I read it a few years ago and want to read it again, but (without asking you to reveal anything more personal than you're comfortable with), what is it that you really appreciate about the book? Perhaps you could post a brief review?

One of Freedom said...

I'll have to blog about it once I'm done. But the biggest thing it is doing is revealing patterns of exclusion in my own life. I found the bit about intimacy at the dinner table really hard as I find meal times frustrating and I never could figure out why. Yet at the same time I am drawn to the table experience - just I find it harder with my own family. Also the book doesn't let you redirect blame on anyone else but yourself, it calls you to be accountable for your own actions, choices and behaviours towards others. I think most of us live with a sort of illusion of our own benevolance and Volf forces us to look behind that mask and see what we are really like.