The inherent, self-contradicting idiocy of not “giving a damn” about theology

Yes, theology does matter. As luck would have it, it matters a great deal.

Site-note: please ignore the grammatically incorrect meme of Rhett Butler. I can only depend on the internet for so much.

The false opposition

The popular idea that the pursuit of theology must cancel out the pursuit of God’s presence is, in a word, false. The same notion in reverse is also false.

I say the idea is popular because I hear it come up often enough in any conversation that skims the shallows of biblical criticism and layman’s hermeneutics. And while I consider myself a layman among laymen, I do not consider myself a moron among morons. (Those of you who get to spend time with me regularly should take this as a compliment.)

Being somewhat intelligent at my best and viciously anti-moron at my worst, I am compelled to call out false dichotomies when they try to sneak by me. Note: I do not suggest that the compulsion is righteous.

Allow me to paraphrase seven variants of one false opposition as I’ve encountered it:

  1. Theology doesn’t matter. Just follow Jesus.
  2. Theology doesn’t matter. God triumphs in the end, and evil is self-defeating.
  3. Theology doesn’t matter. Love God and love people.
  4. Theology doesn’t matter. Pursue relationship (the presence of God).
  5. Theology doesn’t matter. The Pharisees were theologians; the Apostles followed Christ.
  6. Theology doesn’t matter. We should pursue oneness in the Body of Christ.
  7. Theology doesn’t matter. We should be led by the Holy Spirit.

And so, I’ve found myself thwarted by what John Steinbeck referred to as the “authority of ignorance.” Here I mean ignorance in its etymological sense: the act of ignoring the false oppositions we create when wrestling with the details (and getting pinned down).

Now, allow me to reframe the above affirmations by stripping away their opposition:

  1. Follow Jesus.
  2. God triumphs.
  3. Love God and love people.
  4. Pursue relationship (the presence of God).
  5. The Pharisees were theologians; the Apostles followed Christ.
  6. We should pursue oneness in the Body of Christ.
  7. We should be led by the Holy Spirit.

I assume most of us who believe the Bible can agree that these affirmations are true, even if a bit simplistic. So, I now ask you: how are any of these affirmations opposed to the pursuit of theology?

What is theology, anyway?

Let us define theology before we go any further. According to Merriam-Webster, theology is “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.”

So, with this definition in view, let’s look again at the false opposition:

To study religious faith, practice, and experience, and to study God and His relation to the world:

  1. Is to not follow Jesus.
  2. Is a waste of time considering God’s ultimate triumph.
  3. Will distract you from loving God and loving people.
  4. Will distract you from pursuing a relationship.
  5. Will make you a Pharisee.
  6. Will cause division in the Body of Christ.
  7. Is to reject being led by the Holy Spirit.

Framed this way, I now assume we can agree that the above affirmations are not only untrue but idiotic. Now, to reaffirm my opening argument: the idea that the pursuit of theology must cancel out the pursuit of God’s presence is, in a word, false. The same notion in reverse is also false.

But still, you may draw attention to one of the points above as a counter to my position. I’ve made it obvious for a reason:

The Pharisees were theologians; the Apostles followed Christ.

Allow me to expand this:

  • The Pharisees were theologians who wanted to maintain the status quo (reasons for which may include corrupt personal agendas, blind adherence to dogma, skepticism toward would-be messiahs, etc.). We, too, can use theology to maintain the status quo. (We can also rely on a misunderstood idea of being led by the Holy Spirit to maintain the status quo and to keep ourselves enslaved to a wrong way of thinking, but I digress.)
  • The Apostles followed Christ and, in the process, re-formulated theologies rooted in their Judaic context so that they might justify the promises to Israel fulfilled in Christ. Thus, once and for all, Israel could become the people through whom all nations could be saved, among other things.

So, one could say of the Apostles that, as they committed to following Jesus, proclaiming God’s triumph over death, loving God and loving people, pursuing a relationship with God and with the brethren, not being Pharisees, cultivating oneness in the Body of Christand being led by the Holy Spirit, they were also good theologians.

And why shouldn’t they be? They were good theologians because they studied the faith and practice and kept close their experiences. They paid attention to the past while pursuing the living Hope they had seen and touched.

In my not so humble opinion, it never entered their minds that the pursuit of God’s presence should detract or distract from the pursuit of wisdom (i.e., that which I have heretofore referred to as theology but which I now call by a name that might make you less likely to resist me), any more than it would enter the mind of a Renaissance man that his proficiency in music should detract or distract him from his proficiency in science. On the contrary, he does everything well.

We ignore theology at our own intellectual and spiritual peril

So, the next time you say, “Theology doesn’t matter,” consider if perhaps you are just afraid to say what you really mean. Don’t be afraid—just spit it out. Here, let me help you:

  1. I don’t give a damn about theology. Just follow Jesus.
  2. I don’t give a damn about theology. God triumphs in the end, and evil is self-defeating.
  3. I don’t give a damn about theology. Love God and love people.
  4. I don’t give a damn about theology. Pursue relationship (the presence of God).
  5. I don’t give a damn about theology. The Pharisees were theologians; the Apostles followed Christ.
  6. I don’t give a damn about theology. We should pursue oneness in the Body of Christ.
  7. I don’t give a damn about theology. Just be led by the Holy Spirit.

But, seeing as how you just made seven theological affirmations in a row, I’d advise you to leave out the part about not giving a damn. Besides, you stand on the shoulders of men and women who did give… well, you get the idea.


Published by

Adam Burdeshaw

Writer, movie-maker, Spartan.

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