Month 9:19, Week 3:4 (Revee/Shavu'ot), Year 5935:249 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 14 December 2011
Dead & Live Theology
What Kind Attracts You?
There was a time, when I was young, when I contemplated being a Physician and then a Vet. Truth told, my parents rather hoped that one of those two professions might be the one I might choose. This they supposed would be a good choice because of my love of Biology and Chemistry. But for some reason I preferred the microscope to the stethoscope and ended up as a Biochemist with a fascination for the millions of chemical reactions in the body. One of my greastest achievements (or so I thought at the time) was the feat of learning a huge chart of metabolic pathways containing hundres of reactions, in a bid to get an overview of the whole mechanism of life. I've forgotten most of it today, alas, though I retain the fascination for Yahweh's intricate chemical design of our bodies on a molecular level. It is shere genius, the Ultimate in Intelligent Design.
"Our sufficiency is from Elohim (God), who also made us sufficient as ministers of the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant), not of the letter but of the Ruach (Spirit); for the letter kills, but the Ruach (Spirit) gives life" (2 Cor.3:5-6, NKJV).
When I became a believer in 1977 I transferred this interest in arranging microscopic details and organic molecules into macroscopic wholes. I fell in love with theology from the very beginning and inbetween doing Biochemistry at Oxford became acqainted with leading theologians and biblical historians of the day there (like Geza Vermes) who were, as it were, on my doorstep. I have related to you my less than successful venture into learning classical Hebrew with an Anglican theologian in an earlier devotional.
I guess that is why I loved learning from Torah-teachers in my early messianic days. Evangelicals just aren't interested in this part of the Bible, as a rule, and most confine themselves to the study of Paul's epistles. Studying Torah opened up so many new vistas of understanding. But at the same time I found many of these Torah-teachers so spiritually stuffy and lost in their own heads that I was reminded of some of the equally stuffy theologians I came to know at Oxford - men with their heads up in the clouds...or down on the pavement/sidewalk as the shuffled along the street. If the study of theology makes us stuffy, then we have missed its point altogether. As Nathanial J. Burton noted:
Herein, then, lies an important distinction between two classes of theology:
"After all, Brethren, the whole end of Theology is love. It seems hard to realize that that is so, but so it is. If your theology does not make you more loving, it has not Christianized you and to that extent is not a Christian theology... All ecclesiasticism and all doctrinalizing are in order to form character, and the soul of character is love. Preach the truth in love, and for the development of love."
I think one of the reasons I 'fell away' from Biochemistry was because it wasn't personal enough. Fascinated though I was by theoretical Biochemistry, I found laboratory research work crushingly boring and impersonal. Perhaps I would have been better off as a Physician or a Vet, though I did flirt with Psychiatry for a while. And theology, unless it is personal and has application in real life, is, in my opinion, not only useless but crushingly boring, especially when it is discussed by intellectuals simply to show off their knowledge or as a means of claiming authority over people. And so many Messianic Rabbis are like that - dry and boring. Theology is not an end, but a spiritual tool. It blesses me in my ministry and in drawing closer to Messiah and helping others do the same.
- 1. Theology for intellectual titillation or self-admiration societies; and
- 2. Theology that leads to a revolution in character change that develops ahavah (love).
For all my earlier sins, I spent four years in a liberal church in Oxford known today as the Community of Christ. It prided itself in its ever-so modern theology and sophisticated scholarship. It was run by a bunch of intellectuals but it was ever so dry. It's 'life' was the social gospel, its pastor a tax collector, its pot-luck lunches excellent, but on a social level I found more in common with my many unbeliever friends. Most of the believers couldn't relate to their leaders' theology - it was too much above their heads. What a tragedy! Theology should be alive and vibrant, for the common man as much as for the intellectual, oiling the wheels of the spiritual life, and offering a vehicle to conceptualise and express the mystical. Don't get me wrong, they were a decent bunch of people, but liberalism starves the soul of its real need. And I was starving for the mystical.
I had been a Mormon and Mormonism does take an interest in people...but only its own. Usually before they'll help you, you have to become one of theirs - you have to be baptised. The Besorah (Gospel) is not self-serving, though. We don't minister just to recruit for an organisation. We serve - and put our theology into practice - to serve Yahweh and people come to Him. Period. In short, we are required to love.
"The Gospel used to be presented as an appeal to believe in the Saviour who "did it all for me long ago", and then retired to a remote heaven where He receives the homage of believers till He comes again to inaugurate the Millennium. The mind of our generation, having little comprehension or taste for such a message, is usually content to try to discover "the Jesus of history", conceived as a human example and teacher of a distant past. Meanwhile, there exists always alongside all forms of religious belief the great tradition of mystical experience. The mystic knows that, whatever be the truth about an historic act or person, there is a Spirit dwelling in man. In our time, even natural science abates its arrogant denials and admits the possibility of such immanence... The weak point of mysticism, as seen at least by a matter-of-fact person, is that it is apt to be so nebulous ethically. What the Immanent is, those who claim most traffic with It can often least tell us. Is It a power making for righteousness, or is It a higher synthesis of good and evil? Or is It not a moral -- that is to say, not a personal Being at all?... The raising of these questions is not intended to throw any doubt upon the validity of mystical experience as such; but we have a right to ask what content is given in the experience. Paul was a mystic, but all his mystical experience had a personal object. It was Jesus Christ, a real, living person --historic, yet not of the past alone; divine, yet not alien from humanity" (Harold Dodd, The Meaning of Paul for Today).
If the end of theology is ahavah (love), then what is ahavah (love)? Is it existentialist? Is it a feeling - an experience? A lot of Christians and Messianics think so. And if it, of course, partly that, but only partly. Søren Kierkegaard hit the nail on the head when he said:
I guess that is why I do what I do...or try to.
"To the Christian, love is the works of love. To say that love is a feeling or anything of the kind is really an un-Christian conception of love. That is the aesthetic definition and therefore fits the erotic and everything of that nature. But to the Christian, love is the works of love. Christ's love was not an inner feeling, a full heart and what-not: it was the work of love which was his life" (Journals).
We may not always feel very loving towards someone. However, we can know that authentic ahavah (love) is there by the works of ahavah (love) that we willingly do, even if they are delayed somewhat. When that happens, the Ruach (Spirit) is driving us. The psyche, from which the emotions come, may not always be active in emotional ahavah (love) when we do the works of ahavah (love) but that doesn't mean we are not loving. The barometer of ahavah (love) is our deeds, with the feelings of ahavah (love) a bonus. After all, loving your enemy doesn't usually feel so good, does it?
Theology that does not lead to authentic life in Messiah is either dead theology or misapplied theology. We don't want to waste our time with that. The thing that attracts true believers is the works of ahavah (love), not the theology of it. Theology is the cutlery of the Christian life - given a choice between cutlery by itself and eating food with my bare hands, I'll choose the latter any day. But give me food and cutlery, then I will be content indeed.
In the end, true theology is emet (truth). And it's emet (truth) that sets you free to love and do the works of ahavah (love).