Sunday, June 05, 2005

My evolving theology

I've decided I don't have an imperfect theology, I have an unfinished theology. The former was how I defined my lack of a true systematic study, although I've devoted years to study of my faith as it has applied to my life. An imperfect theology is held by someone who has come to a systematic theology that denies cardinal truths of Christianity (such as the divinity of Christ). An unfinished theology is held by someone who accepts the cardinal truths, but has not taken their beliefs to a full conclusion.

This is not to suggest there is such a thing as a perfect theology, but that does not deny the pursuit of one.

Lately, I've been struggling with how difficult it is to apply theology in a practical matter without studying systems for consistency. As a result, I have some unreasonable conflicts in my beliefs -- enough that, should I share some of them, I would be roundly bashed from all ends, both conservative and liberal.

While I've always felt comfortable in the Reformed camp (at least as much as I understand it), I confess I continue to wrestle with providence and the free will issue. It's not that I'm not willing to accept the Calvinist position on providence, it's that I have a very difficult time understanding it. Even with Wayne Grudem's outstanding defense of it in his Systematic Theology (and a very fair presentation of the Arminian position), there are elements I've chosen not to dwell on because of their complicated nature and lack of application to everyday life.

For example, even Grudem notes that a Calvinist may often behave as an Arminian. A Calvinist accepts predestined salvation, but may treat evangelism as if Jesus really is calling the whole world to Him. Why? Because outside of divine discernment, we don't know the difference between whom He's calling and whom He's not. Maybe there are some Hyper-Calvinists out there who think they know, but they really don't.

The accepted Calvinist position on assurance is a struggle for me because of experience. That last word is a dirty word to many Calvnists, because the experiential is often seen is abiblical, not merely extrabiblical. However, I have seen people with a professed faith produce Godly fruit (such as children who are wholly commited Christians), but fall away into a sin that clearly denies their faith. I don't know how to categorize this under assurance, but I know many Calvinists would call this a salvation that "didn't take," that somehow God didn't call them in spite of the years of evidence otherwise. While I know many people who play church, and I have no real spiritual discernment on my own, it's hard for me to accept that what I've seen as real compassion and love in people was borne from nothing more than a faux faith.

Perhaps I lean (without intention) in that "inconsistent Arminian" camp that Dr. James White likes to refer to. I doubt it, though, because I reject the notion that we have anything to do with salvation. If we cannot breathe a single breath without God's will, surely we cannot have true contrition or have any real faith on our own. This must be a blessing from God. I learned this from an atheist, actually. I was trying to engage him in a debate when he told me, "I do not believe in God because He has not given me the ability to do so." End of discussion. It left me dumbfounded. It still does. Such wisdom from the mouth of a professed unbeliever.

This still begs the question why play out a game of human suffering if we were not given the free will to choose to love God or not love God. Why not just create those He's going to keep and avoid the pain? This is one of those questions I leave at the altar, willing to sacrifice my desire to understand in favor of trusting God's perfectly good nature.

Oddly, I don't struggle with the problem of evil in God's providential will. I've always understood the idea of His masterplan, even if I didn't have the systematic grounding that comes with academic study.

What I do know is I must continue pursuing the cross. Whenever I start fretting over my theology, I put it down and go back to the assurance I received when I first confessed my sinful nature and surrendered to Christ. Wherever my evolving theology takes me, I know it comes back to this. If I never learn another thing, I am comfortable with this.

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