WordAlone - The Trouble With Theology
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The Trouble With Theology

Rev. Dr. Lothar Schwabe

June, 2011

photo of Rev. Dr. Lothar Schwabe

Rev. Dr. Lothar Schwabe

Theology is about God (theos). It is not about a God who is created by humans, but it is about God who created humans. The trouble theology is facing is that this God cannot be understood by humans. God exists in a multi-multidimensional world that by far exceeds any dimensions that we can imagine.

Humans exist in a three dimensional world and are very limited in how they can think and what they can understand. Literature offers information on over 19 dimensions. I can stretch my imagination that such dimensions exist. But I am really lost after thinking in the three dimensional coordinates of x, y, and z.

To use an example, imagine a two dimensional critter. It is so flat that it can only think in two dimensions, in the horizontal x and y coordinates. It cannot think up and down. Such a critter does of course not exist, but try to imagine it. Now think of the problem it would have in trying to understand a three dimensional being. Such a critter would face an impossible task of trying to understand a human being. Likewise we are facing the impossible task of trying to understand God who exists in many more dimensions than we can think of.

Does this then make theology useless? Not at all, if theology confines itself to faithfully communicating what God has revealed to us. In what we know about God we totally depend on what God has revealed to us in Holy Scriptures. Theology gets into huge troubles if it sets itself up to ”fill in the gaps”, improve on what God has revealed to us, and to let human reason be the ultimate judge as to what God really meant. Such arrogant attempts lead to the kind of confusion that has brought the ELCA and the ELCIC to where we are today.

Lutheran Theology has never gone beyond what God has revealed to us. We believe that Scriptures interpret Scriptures and that the Word of God as recorded in the Bible is the inspired word of God. Thus Scriptures are reliable and are the source of all we teach and practice.

The Holy Spirit has guided Christians for a long time and any interpretation of Scriptures that deviates from what the Christian Church has believed and taught for centuries has to be viewed with great suspicion and resisted. Arguments about the church‘s stance on slavery do not hold any weight, because Christians have always believed that all people are equal before God. It just took some churches a while to catch up on that.

Traditional Lutheran Theology has wisely known its limitations. We only have two reliable sources of information about God. We have the revealed Word of God in the Bible. We also have the experience of believers in Jesus Christ who by faith connected with God. But subjective experiences are tricky. How do we know that what we perceive is not just a figment of our own imagination? The validity of the personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ must be checked out. The safety-check is the witnesses of the faith of other believers as well as that of generations of believers before us, the communion of Saints.

Theology is not about understanding God because we are by nature incapable of understanding God. Theology is about standing under God. Theology is about faithfully communicating what God has revealed to us. Good theology has to begin by acknowledging its limitations. The task of theology is not to research and find more about God than God has chosen to reveal to us. Any effort to build a theological tower of Babel to penetrate the heavens will result in confusion.

The revealed Word of God gives us some profound insights into human nature and the destructiveness of our behaviour. We may think that lying is a reasonable activity as well as any other sin. However the revealed Word of God identifies those activities as destructive. Human reason can justify any action. The fact that is we are sinners and in need of the Saviour Jesus Christ. We need to be forgiven and to forgive.

The task of theology is to encourage people to make that faith connection with Jesus in a way that matches the revealed word of God and the faith experience of the community of believers.

Good Lutheran Theology is expressed by Luther stating, “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.” Good Lutheran Theology is proclaimed by Lutheran hymn writers such as Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684) in his hymn “Dearest Jesus, at your Word” (Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier). Verse two of that hymn reads:

“All our knowledge, sense and sight lie in deepest darkness shrouded
Till your Spirit breaks the night, filling us with light unclouded”
(Unser Wissen und Verstand ist mit Finsterniss umhuellet).

Good Lutheran theology is therefore a humble theology. We do not claim to know it all or to understand it all and some of what we believe does not make any human sense such as we being 100% saints and 100% sinners at the same time or Jesus being totally God as well as totally human. Such contradictory statements are inevitable when humans are trying to describe a multi-multidimensional God. It is not only the peace of God that passes all understanding. We are simply called to be faithful stewards of the Word of God revealed to us in Holy Scriptures.

In these trying times,
“Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;
curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to nought all he has done.”
Martin Luther

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