Thursday, October 25, 2018

Aaaand a carrot

If yesterday's post was a bit of a rhetorical stick, today's is a carrot! Namely, advice to go and have a read of my friend Lucy Peppiatt's Why Study Theology? Reflections for the evangelical charismatic church. She rustles up a bunch of reasons why studying theology is a good thing!

By the way, if you don't yet know her work, go straight to Amazon and do a search, before a can of heavenly smitation gets opened up. Because that's how these things work.

And another by the way, I obvs wasn't trying to say, yesterday, that feelings and emotions are unimportant. My point was precisely to stress the unity of the huperson[1]in their intellectual, emotional, etc. condition.

[1]. This largely defunct blog doesn't really offer the world much (okay, anything), but at least it gives the opportunity to score me a few public woke points in the progressive league tables. Because I’m better than you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

From head to heart? And other anti-intellectual McTheological slop

Popular evangelicalism so often struggles with destructive anti-intellectualism, with knee-jerk suspicion of the life of the mind. It is a plague that comes clothed in piety, which makes it even more sickening, but rear its head it does, like a floater in a hot tub.

Witness sermon after sermon peppered with the claim that the real issue is the heart (read: emotional or subjective reaction or recognition), and not the mind. Preachers will insist that things need to go from your head and then into your heart, or anything you know means very little. You know what I’m talking about – I’m betting you’ve heard this stuff, too.

Evangelicals – and perhaps more so those influenced by holiness or charismatic traditions – risk not taking the task of the life of the mind seriously. It tends to a kind of pragmatism that assumes certain decisions are not already theologically loaded. It then ploughs on as if the discipline of theological meditation and study is suspended by the more pressing task of practical discipleship, or hands-on leadership decisions, and such like.

The problem, of course, is that this is utterly delusional.

For starters, the Greek word, καρδία (heart), doesn’t mean “muh-feels as opposed to suspicious mental work”. Rather, as the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament states, it refers “to the inner person, the seat of understanding, knowledge, and will” (Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider eds., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–, p.250). Knowledge and understanding! That’s what the heart, biblically speaking, is all about.

The Louw-Nida Greek New Testament lexicon presses the issue:
καρδία, ας f: (a figurative extension of meaning of καρδία 'heart,' not occurring in the NT in its literal sense) the causative source of a person's psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts.
This is all related to an important Hebrew term, which presents us with much the same picture. Just go check out the standard Hebrew lexicon, the BDB, on the Hebrew לֵבָב for more on this, and you’ll soon see that it is better not to divide head and heart, or mind and emotions, as if the latter are about something “deeper” and more important.

Indeed, where anti-intellectuals tend to drive wedges, the scriptural witness brings heart and mind together. So Deuteronomy 6:5 states that “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” to emphasise the unity of the human being in relationship with God (See also Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

Those entering theological education, then, don’t need to apologise for training the life of the mind, or feel bashful for thinking hard and deeply about theological matters, even when the so-called direct “practical application” seems less obvious. For all of these activities are about what it is to be human, what it is to love God with all of what we are, and, crucially, to begin the task of uncovering the ways (sometimes unhealthy) theological thinking is present every step of the way, whether we like it or not.

Theological thinking manifests in all kinds of often hidden ways, you see. Perhaps it is more implicit, such as theologies that shape the way we pray, how we stress our prayers, what we say, and so on. We might not even be able to explain this kind of theology, but it shapes how we behave in multiple ways.

And then there are those “theological scripts” hidden under the guise of “common sense”. For example, some might think of Christian sanctification as an ongoing process whereby the Christian progresses slowly towards greater levels of “holiness” or deeper levels of “Christ-likeness”. That perhaps seems like common sense to some, and so it becomes a massively loaded theological set of beliefs that control much of our thinking, praying, preaching etc.

But where do these ideas about sanctification come from? After all, doesn’t Paul say we are dead and already seated in the heavenly places in Christ? Where are we meant to progress from there? And how does this assume we measure progress? By means of our own subjective sense of advancement? Someone else’s? And where does Jesus fit into this, except perhaps as the originating power who, by his Spirit, “helps” us make more progress?

You see, this “common sense” theology is already committed to a whole set of theological beliefs that need a good deal more thought. Indeed, such beliefs need repentance, as they often rush head first into the dead end of synergism and moralism, which are tied most often either to despair and guilt, on the one hand, or pride and self-delusion, on the other.

What is more, the discipline of theology, that activity of concentrated study and thought, is part and parcel of what the church has seen as its task. Just go and search online for the “Chalcedonian Definition”, something central to Christian orthodoxy, and you’ll soon stumble into careful, precise thinking and study that makes most modern academic theology seem like reading Mr Men books.

The point is this: if we shy away from the discipline of hard thought and study, as if it were something less important, or tangential to a life of discipleship, we are in danger of becoming unhealthy Christians committed to all kinds of theological slop, blown around by the latest jargonized McTheology that has more in common with candy floss than healthy food.

And finally, it is important not to be tempted to wave these concerns away with accusations of “ivory tower” theologians trying to justify their existence. Why? Because the evangelical church is a long, long way away from that danger. It would be as silly as suggesting famous politicians don’t spend enough money in their campaigns.

“About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:11-12)