The Theology Pilgrimage
As I’ve previously written and communicated about, many of my specific theological understandings have shifted over the years. I don’t mean the comparison of my views from today with my views as a third grader when I decided to choose baptism for myself. Those are understandingly not only different in content, but different in scope. What I particularly mean are those views I formed at college or after, and then decided after further study I didn’t see them that way anymore. If I thought about this as a politician, I appear to be “flip-flopping,” a sure sign I don’t know what I think or can’t be trusted to say what I really mean. In fact many Christians look at this and claim that my faith is somehow broken or incomplete if it contains doubts such as these. Why can’t I just be certain I’m right like they are? Here is a perspective which I think it incredibly valuable to challenge. Is it okay to change our views about God and what it means specifically in following Him? Consider what Clark Pinnock said about theology as a pilgrimage.
The great majority of theologians change their minds quite often. We often refer to their early work and their later work, and sometimes also to the middle stages of their thought. Karl Barth, undoubtedly the greatest theologian of our century, illustrates this very well, and he was not ashamed of changing his mind. It is better to change one’s mind than to continue on a wrong path. Of course there are some who do not follow this rule: they refuse to change. Theologians like Bultmann and Van Til, for example, seem to have thought they possessed all the “right” answers from graduate school on and never saw any reason to change them afterward, though many of their readers saw reason to change. But such theologians are the abnormal ones, and it is rather hard for ordinary mortals to identify with them. The reason for this is that in theology we are dealing with great mysteries and intellectually complex problems that can be excruciatingly difficult to sort out and to understand. So almost anyone who seriously tries to resolve them will experience struggles in doing so and changes in his or her understanding. Not only are individual topics like predestination and election remarkably challenging in themselves, but also the interconnections between such themes and other topics in the total grammar of the Christian faith are tricky to establish and maintain in a balanced way. So I do not apologize for admitting to being on a pilgrimage in theology, as if it were in itself some kind of weakness of intelligence or character. Feeling our way toward the truth is the nature of theological work even with the help of Scripture, tradition, and the community. We are fallible and historically situated creatures, and our best thinking falls far short of the ideal of what our subject matter requires. A pilgrimage, therefore, far from being unusual or slightly dishonorable, is what we would expect theologians who are properly aware of their limitations to experience.The last line especially makes the point. I agree with Pinnock’s view and am equally troubled by the Christian who acts as if they were born with all the right answers to understanding faith in Christ. Instead of faulting yourself for seeing things differently, or challenging opinions you used to have, what if we instead had skepticism of the person who didn’t do such things? Of the person who can smugly tell you what they believe with a confidence and certainty? Instead, by challenging this paradigm it produces a person of faith who follows Christ in a humble and teachable way. Most importantly, a person who expects to GROW closer to Christ (and experience the connected disequilibrium) with every passing day. I pray we adopt that type of expectation. Are you aware of your limitations enough to experience the pilgrimage of theology? To my twitter friends out there, if you agree with this sentiment I invite you to join me in making the same claim as Pinnock for our times today by clicking the tweet box below. Let’s invite those around us to follow God without the pressure of having to have it all figured out the right way already.
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