Letters Between Friends: Dear Kevin (From David Cannon)

Dearest Kevin, most wonderful of the Gonzagas,
Thank you for the very kind words man, and also for finding a wife for me. That’s so nice of you.

I really enjoyed your letter, and largely agree with you. I’m simply and befuddlingly amazed at the compelling nature of your argument! Everyone that believes in a god does have some sort of theology, though I don’t believe that experience should be the most formative element of a person’s “practical theology.” Its widely known that many teenagers (and adults!) call themselves Christian but instead affirm a “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which is what their culture and their own hearts basically teach them to believe. That’s what we get when experience is the foundation of our theology… and that’s bad! I think we both can agree on that.

Christian theology in its purest form, I think, is simply making sense of the theology in the Bible. Contrary to what some people think, the Bible actually teaches theology. Jesus didn’t simply give us moral exhortations, he also teaches that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” Well now, Jesus said that for a reason. Jesus didn’t simply speak these words to the disciples because he needed some filler material between exorcisms. And what about the Olivet Discourse, where he cryptically describes how he’ll return in power in glory? What of Christ’s statement: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus and his apostles didn’t simply teach us what to do, but what to believe and how to think. The ancient ecumenical councils and the creeds sought to make sense of these some biblical statements, and it seems that we both know that they hit a lot of nails on the head.

A lot of people, however, don’t think so. Even leaving aside heretical groups and classical liberals, the creeds even get put down for being quaint bits of contextual theology even at Fuller, “platonic” (what a versatile and popular slander that is!) treatises that bear no relevance to us today. Theology is not settled in the way you imply. We all should be of one mind as we are commanded, of course, but we all make mistakes in our understanding of the teachings of the Holy Spirit, and many teachers are destructive. There are wolves among the sheep!

Both of us and the reformers agree that the scholastic theologians taught some doctrines that were destructive. The problem is that people believe this bad theology, whatever you want to call it. Lots of people believe bad theology! What a terrible situation, Kevin. There’s quite a lot at stake here. But what better weapon do we have against bad theology other than good theology, founded on scripture and informed by tradition and communal discernment? C.S. Lewis said that philosophy is useful at the very least for combating bad philosophy, and the same can be said about the utility of theology. We must humbly and selflessly bring theology to bear against bad theology (whether it be too obsure, etc.) which begets schism, bitterness, and sin in the church!

So why say “theology is useless” if you agree that Jesus and the apostles teach theology, and that we should affirm the creeds? That’s a rather sweeping statement, and I suppose that you were going for edginess. Why not say “bad theology is destructive” or “theology is useless if its distant from or warps scripture and tradition,” or something of the sort. Why the edgy, Kevin?

 

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About Speakfaithfully

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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