Theology as Self-Expression

I was visiting with a student today about my religious beliefs. Specifically, he was asking me about my faith journey and the specific issues that have caused crises in my faith.

As I reflected on my spiritual history I noted that many of us have particular theological hang-ups or tripping points. And these vary from person to person. Specifically, people will vary on if they take Issue X seriously. If they are dismissive of Issue X they don't trip up on X. But if they take X seriously they trip.

So, I began thinking about all the things I've taken seriously in the world of ideas and how each, because I take it seriously, has affected my theological system. My preliminary list is as follows:

My faith has tripped up on the following...

Evolution (particularly hominid evolution)

Existentialism (specifically that religious faith might be a form of wishful thinking)

The Historical Background of the Bible (did you know Moses did not write the first five books of the bible?)

The Doctrine of Hell (I find it morally heinous)

The Problem of Pain/Evil (which, I hope, needs no explanation)

By taking each of these seriously my faith has been altered in radical ways. But what strikes me about this list, or others, is that not everyone trips up on these exact issues. Which always puzzles me. Each seems obvious to me. What this seems to suggest is that the peculiarities of our theological beliefs will tend to vary willy-nilly, for no real rhyme or reason. Some things you take seriously and other things not so much. And these positions seem to come to us like preferences. We don't "choose" to take the problem of pain seriously. It just imposes itself upon you, it forces you to take it seriously. You feel these tripping points in your bones. You either "get it" or not.

Which means that your theology is kind of like your sense of humor or taste in music. It expresses something about you and how you take in the world.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

6 thoughts on “Theology as Self-Expression”

  1. I've tripped up on all of these things except the Historical Background of the Bible (I never thought it was written by Moses!). Indeed, I find it amazing when I run into people who don't trip up on things like existentialism, or suffering, or Hell... how could these things not press themselves upon you?

    Incidentally, I've been writing a great deal about Gestalt Theory on my own blog lately, which seems to be in the genre that you enjoy exploring.

    Thanks for more stimulating stuff. Your last couple posts On Why We Need God in particular have been great. I've only not commented because I completely agree!

  2. For me it was instrumental music and free will. Yes really, I recall flying back from a mission trip in Europe and being startled by the Southern accent of the pilot. We had been attempting to promote our distinctive message that we, out of all the other millions who think they are faithful, are the only ones who had the Christian message right. My mind began to wander to the thought that what we believe and how we are has largely to do with where and to whom we are born.

  3. I'm still connected to a very traditional circle of the churches of Christ. I find myself wandering around unchained a lot thought, especially in theology. It makes a lot of people I know nervous, especially my family. But once you walk away and get lost for awhile things aren't the same when you find yourself back home.

    That's where I'm at. I like home. It is comfortable. But I think that maybe it's not the place for me. This post really stuck it to me. So many things I cannot just take for granted anymore.

    At this point in my faith I'm the most scared I've ever been because I know some major changes are on the horizon concerning my beliefs. Anyway. Enough rambling. Thanks for spurring me on more.

  4. Aric,
    Thanks. Your post on the Gestalt perspective on human agency is wonderful and deep.

    Great story. Let me post mine in the blog. BTW, free will should have my list. I slapped my forehead when I saw your comment: "How could I forget that?!"

    I know the feeling. What I do hope you find here is the notion that faith isn't the bucket of stuff (beliefs, opinions, dogmas, guesses, experiences, hunches) you have in your head. For Christians, faith is conforming to the Imago Christi. To believe in Jesus is to follow. The rest is mostly chatter.

    And, as you might have noticed, I like to talk.

  5. Richard,
    This is an surprising post.

    If you can sort out all of the comments from all who comment you may remember that I am not a Christian. However, I did attend a Baptist Academy and a major Christian University.
    My tripping point, and indeed tipping point, interfaces with many of the things you mentioned. Evolution is a big one; specifically, the age of the earth. Simply put, the earth is old and the science behind that theory is about as solid and cross-confirmed as anything out there.

    Wait, if that's true, what of Genesis? If part of the Bible is untrue, then what parts do we believe? Who decides?

    Having lost faith, for this and other reasons, I have attempted to account for outcome. Why can't I believe? What's the difference between your crises of faith and my failure of faith?

    I am headed in this direction: It is difficult to overstate the extent that our world is shaped by the brain. As a mater of fact, this process requires a bit of a shift in thinking to even begin to comprehend the idea. It becomes difficult to think "outside" of ourselves. I believe faith (just as you pointed out) occurs within this problematic and somewhat undefinable framework - through and within neural pathways we can't begin to truly understand and which define us to a degree we might hesitate to admit. (Such admissions tend to create tremors uber-ich). A book you may be familiar with: The God Gene, solidified some of these ideas. I don't know where this is all headed, but it is moving.

    Obviously, my path is different from your journey - the outcomes being on completely opposite. Therein lies the interesting part.

  6. I think we're all required to have different concerns, different things in life that bother us. Otherwise how could all the bases be covered? There is no way we could all be concerned about everything at a level that could possibly make any difference, but when things are split up and one person wrestles with these things and other people with those, then perhaps together we can come to some real understanding, can make some real difference in the world.

    This is what I have taught my kids as far as social justice causes go, to never laugh about the causes with which others engage themselves. We each have our place and just because something doesn't concern us, doesn't mean it shouldn't concern someone else. I take the same view with religon/non-religion.

Leave a Reply