(This post was prompted by a discussion over at Locusts & Honey.)
There are some people for whom theology is a set of propositions to which one may subscribe. If you subscribe to one set of propositions, you are a Christian. If you subscribe to another, you are Jewish. If you subscribe to another, you are a Muslim. And so forth. Even agnosticism and atheism fit in nicely here, as the subscription to their own respective sets of propositions about God.
For a Christian who has this mindset, evangelism seems to be a rather rudimentary process of comparing sets of propositions and ascertaining which set is “right” and which set is “wrong,” and convincing people to subscribe to the “right” one. The “right” set of propositions is almost always the set held by the one doing the evangelizing, which makes the set of propositions held by the object of evangelism, by definition, “wrong.”
So, the evangelist starts off telling their target, “You are wrong; I am right. The only way for you to get right with God is to stop subscribing to your set of propositions, which are wrong, and adopt mine, which are right.”
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the most effective way to spread the good news to me. In my humble opinion, it’s not even very faithful. It leaves no room for wonder, or doubt, or imagination. It is buttoned down, girdled, caged, boxed-in thinking that, when taken to its logical extreme, does not allow for a whole lot of movement of the Spirit. Plus it’s just no fun at all.
To start out, theology is more than a set of propositions. Peter Hodgson (I think) says that theology is a kind of “creative fiction,” or a poetic retelling of that which we know to be true about God. (I’m paraphrasing.) Dovetailing this idea, I see theology as the art of describing God and God’s relationship with creation. It is less scientific than imaginative. Reducing it to a mere set of propositions is like hanging color-by-number paintings in an art gallery.
Secondly, Jesus did not say to his followers, “Go therefore and compare sets of propositions with all nations, convincing them that their sets are wrong and yours is right. And lo, I will be with you (and only you) always, till the end of the age.” No, he said, “Go and make disciples.” It’s about relationships, not doctrines. Jesus seems to care a whole lot more about how we treat one another than about how we get other people to believe what we believe.
If you want to make a friend, you don’t try to convince them of how wrong their current friendships are and that they should abandon them in favor of being friends with you. You just treat them nice, show them some love, smile at them, help them out. If you want to introduce someone to Christ, you don’t recite orthodoxy at them and point out how wrong they are not to believe it. You just love them like Christ does.
Finally, it occurs to me that I don’t put as much stock in being right as some people do. There is a stagnancy to being right that is unappealing to me. If you’re right, there’s no room to grow. What, am I going to somehow get “righter” over time? Right and wrong are categories that do not often enter into my way of thinking.
It seems a little bit too deontological for me, too. I would much rather be considered faithful than right. My telos is faithfulness, and that guides my theological reflection in a way that being right never could. In that way, I am continually a work in progress/being perfected in love/in the process of becoming/working out my salvation with fear and trembling/emerging.
That’s what I think. But of course, I could be wrong.
Update: John has posted a response: click here.