With the cable TV still down, I’m moving through a stack of books at a satisfying rate (Incidentally, I’ve gone from worrying that our hosts will not get the TV back on, to worrying that they will, since it’ll mean the end of my recent productivity. Apparently, I’m powerless to television.).
Yesterday afternoon, I finished The Shaping of a Life (a great book which I was sad to close), and last night was Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church. A good book, and a nice format of five friends sharing their ideas and responding to one another. I obviously went through it pretty quick, partly because it was fairly familiar content, and partly because it just wasn’t too terribly interesting.
Oh, sure, I felt a kind of morbid enjoyment with watching the pugnacious Mark Driscoll push his way around the pages (he basically offers outlines of systematic theology– the same stuff most of his readers have sitting on their shelf) and commit all manner of logical fallacies in denouncing his (supposedly) ‘unfaithful’ and ‘liberal’ brethren. Most astounding was his cavalier dismissal of Karen Ward’s chapter: he smugly notes the ‘small size’ of the church she leads, then offers a multi-point excursus on why women should not be church leaders. Nice.
But in the end, I think the thing that left me cold was that I find systematic theology so uninteresting. Now, this may be due to my overexposure to same, and I should certainly note my appreciation for my professors in college and grad school, who gave me great grounding in the Bible and in theology (or at least the slice of theologies that were permitted by those educational institutions). I can probably afford to be a little blase about these things, since they are so ingrained in my brain.
At the same time, my brain isn’t me. Of late, I’m much more interested in how God is revealed and active in us, and in our world– in the practices of people, rather than their beliefs. And besides, I think this idea of systemic understanding is a myth. No one– save a few folks gifted with huge intellect and near-perfect memory– is able to achieve it. I think I’ve seen behind the curtain, and realized that the enlightenment ideal of intellectual mastery is just that– an ideal (though it just might find its fulfillment in a post-enlightenment ability to upload information into the human brain, ala The Matrix). Just as many fresh-out-of-college junior staffers on Capital Hill learn to expect desperate calls from their Congressperson asking, “What’s my position on X issue?”, so too many professionally religious people are snatching their Big Book of Theology (and no, that’s not the Bible…) off the shelf when a parishioner calls with a question (which doesn’t actually happen that often, since normal people seem to have an intuitive sense that this stuff isn’t practical or all that helpful). Yet for some reason, the shrill demands for more clear statements of theology from certain people continue, and so the books keep coming. People keep pointing fingers, saying, “Why don’t these emerging people just tell us what they believe? What are they hiding?”. Well, maybe some of these emerging people see a truth that’s been so marginalized for so long that it sounds like heresy: our beliefs aren’t that important.