Simple Faith, Complex Theology

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so..”

The line from this popular kids’ worship song, was once quoted by renowned theologian Karl Barth as the summation of his Christian Faith. In a previous post on this blog, I touched on the importance of having a Personal Theology which is loosely defined as WHAT you personally believe, and WHY you believe it. You were also encouraged to grow your Personal Theology continuously as your knowledge of God changes. A continually changing theology can become increasingly complex, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Faith has to do with belief in things hoped for- not yet seen (Heb 11:1). Faith is mysterious. It is experiential, and not always completely rational or explicable. Somewhat like the word “love”, it is best described when experienced or expressed.

What is concerning, is when our fundamental faith is distorted by our theology.

For the life of me, I couldn’t find the clip where Steven Furtick talks about his experience as a teen when working in a fireworks store: He got so jaded by all the repetitive questions “How high does this shoot?” , “What colours does this one explode?”, “Is this one loud?”- that he began to lose his passion for fireworks. The technical answers did no justice to the magic of actually seeing fireworks explode, so he lost his passion for them. He warns us not to do the same with our faith. That we become so wrapped up in all the how’s and the why’s, that we forget the mystery of God’s connection to our souls, of His love, of Salvation.

I recall times on my Christian journey where I lost virtues, became loveless, or gave in to temptations- and these incidents ALL had to do with where my faith was at. Not my theology. I knew what I was doing was wrong or hurtful- but I’d temporarily lost the “caring”… It was always a FAITH issue that allowed me to drift from my theology. I came to see a correlation between the (sl)acking of a few practices, and my “faith drifting”.

In recent years, I have come to believe that the practices below are cornerstones to a healthy faith life:

  • Prayer
  • Scripture (Bible Reading)
  • Silence
  • Formal Worship
  • Community
  • Outreach

Some of the words above are loaded with baggage from past experience, and this may be hurtful or helpful to you as you explore your faith life. I will expound on these topics in a future post.

What do you think as essential in maintaining strong and healthy faith? What one thing can you change right now to grow or strengthen your faith?

Your Personal Theology

“You Christians wiped out nations in the name of God. Your apartheid government enslaved a nation under what they claimed to be Christian Principles” 

My ex boss, who is also an “ex Christian (Mormon, actually)” used to find every opportunity to rile me and ridicule my faith journey, as well as the entire “club” of Christians in the world. He was a good debater, and used to love baiting me with questions, comments and taunts. Partly out of, what I believe, was a still-searching heart that was deeply wounded at childhood, and further by his church experiences. But partly, he also wanted to see how I would react. Would I lose my temper? React negatively? Would I give him the satisfaction of an “AHA! Look how you’re behaving! I KNEW you Christians were fake!”

If you Google “Christian Infighting” (Here’s a link to a blog post about it)- you will see how dire the situation is. How churches are being destroyed by clashes of theologies, of ideas, of values, and how they are handling those clashes badly.

Christians arguing with other Christians about faith issues are not only unhealthy, but unbiblical. Paul writes to Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,. I dare say that if you’re arguing a Christian faith issue, you’ve already lost. So what to do then?? How do we share our faith, have convincing conversations and debates without confrontational arguments that just give us a bad rap?

I have come to believe that, just as God created each of us individually, God accesses us each individually. Though our own talents, gifts, frames of reference and states of mind. The way for me to define that “God Access” is through what I call my own personal theology: WHAT I personally  believe about God, Christianity, and this life, and WHY I believe it. And the beauty of stating what I believe, is exactly that, it is MY belief- and I’m curious about yours, but I’m not making you believe my view. I’m just telling you what I believe and why. See the power in that?

People dislike being told what to do. They dislike even more being told what to believe. But most are open to a narrative, a story, something where they can listen without pressure to adopt. Your personal theology can do just that.

So the key to creating your personal theology, is to use a good foundation. There are some things we all believe, and we all have unity on. Christianity 101 so to speak. Your template. It is often only half jokingly said that the early Apostles were so persecuted that they formulated the Apostles’ Creed as a manifesto of sorts to define what they were dying for. The Apostles’ Creed would be a good place to start. Build on that by studying & praying over WHY you believe the content of the Creed, and be prepared to back it up with some Scripture. Then you just keep going. You develop personal theology around all issues you encounter- baptism, communion, creation, evolution etc etc. All as you grow in your Faith journey- all supported by Scripture. And all your OWN. Remember, no one else MUST believe what you believe, but you must be able to articulate your belief in such a way as to make the listener open to your view 🙂

Three concepts guide me here, and may be helpful to you:

  • One overarching Biblical theme is that of love. Is your view loving? Is it something Christ would have endorsed, said, done? Does it spread love into the world?
  • How sure are you that your view is “right”? And is it the only “right”? What scripture can you use to support it? Is the Scripture in context? Are there other passages in conflict with it? Or passages that support the other view? Whenever we read Scripture, it passes through our own brains- our own filters and worldviews, so it is very hard to pin down anything as “absolute” when filtered through a mortal, fallible and broken soul.
  • Can both views be “right”? Can you live with the tension of allowing both views to coexist in the same world? Paul says we only know in part now, but will one day see clearly. So can you give liberty to the other view? My pastor & others before him say it like this: In some things (like the Creed) we have unity, in other things  (say Baptism) we allow liberty, and in the rest (like what to wear to church), we show charity.

I look back and see how healthy interactions with other believers have shaped my personal theology. How I have been drawn closer to God and in understanding myself. If done in love, gentleness and respect, the growth that can be achieved in our own understanding of God, this life and the world is unlimited! This is one reason why belonging to a Community of Believers is so critical

So go ahead- engage with other Christians  about your beliefs! Ask questions- Why they believe certain things. How they came to believe it & where it is written in Scripture. If their view helps you get closer to understanding God, pray on it. Ask for clarity & guidance from God. Then consider adding it to your personal theology.

What things have you struggled to add to your personal theology in the past? Are they worth re-examining in the light of the 3 concepts above? Who can you talk to about this?