while the world is crying out for hope, we're talking about theology

while the world is crying out for hopethis past weekend i was on the refuge camping trip at jackson lake. it is was our 6th annual & is a cornerstone tradition in our community.  one of my favorite parts of the weekend is baptism.  each aspect of  it is just so beautiful—witnessed in community, a clear marker on an often very unclear spiritual journey, and a public sign of transformation and hope.

i shared the story of the blind man who Jesus healed in john 9.  i have written about it here in a post called practical theology. and it came back to me in these past few weeks.  it’s a reminder that while the religious leaders were haggling about theological correctness & the sources of sin, Jesus was healing people.  the people being healed couldn’t give a rip about theology or doctrine.  what they cared about–healing & change.

it made me think of why i am so passionate about change in “the church” and how desperate the world is for little pockets of love.  in down we go, i say “the world is not aching for new knowledge; there’s plenty of that to last many lifetimes.  the world is aching for people to be Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes, and heart, and go boldly where he goes–to those on the margins of life and faith.”

the world is crying out for hope while we’re talking about theology.

while we spend countless hours on the ins and outs of homosexuality possibly being a sin and women not being able to lead and who’s in and who’s out related to heaven and hell, the world is crying out for hope.  people are dying–literally and figuratively–and we are spending millions of dollars & hours & blog posts & sermons and all kinds of other things that focus on “correct theology.” honestly, sometimes it feels like a travesty.  a dark comedy that mocks us all.  a telling example of how even though it’s 2,000 years later, we’re still in much of the same place the religious leaders were then–focused on the outside of the cup because it’s much easier than the inside.

why do we spend so much time talking about theology instead of actively being the hands, feet, heart, and eyes of Jesus?

i think it’s because it’s easier.  safer.  more predictable.  human nature clings to the path of least resistance.  it’s far easier to talk about the meaning of a bible verse than it is to share hearts and slog through the muck and mire of real transformation in people’s lives.

the less i focus on “right” theology, the more i seem to be free to love.

it’s a wild thing.  and a scary thing. my evangelometer sometimes goes off, telling me, “you better back that up with some kind of perfect bible verse”.  but then i remember the story of the blind man Jesus healed.  and i reflect on the powerful stories of transformation and hope i am seeing in my own life & the lives of my friends in community.  authentic, sacrificial love is compelling.  i look into the eyes and hearts of my friends who don’t have the “right” words about scripture & theological principles & doctrinal statements, yet, are some of the most loving, caring, brave, beautiful people i have ever met.  and just to top it off, they are being the hands, feet, eyes, and hearts of Jesus in more tangible ways than i can count.

yeah, my hope for the church is that we’d quit haggling about things that don’t matter, that we’d lay down our guns & bible verses & all kinds of other things we use to protect us from the tangled mess of loving relationship with other people.  and that each of us, in however way we need to, will be a tangible part of helping heal the blind, feed the hungry, and love the lonely.

God, show us how to be vessels of transformation & hope.

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

33 Comments

  • You like read my mind! You’ve not written a more important post that I’ve read. We don’t really understand Jesus and Jesus’ theology if our big activity is blogging, preaching, discussing and arguing theology. A long time ago the question was “How many angels can sit on the head of a pin?” Now it’s “How many Christians sitting around arguing theology does it take to get anything done for the Kingdom?” (Of course it’s a rhetorical question. Christians sitting around arguing theology don’t get anything done for the Kingdom.)

    The least loving “churchmen” (my term for religious people who attend churches and argue theology) I know are really, really into being theologically correct for their little corner of the church world. I have been theologically educated, with seven years of formal theological training. Yet, YET, I had to figure out for myself that if I really understand Jesus, Jesus is asking me to be “Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes and heart” to my neighbors (the people in my world). If I don’t understand that, I understand nothing, I know nothing.

    Great post, Kathy!

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    • thanks, sam. it’s always interesting to me how “smart” we can all be in terms of knowledge and how little that translates into real, tangible love. it reminds me of that post i wrote a long time ago on the refuge blog about “meat” & how many want bible-knowledge-meat but not live-out-the-bible meat. i remember being in that place, too, for a long time, demanding more bible verses because it was much easier to learn stuff than do stuff. as always, love your voice here.

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  • Lots of times when I read your posts I think, “Well, that doesn’t really apply to me in suburbia. People don’t have those kind of basic needs up here.” But as I read this post, I realized that if we are honest with ourselves and each other we ALL have those needs. Where I live it may not be money or thing related but it is definitely relationship and hope related. I intend to me more real in the way I relate to the people around me in order to foster the same in those around me. It isn’t about theology, it’s about loving, serving and caring for one another!!

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    • patty, i’m so glad you mentioned this because that same thought has been shared by others, too, that somehow “i don’t know those kind of people” but i think you nailed it, love is needed everywhere, absolutely everywhere. i sometimes tell refuge friends that the only difference between us & evergreen-ites are nicer vacations, bigger houses & health insurance 🙂

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  • I really agree… much better to go out and do good in the world than to sit around and debate theology. So why not take it one step further… when people go out and do good in the world, why must we say it’s about Jesus? Why not let people do good for their own reasons, whatever those are, instead of saying they’re the hands, feet, heart, and eyes of Jesus? Maybe I’m using my own hands, feet, heart, and eyes. Countless times I’ve seen a community of people help someone out, only for that person to turn around and say, “Thank you, Jesus.” Fine, but thank the actual people who helped you even more, please.

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    • joel, thanks for bringing this up, you always offer a challenging perspective to consider & i like it. to clarify, i don’t think we’re supposed to say “we’re doing this for Jesus” or really need to say anything about Jesus. that’s sort of where everything often gets messed up somehow. i agree, there are all kinds of people being the hands/feet/eyes/ears/heart of God in wild & beautiful ways that supersede language and doctrine.

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  • Hope is like a little ball of perpetual, warm energy… we can lend it, borrow it, and it just permeates darkness like nothing else.
    When I’m not doing so well, I need cheerleaders, not theologians. I can’t help but think that Jesus would give me a pat on the back and say, “you can do this, kid. I love ya.” No way is He going to sit me down for a didactic theology lecture.
    I love it that my friends reflect this… I’ll lug the Strong’s out when I feel the need to do some research, but in the heat of the moment, I am blessed with little Jesus’s who get that need for kindness and affirming connection…

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    • tami, awesome line: “Hope is like a little ball of perpetual, warm energy… we can lend it, borrow it, and it just permeates darkness like nothing else.” when i think of the word hope i think of you.

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  • Oh, Kathy. You’ve left me a bit shaky with this one. So, so good. So, so needed. In my own life and in our beloved Church – so thankful for your prophetic voice.

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    • thanks, sarah. lots of baby love coming your way, too, soak in every minute. it goes so fast…and in thinking of parenting, this same idea of this post applies, too. i remember how i used to care about so many things that felt so important & went a little crazy studying & trying to pass on the “right” things to them. but now i see that the #1 thing these babies need is love, love, and more love. my babies are now 19, 17, 15 and the twins are 11 & they need it more than ever…

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  • I am so with you on this, Kathy. I am kind of dumbfounded at the path I was on for so long as a Christian – part of the “in club”, attending church every Sunday and doing all sorts of “good works” – yet, somehow, I was getting further and further away from the Jesus I met before I ever attended church (in the institutional sense)

    It is a bit scary to walk away from that church, the respectable, predictable one – I have sometimes wondered if I’ve lost my faith. But reading your post reminds me that it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling. It’s probably a necessary part of breaking away from something that really doesn’t reflect Christ’s mission.

    Thanks for continuing to share with us!

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    • sandy, it’s interesting that so often we feel like we’ve “lost” our faith when maybe what’s happening is actually “finding it”. lots of love from colorado to you!

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    • love ya girl, so glad you’re here. thanks for the hope you bring.

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  • So beautifully stated Kathy.
    I really do love the study of theology. To dig in, to tear apart, to excavate. But not because I’m certain that if I dig deep enough and long enough, I’ll find the answers to my questions, that one day I’ll “know”. I love the study of theology because I hope that in all the digging and excavating and wrestling I might get a little closer to understanding the heart of Jesus. I might see a little more of who God is with each turning of the “shovel”, I might be less blind to what it means to love another human being.

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    • oh that is so pretty, how you described it, just gorgeous. and i really agree, when i read the Bible with lenses of mystery & beauty & challenge & hope & love as opposed to “must-know-certainty” everything shifts.

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    • thanks mike, and for the twitter love, too. nice to “meet” you out here.

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  • You’re obviously very passionate about tangibly caring for those in need and I greatly admire that. But please consider that it’s not an “either/or” proposition (theology or tangible acts) but an “and” (theology and tangible acts); in fact, right doctrine (theology) is what leads us to right living and tangible acts of love and caring. For example, ‘all people are of value because they’re created in God’s image’ is the Christian theology that dictates the worth of all persons. Any other doctrine leads to valuing people based upon what they can contribute to society and can lead to all kinds of evil and atrocities (as history has proved). Right theology/doctrine matters. We are to speak truth (right doctrine) AND demonstrate this truth by acting upon it. Jesus healed AND he preached truth and debated the religious leaders (because their doctrine was false and needed to be corrected). In fact, in John 18:37, we are told that Jesus came to testify to the truth (“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”). Truth (doctrine/theology) matters! and we can’t lose sight of that. Please check out this excellent 2 minute video entitled ‘Crippled without Creed’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxhCFb0U65o
    and may I suggest the book, ‘The Faith, What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters’ to gain a more balanced view on the value and importance of right theology (below is a description of the book). Most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on this as you seem to be building your own personal doctrine on a single verse about Jesus healing instead of the totality of what the Bible has to say about him. The truth is that the marginalized in this world do give a rip about doctrine (truth). In fact it’s what enables them to endure the suffering, knowing that this life is NOT all there is. Theology (truth) is what we cling to in times of crisis and if you’ve ever been there, you know it’s what holds you together -not what your feelings are telling you but the right doctrine/theology that your head knows (that God is good and Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins so that you cannot be parted from him).

    The Faith
    By: Charles W. Colson. Colson charges his audience to recognize their solemn obligation as pastors to faithfully preach the word to a sick society and a Church that often looks just like it. Christians must recognize that Christianity is a worldview and is therefore relevant to culture, politics, science, etc. Orthodox doctrine is also vital to the health of the Church, which needs to make disciples and not simply converts in order to truly transform lives and defend the truth of the Gospel before the world.

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    • Yes, But – I think of the person I know who attends four Bible studies a week, most of which focus on correct theology. This person thinks he’s right on everything, yet cares little for anyone other than his immediate family. He wants nothing to do with helping the poor, the needy, the hurting or the marginal because he has not been “called” to do that (a position which he can defend theologically and Biblically). He thinks he knows what the Bible teaches and the theological constructs that emanate from those teachings, but even when confronted with Jesus telling people to “do” what He says, he can manage, using his theology, to interpret that to mean that he must inform the poor, the needy and the hurting of correct theology. If their theology is correct, then they’ll get their lives in order.

      He has lots of theology, but it is worthless in my opinion. He uses it to insulate himself from people and what he sees as the messiness of their lives. Kathy’s phrase “while we spend countless hours on the ins and outs of homosexuality possibly being a sin and women not being able to lead and who’s in and who’s out related to heaven and hell” describes him perfectly.

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      • thanks, sam, to me that kind of thinking is really “if you believe what i believe then you’re okay & if you don’t, then you’re hosed.”

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    • thanks for your passionate response, teri, i always appreciate different viewpoints. i do not believe that theology should be thrown out the window, so far from that, but i also believe that we assume that theological correctness is a requirement for following Jesus. i don’t believe it is. i also am very cautious about pairing “doctrine” and “theology” with “truth” because that’s how we end up with people owning the proper interpretation of “the truth” & not leaving room for people to see it differently. thanks for sharing.

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      • I agree. And not really a “but” (because I do generally agree and understand what you’re getting at)… BUT (lol), only for clarification sake, right doctrine or theology IS truth. We are admonished to know and follow right doctrine. So, if we are admonished to know and follow right doctrine i.e. truth, then obviously, given at least a majority of the issues, knowing what truth is, must be something that is attainable, or we wouldn’t be admonished to know, follow, and talk about it. Because of that, we shouldn’t be worried about (as you say) “pairing right doctrine with truth”, or as I would say, “rightly dividing the word of truth”. However, we should always be properly appropriating case-by-case wisdom regarding how our posture on any given subject is being communicated, and cater our speech accordingly. We must remain sensitive, so the – very possibly – fine nuance of what we may be trying to communicate is also hopefully what is received. And without getting specific regarding which subjects (that gets a little stickier), yes, we should endeavor to “leave room” for the possiblility that the Lord may have revealed other facets of a particular subject to others that we may not have seen before and therefore not had the opportunity to consider or assimilate.

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  • Oh this is such a relevant topic for me on lots of levels. I remember when I was a seminary student, and had a friend who was getting his degree in Urban Ministry. We had these long conversations about his conflict of spending so much money on learning the ins and outs of ecclesiology and all of the other -ologies when he just wanted to really love kids who lived in poverty. It eventually became too much for him to justify.

    In journeying with people in hard places in life, facilitating grief groups, and in my counseling practice, it is not the verses that I can spew, but the hopefully healing presence that can be provided by actually doing my own internal work first. I have a graduate diploma in Christian Counseling, and yes, I learned lots of things. But truthfully, verrrry little of that knowledge permeates my day to day life in a lasting and real way. I for sure thought that it would, though, and studied like there was no tomorrow ( because you never knew whose revelation interpretation could be right. ;)..)

    In response to the idea that *right* theology is the key to not leading people astray, I would push back that interpretation simply leads to theoretical circles that started 2000 years before us, and will long out last us. The children that I see that are grieving parental deaths or contemplating suicide or needing real connection will not heal by preaching my or anyone else’s interpretation of the word of God at them. I think that is a cop-out, actually, to doing the hard, slow, work, of holding the space to flesh out doubts and pain and slowly share hope. It is way easier, however, to slap a verse or cliche on an issue, and call it a doctrine and a day.

    I know that for me personally,though as I am going through a really dark and desperate season, it is actually *through* my pain & need for tangible hope that I am actually able to further embrace my theology. Releasing darkness for the prisoners and comforting those who mourn and walking through the valley of the shadow of death are lifelines as I cry out for hope. As a follower of Jesus, I too, hope to be a vessel of transformation and hope.

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    • so well said, my friend, so well said. all those seminary classes cost a lot of money but in the end, the “free” Jesus-school education you are getting now (well, i wouldn’t call it free, but rather very very expensive emotionally and practically and financially ha ha) is where we learn the most…xo

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  • Hi Teri- Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that you chafe at the notion that we can have a living, acting response to the call of Jesus and the Gospel of the kingdom, without first accepting orthodoxy into our hearts. It is interesting to see your point on how much doctrine means to you. I have noticed that you indicate truth as being present only when it is coupled to either doctrine or theology. Really? If the truth was always that easy, why did our Lord and Savior always teach in paradoxical parables? Why not just write everything down as literal instructions once and for all time, so we always know what side of the line we and everybody else is on, who is in and who is out, saved and not saved? So we didn’t have to think about it? so we didn’t have to struggle with it?
    I don’t see Kathy’s approach as a rejection to thinking about it- Instead, it requires a lot MORE thinking, a lot more original processing, a lot more weighing of everything (including scripture, tradition, and the cannon and creeds)- in order to truly be faithful. The doing of this kind of work- daily learning to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves- is an experiential challenge that is impossible to describe unless you try it. It is one thing to operate comfortably out of a “doctrine preceeds all action” way and another to have to ask God to be with you at most every moment of your day because it’s so out of your control, and you know that you can’t really do it without God. Some would liken this kind of approach being like “grad school” Christianity.
    So no, I don’t think one has to run everything thru a specific doctrinal framework to have an authentic life in Christ. Jesus gave us himself, his teaching (now in scripture), The promised presence of the Holy Spirit, and established a relationship with God as Father. We also have 2000 years of considered judgment of how best to follow the way which we can use to help us as we go. We don’t need to lean on one cultural construct of “doctrine” from our little time period and call that the most important thing. I see Kathy’s approach as having a living faith in the power of God to enter our lives and transform us- sometimes our “right thinking” comes after we have been touched by God, and not before.
    In the words of the esteemed Charles Colson-
    “Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people. And that’s where our hope is in this country. And that’s where our hope is in life.”

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    • beautifully said, sage. i like what you said here, “Instead, it requires a lot MORE thinking, a lot more original processing, a lot more weighing of everything (including scripture, tradition, and the cannon and creeds)- in order to truly be faithful. The doing of this kind of work- daily learning to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves- is an experiential challenge that is impossible to describe unless you try it….” thanks for sharing.

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  • Thanks for sharing this. Some days I just want to give it up. My friends have chosen sides and dug in their heels. They’re arguing about “the issues,” and they’re all so sure. I’m sick of it. I’ve got nothing to say. Theology seems like a burden right now. At times like this, I don’t want to open my Bible, and I don’t want to be with Christians. I want to walk away from it. All I can do is cling to God and hope that someone or something comes along to change my mind. I found this blog just in time to get a new grip and move a little further.

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    • hey carrie, thanks so much for sharing & oh, i think the toughest part is the divides are going to get worse. oh that makes me so sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. i have no idea where you live or what kind of possibilities there are for some little pocket of love and hope for you there, but just know you’re not alone and i hope in some small way reading and hearing some others journeys, too, brings some hope… peace, kathy

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  • yikes, that is a succinct analysis! i have wondered how much more helpful to the kingdom i could be if instead of all the seminary i took to “get it right” (btw, before graduation you are interviewed or tested as to the correctness of you doctrine before they will award a degree) i had one class on how to be a good friend?
    imagine if there were as many classes on listening as teaching/preacing!
    nice post, it also makes me happy you will have less chance of being hired anywhere but the refuge! keep burning those bridges that lead to nothing!

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    • that made me laugh out loud. yes, my friend, i’m pretty sure i have made myself utterly unemployable in the greater church, hooray for us! i am glad, there’s nowhere that i would rather be 🙂 i sometimes write a whole “here’s what i would teach in seminary if i could” curriculum in my head. just like we know how to shrink a church, we could shrink a seminary. it’s funny, how much focus is given on the stuff that doesn’t matter, really, and the stuff that does is so easily dismissed.

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  • It’s interesting that I don’t hear that many people, especially young people talking about theology at all. I don’t. (I found it more in my babyboom generation). And those who do are the “professional Christians”, those in the tribe of denominational leadership or those who are the obsessive conference-goers or organizers–they just can’t get enough of it. I wonder if they need to get out more? Sigh. The secular-sacred divide is as strong as ever, I guess, and sacerdotalism is nauseating. But, really, the ‘nones’ and the ‘dones’ are sick of it all and they would really affirm your thoughts, What I have noticed is that so many educated Christians are using their time to blog or develop podcasts; there are thousands of them! It seems so much easier to talk than to do and it also appears that everyone with any time on their hands is using it this way rather than active engagement. Just what I am observing about the Church.

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