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  • Writer's pictureRob Zahn

THEOLOGY: the epitome of idolatry

edited version published in the October 2007 edition of The Lutheran Magazine

I am a guy who loves theology. I love the “study of God”, the pursuit of a deeper understanding of WHO God is and WHAT God wants of us. Even more than the simple “study of God”, I love the discussion about God, the opinions, insights, beliefs, points of view, and the perspectives that different people bring to the table. But the one thing that really “turns my crank” is the passion, debate, and even arguments that arise in such a conversation.

My favorite memories of seminary were participating in what was known as Beer and Theology. Simply put, Beer and Theology was a bunch of white, preppy, intellectual seminary boys making their way down to the local pub by the Mississippi River after classes on a Thursday afternoon. The straight-laced group would enter the pub, bibles in hand, and find themselves in a different world. A world of hard working, dirty, tired men who had been doing hard-core manual labor all day long and were pounding down a few to relieve their sore tired muscles before they go home. Yep, this is where we went for Beer and Theology. We knew that we didn’t fit in and we loved it!

Once inside, we would make ourselves comfortable at a table, order the brew of the day and our professor would throw out an insane question about God and watch us intellectually beat each other as we discussed (well, argued) over the core and even answer of the question.

Was Mary REALLY a virgin

– Would you still be a Christian if the bones of Jesus were found today?

– If God loves everyone and forgives all sin, aren’t all people going to heaven?

These were the questions that struck to the core of what people believed. These were the questions that make the hearts of believers pound, their muscles get tense, and their sphincters tighten. Some of my classmates would get extremely emotional and uptight, not over the answers but the questions themselves. As if the questions were inherently evil.

THIS is Theology! This is learning about God, studying God, asking questions! As much fun as I have with Theology, it is the very thing that divides all Christians and wounds the church and her efforts. Two people of faith can come together, work together, enjoy each other, eat together, their kids can play together, even worship with each other, but when they share their “Theology” together, it can all end. You think I’m being over-dramatic? Have you ever had a “worship war” in your church (usually over music)? How about a discussion concerning female pastors? Homosexuals? Abortion? Politics? These are theological conversations and Christians get passionate about “their” answers to these questions. In fact they (we) get downright sinful.

What makes us think that we know what God wants? What makes us think that God has allowed ONLY us as individuals to peek through the spiritual ‘peep hole’ to exclusively see the will of God? Why do we think that OUR way just happens to be God’s way? That MY interpretation of scripture is exactly what God meant (even though it was written thousands of years ago in more than one language, none of which were English)? What makes us, our pastors, or our church bodies somehow God-like in our interpretation of God and Scripture? Are we infallible? Omniscient? I thought God was the only one that was perfect and had perfect knowledge? Did we eat from the Tree of Knowledge and no one told me?? Shhhhhh…be careful…we might get cast out of the garden….again.

Many preachers and pastors say that worship of anything other than God is idolatry…I agree. However, I would also say that when we defend our understanding of God, our interpretation of scripture, and our way of doing church (our Theology) as THE best or the ONLY way, then we have seriously and grievously crossed the line. When we do that, we are claiming that we alone know the mind and will of God. We put our “knowledge” of God above the “being” of God and that is by definition…idolatry. Quiet! Did you hear that…..the crashing sound? That was the 1st commandment breaking…

This form of idolatry divides Christians and our efforts to build the Kingdom of God. It is the reason many people don’t like Christians or Christianity. Many feel that we won’t entertain even the simplest of questions, that we are not open to God expressing God’s-Self in ways outside of and beyond the scope of the church. For Christianity as a whole, they would be right.

Obviously, Theology is unavoidable. Because, as Christians, we have a “relationship” with Jesus Christ, we will also have a unique experience of Him and therefore a unique opinion of Him. People whose unique experience of God/Jesus are similar to other people’s, come together and form congregations and similar congregations ban together and become churches and denominations…all of us of course under the umbrella of Christianity.

So what is the solution? Well, I believe the solution is in the hands of the clergy and parents. What are you teaching? What aren’t you teaching? What are you saying in the pulpit? What are you saying to your children? Is it a message of tolerance and grace? Or one of single-minded passion that says it is our way or the highway? Are we teaching that God is in control of our lives and the entire universe? That God is ultimately and completely in control? Or are we allowing our people and our children to believe that their life is in their own hands? Are we teaching the depth of the first commandment? Or simply teaching them to avoid the worship of a golden statue?

You might think that by reading this article that, at worst, I am advocating that we should be open to all the paths that lead to God through all the religions of the world, or at best, I am an anti-intellectual. Neither are true. Christ is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. Our Theology is not.

All I am saying is that we have a great big God! We have a God who created all things: our toes, our hair, our eyes, our belly button, the trees, bugs, moon, the stars, and the planets. Let’s not try to squeeze Him into our theological pocket, because guess what…HE WON’T FIT!!

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