Misplaced Jesus, Theology — February 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Theology vs. The Greatest Commandment

by

Stop. And think. Right now, in this moment:

There is a boy sniffing glue, attempting to forget the trials of life on the streets. There is a mother weeping over her son who died of hunger. There is a man remembering the earthquake that took his leg and his family away. There is an old woman looking for clean water, and finding none.

There is a girl who has no more tears to shed; she has been raped too many times to count. She no longer considers herself human. There is a teen down the street cutting herself, and contemplating suicide. There is a boy trying desperately to forget the time he was forced to kill his own family. There is a man who just discovered his beloved has left him for another.

All these things are happening. Right now.

I believe in theology. It’s how we think about God that determines how we think about this world and how we live in it. But the singular focus on doctrine that has characterized the recent history of the Evangelical community in America has left us paralyzed and unable to respond to the immense pain and suffering in this world.

We have spent more time focusing on what sets us apart from other versions of Christianity than attempting to work together to bind up the brokenhearted. We use church services and internet conversations to declare the heresies of other faith communities, when we should be seeking reconciliation with our brothers and sisters, and through those relationships, following Jesus to the depths of pain and suffering in the lives of those around us, near and far.

So, if I could change one thing about the way Evangelical Christianity is practiced in America, I would tear down the walls that divide us from our brothers and sisters, build love among us, and through those relationships pursue love, peace, and justice in a broken world that desperately needs the love of God to transform lives and structures.

Doctrine would take a place secondary to God’s commands to love God, love one another, love our neighbor, love our enemies, and love those who the world rejects. I would make the Evangelical community a place where the mother, the son, the daughter, the father, the abandoned, the homeless, the angry, the hurting, the lonely, the hungry, the naked, the thirsty and the sick would be pursued, welcomed, known and accepted.

What would you change?

15 Comments

  • So far in the articles I’ve read, the comments don’t seem to promote much discussion. I want to attempt to get the voices flowing.

    I don’t think the problem is a singular focus on doctrine. I think it is a problem of people being unwilling to budge on doctrine.

    One could argue that your article is doctrinal. Quit arguing theology and doctrine and go love the glue sniffer, the suicidal teen, and the widow. I think the people that are arguing theology and doctrine are in their own way trying to follow the greatest commandment of loving God with their whole mind. The Pharisees in their pursuit of God tried to stump Jesus with questions on doctrine and theology. Jesus in turn corrected their theology and doctrine. The Pharisee’s couldn’t have life loving God and neighbor until they viewed God properly or had the right doctrine. St. Paul was a Pharisee who was willing to change his viewpoints on doctrine and theology. It wasn’t until he understood God properly that he could serve the poor and suffer for the sake of Christ.

    If our doctrine or theology isn’t right we won’t be able to serve our neighbors. I think that is why the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and the next one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Once we love and understand God this love and understanding will flow into loving our neighbor. I used to think this backwards. By loving my neighbor I would better love and understand God. Maybe it does go that way but we can be sure about God flowing to neighbor because of the order in which Jesus gives us these commandments.

    I’m going to say a balance is needed. We need to understand our God so that we can love our neighbor. Our doctrine and theology needs to lead us to the glue sniffer, the suicidal teen, and the widow.

    I think you are preaching good doctrine and theology here, I just don’t think the problem is the focus. We must remember in our pursuit of good doctrine and theology that “love is not self seeking” (1 Cor 13:5).

  • Why is it Theology ‘verses’? the greatest commandment?
    who put them against each other? Is this a boxing match to see who wins?
    Food group charts verses a balanced diet
    The 12 steps verses recovery
    natural composting verses organic farming
    Rap verses music
    They need each other, it only works when they work together.
    Yes many push too hard on one or the other. Even that would depend on ones theology. But it definitely is not one ‘verses’ the other.

    One man may need to be pushed to learn.
    Another may be pushed to do.
    The medicine for diarrhea and constipation is not the same. Deadly if confused or universally applied.

    Time and season for everything under the sun.
    Wisdom knows the season.

  • @john – I’d have to agree that I don’t see it as theology “vs” the greates commandment, but I also don’t think that is what the author meant. Not that they are at each others throats but that they should simply be placed in proper order.

    @robbie- I also think that a greater problem lies in an unwillingness to budge on doctrine, but thats sort of the nature of the beast. People stick to their opinions.
    I don’t necessarily think that good doctrine is a necessity to love and servanthood. You can see that all over the world in people who haven’t a doctinal clue. You don’t really see Paul studying and learning doctrine so that he can better love and serve. Actually, he kinda wrote the book on it. “If our doctrine or theology isn’t right we won’t be able to serve our neighbors.” — To say that we won’t be able to love and serve without right doctrine is to assume we have right doctrine nailed down in the first place. At that point, love and service becomes possible to only a very small minority, and good luck figuring who they are.

  • I think what Andrew might be getting at is that, at some point, we need to trust the facts to take care of themselves to some degree. Some things just work because it’s the way things are, not because our understanding of the mechanics makes it so.

    God’s heart is unlocked and inviting. Theologically that

  • I think what Andrew might be getting at is that, at some point, we need to trust the facts to take care of themselves to some degree. Some things just work because it’s the way things are, not because our understanding of the mechanics makes it so.

    God’s heart is unlocked and inviting. Theologically that has played out in specific ways–which we are intellectually compelled to frame by utilizing the scriptures and a dose of our own dead-reckoning. But very little of that has much bearing on how unlocked or inviting our own hearts are. It doesn’t often impact how much diligence we apply to understanding and pursuing another’s truest well-being.

    An analogy that works for me is enthusiasm for driving. It’s not unusual for fellow enthusiasts to become passionate about things like ignition timing, fuel-to-air ratios, and aerodynamics. However, all those cold hard facts, absolutely critical to very possibility of driving, have almost nothing to do with their love for the road. The mechanics are merely a means to an end.

    God has engineered each of us with hearts that are custom-built to love in the same manner he loves. We invite others into the art by putting the top down and the accelerator to the floor. Interest in the mechanics (theology) is a natural response to experiencing genuine love in full-throttle action.

    I think God wants drivers. A mechanical engineer who rarely gets behind the wheel is just pathetic–far more so than someone who drives regularly but has no idea what happens when the ignition is turned.

  • I think what Andrew is criticizing is polemics about doctrine distracting Christ-followers from action. We fill our blogs and airwaves with vitriol aimed at one another about very minor theological points, rather than urging one another to the way of the cross–which is always other-oriented service. As Greg Boyd says, “The way of Jesus is not fighting–even for good. If you’re trampling over people with power, you’re not following the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus came under people with power, not over them.” Andrew, I’m a fan. Keep it coming, FMSC colleague.

  • I think Andrew is getting at what James said: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (Jas 2:18).

    As a non-millennial (I’m 53), I would say that one of the most distressing things I see constantly is the notion that just believing the right things constitutes faith. There’s a reason it was called the book of Acts; the church went forth in obedience to the commands of God and did things. They didn’t sit around parsing each other’s theological writings.

    That doesn’t mean there weren’t theological issues to be dealt with. But they had practical ramifications, whether it was the choosing of the seven (Acts 6) or the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) or a variety of issues in the epistles. Theology wasn’t the be-all, end-all issue it can become today; theology defined and served mission.

  • Thanks for your comments and critiques everyone. I think this whole Rob Bell-John Piper-Heaven-Hell-Universalism fiasco is a case study in what I find so disheartening, and what I would like to see changed. Hopefully we can stop constantly putting lines in the sand and learn to really love those we disagree with (a hard thing for me to do). I think we could accomplish incredible things if we worked together to respond to the endless needs in this hurting world.

  • Andrew,

    I could not agree more with your critique. Evangelicals have set up this false dichotomy that with which other forms of Christianity do not seem to have as much of a problem. Many evangelicals would say that this is because we are the stronghold of orthodoxy; I would argue that if orthodoxy begins at the reformation and remains frozen in time in that space then, yes, we are holding down the fort with John Calvin and his zealous successors. But I think there is an obvious danger here: we are so all-consumed with God’s justice and God’s need for satisfaction that we easily forget the wideness of God’s mercy; the extent of God’s grace. We forget that Jesus scolded the Pharisees for their petty legalism and religious disputes to the neglect of the widow and the orphan. It is not either-or and it is not even both-and; theology and The Greatest Commandment should be so inextricably bound up with each other that we cannot tell them apart.

  • I could not agree more with your critique, Josh. We evangelicals have set up this false dichotomy with which other forms of Christianity do not seem to have a problem. Many evangelicals would argue that this is because we are the last stronghold of orthodoxy and if orthodoxy is maintaining a reformed understanding of the faith then we are indeed holding down the fort with John Calvin and his successors. Yet I cannot help but think that much older forms of Christianity, which produced such great saints as Augustine and Francis, would protest. I digress. My point is that the point of theology is not to pick petty battles, lest we forget that almost exclusively Jesus chided the Pharisees for their petty legalism and theological disputes to the neglect of the widow, the orphan, the hurt man on the road. We should not have to choose theology or The Great Commandment; it should not even be theology AND The Great Commandment. Rather, theology and The Great Commandment should be so inextricably bound up with each other that we can no longer tell them apart.

  • I could not agree more with your critique, Andrew. We evangelicals have set up this false dichotomy with which other forms of Christianity do not seem to have a problem. Many evangelicals would argue that this is because we are the last stronghold of orthodoxy and if orthodoxy is maintaining a reformed understanding of the faith then we are indeed holding down the fort with John Calvin and his successors. Yet I cannot help but think that much older forms of Christianity, which produced such great saints as Augustine and Francis, would protest. I digress. My point is that the point of theology is not to pick petty battles, lest we forget that almost exclusively Jesus chided the Pharisees for their petty legalism and theological disputes to the neglect of the widow, the orphan, the hurt man on the road. We should not have to choose theology or The Great Commandment; it should not even be theology AND The Great Commandment. Rather, theology and The Great Commandment should be so inextricably bound up with each other that we can no longer tell them apart.

  • I apologize for my multiple comments; I thought my first one was erased, and when I submitted again I had cut and paste something that became a hybrid with an email I sent to a friend named Josh (hence the wrong name). Sorry!

  • This article has a very powerful beginning and an important message.

    I would change our church meetings. Instead of carefully prepared sermons and perfectly polished performances, I would spend time talking about what’s going on in our lives, praying for each other and our world, and “spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” I would have us all spend time exploring specific opportunities, which God might be prompting us to take to spread love and joy in this world.

    I would get the followers of Jesus to respond to this article instead of arguing with more intellectual/theological ones.

  • Just to add to my last comment, I would also like to point out that almost no one has actually answered Andrew’s question. What would you change?

    Do we need to argue about what he means? Can anyone really deny that loving your neighbor is more important than finding the proper answer to the sovereignty of God question? Can you really imagine that if you finally got all those theological questions right, then you would be able to get about the business of loving people? Jesus didn’t criticize the Pharisees’ theology very often. He told people to do what they said, but don’t follow their example, because they were hypocrites. Jesus primary problem with the Pharisees was their lack of love. So let’s take that message to heart and start thinking about loving people. And then… after thinking about it for a few minutes… go out and do it.

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