Sam is potty training. Therefore I read him a book, Everybody Poops, I asked him some questions about it which he got right, and I declared him potty trained. That is ff course until he pooped his pants. And in that moment I had a brilliant flash of insight, discovering something long forgotten that no one has knowing in 500 years, knowing about pooping in a potty and actually being trained to use the potty are completely different things. Donald Miller had a blog post yesterday in which this was a bit of the point.
Donald Miller created a post about right theology versus relationship. His basic argument from my understanding is that he wanted to show how right beliefs about God are different from a relationship with God – his post can be found at http://donmilleris.com. Another blogger came across the post and crafted a well reasoned argument for a more holistic understanding of the word theology, that given the meaning of the word theology it should include relationship as opposed to being place in opposition against it, as merely intellectual exploits concerning God- that post can be found at http://agreatercourage.blogspot.com.
In my opinion it appears that maybe Miller stumbled upon a matter of personal importance to agreatcourage who may or may not have inadvertently taken some angst on the subject out on Miller. I know neither of the individuals personally therefore I have no right to really take a side on the subject. Unfortunately some people have been offended and hurt in the process. I don’t bring this up to “stir the pot.” I hate that people have been hurt and hope that everyone can come to some kind of healing and reconciliation.
Actually I do this because I think both a of these people are extremely intelligent and articulate, much more so than myself. Both posts have great points at their core and I want to make those available for anyone who would like read them. Blog posts are not books, and I try to receive them in the fashion I create them, as not fully formed thesis on a topic, but a means of exploring with those interested ideas or concepts I’m thinking about and/or wrestling through at any given time. I hope for them to challenge, shed a little light, start a discussion, or beg a question. For me, a post should be the first step of a dialogue and our response should be that of questions. – Is this what you mean here? Am I reading this correctly there? What about this issue that relates to that? I would like to stay out of the stirred pot, therefore I’m addressing neither with my questions and thoughts, but I would love for anyone who would like to begin a discussion about a related matter to read the two articles then comment on this post about the relationship between beliefs and relationship.
I really like Miller’s basic point. Belief is different than relationship, right belief does not equal having a tight relationship with God. We can look at scriptural texts and find that obvious (James 2:19). Miller uses two metaphors, one being that of marriage. He talks about how knowing information about your spouse is not the same as knowing your spouse. This is an issue I’ve been fascinated with recently with some great conversations about the impact of social networking sites (facebook, myspace, etc.) and their impact on relationships as well as some discussions concerning our celebrity worship culture where we feel like we know people because all the media/”news” outlets tell us everything about them. But, intimacy and information are not the same thing, we don’t really know them.
The second metaphor is that of theology being like guard rails, they’re not the point, but they take you to the point. In other words, my understanding of what he’s saying is that believing the right stuff isn’t the point. Believing the right stuff helps you get toward a deeper relationship with God, which is the point. All metaphors fall short, but for me this is the one that I have trouble with. I both agree and disagree with this simultaneously.
According to Isaiah (55:9) we are all heretics. God is beyond us. We have an experience of the Divine that is beyond anything we can comprehend. In a way experiencing God short circuits our brains. God is so imminent that we experience God as transcendent. So we’re left trying to figure out what to do with something that’s beyond what we can comprehend. On top of this we’re left using words, which in and of themselves are metaphors, and this leaves us talking about things that words can’t explain (for more on this check out Peter Rollin’s How (Not) to Speak of God). We talk about God being love and use words like Trinity, yet we also know that God’s love is really beyond any kind of love we could ever imagine (and good luck trying to wrap your mind around the concept of the Trinity). So, in our attempts to understand the incomprehensible we create beliefs. Much of the way we formulate our beliefs is determined by our context, a Pentecostal would probably describe the same experience very differently than a Roman Catholic. We have an experience of God’s love, but words like love don’t really describe it. It’s more than anything you’ve ever experienced. However, it’s only in exploring those beliefs and finding the places where our beliefs no longer work that we can continue to move forward. It is when we think we have all the right answers, we’ve got it all figured out that we’re truly in trouble. Because we stop searching; we stop exploring.
I would say that beliefs are more like signs or ikons. They are representations that point toward a larger reality. They are things we have to use to guide us, that we can’t navigate without, and yet we have to go further, we have to move beyond them toward that to which they point us. The sign of the beach is not the beach, but it points us toward the real beach. Without the sign we might go the wrong direction, so it guides us, yet we don’t park under the beach sign and go, “man how great is this.”
Which of course begs a couple questions. If reading a book on pooping doesn’t make one potty trained, then why would affirming certain doctrines or beliefs make one in right relationship with God, a follower of Jesus, a Christian, or whatever language you want to use to speak about it? And, how can we continue to move churches from a place of telling us what to believe toward a place of encountering God, helping make sense of that encounter, and pointing people forward (a question in which there are a million flaws, please forgive)? And, if Jesus’ primary command is to love, how do we continue to move churches more and more toward being places for training people how to love in the ways of Jesus?