Earlier this week, I listened to a discussion on The Kindlings Muse about C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and the concept of ecumenism. One of the panelists, Dr. Bryan Burton, disturbed me in his discussion a bit.
Mind you that, after three years of failed attempts to program me during my seminary career, I have an inherent distrust for any theologian that attempts to interpret literature. Although Burton, to my knowledge, has never claimed to be a theologian, he certainly did his share of bashing orthopraxy in the name of orthodoxy, emphasizing that a correct theology is the key to the unity of Believers, because that theology must be acted out if it is true.
Any time anyone says that the key to anything is a good theology, I find them immediately suspect. Most theologians have the audacity to attempt to explain everything about God, casting aside the beautiful quality of His mystery. Perhaps I find myself aligned more with the Emergent Church (though I detest labeling myself), but I see the key to existence in Scripture to be simple faith acted out, not a bunch of religious mishmash. Certainly, the Scriptures speak of religion (the Book of James, for example), but what we define as religion today leaves me with a vacuous and wholly unspiritual (and unscriptural) feeling.
While I’m certainly a deep thinker and value intellectually pursuing God, analyzing literature and picking away at the semantics cheapens the entire experience, in much the same manner that exegesis, when taken to the extent that it normally is, cheapens Scripture (which was written by God as literature, and should be read as such, not semantically analyzed at every turn). Burton compared (he’s not the first to do so) Lewis with Karl Barth, which thoroughly leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Somehow, that seems so derogatory.
A great quote by Packer was tossed out during this segment, though: “American Christianity is a thousand miles wide and an inch deep.” I think that a huge part of the reason American faith is so damaged is the lack of unity caused by the hatred of denominational divides and doctrinal differences, which in turn have come from scholarly over-analysis that couldn’t see the forest for the proverbial trees. The argument becomes circular very quickly to me: Believers need more unity, and they need to study the Scriptures more analytically, which leads them to different orthodoxies, which leads them to divide and forsake unity. Theology is so horribly narrow: it approaches God only analytically, when He wants to be approached relationally. He wants us to understand things about Him, certainly: but He also wants us to be awestruck in His mystery.
I think the late Madeliene L’Engle said this best: “If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning…But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God…then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God.” I’m not saying that scholarly study and teaching is worthless, but, at the end of the day, it is only one human’s opinion, and I’m much more interested in the original than an an overly-traditional interpretation.