Beaches, Oceans and Maps

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I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff.  But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt him; out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real.

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In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he is turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of colored paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.

In the second place, if you want to go anywhere the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get [from England] to America.

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Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map.

–C. S. Lewis,
Mere Christianity

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Remembering God

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The first great commandment requires us to love God, which we do best through our awareness of his great love for us. Thomas Merton remarks, “The ‘remembering’ of God, of which we sing in the Psalms, is simply the discovery, in deep compunction of heart, that God remembers us.”

We remember God best by believing that we matter, personally and infinitely, to him. I must ask again and again for the faith to believe that God delights in me and desires to relate to me. For that reason as much as any, I study the Bible: not merely to master a work of great literature or to learn theology, but to let soak into my soul the inescapable message of God’s love and personal concern.

–Philip Yancey
Reaching for the Invisible God

Theological fitness

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The difficulty for the Calvinist is that he keeps running into Arminian verses, and similarly the Arminian is discomforted by those reoccurring Calvinist texts. Makes you wonder how all that stuff got into Holy Scripture. But the upside is this—it’s what stretches Bible students and keeps them active and physically fit. Paul recognized the benefits of keeping mobile when he wrote: theological acrobatics profiteth a little. There’s no rest for the wicked—nor for Biblical scholars. Just when you’ve got it all nailed down, one of those awkward verses crops up again. It appears God is much less interested in our tidy theological schemes that we are.

–J. O. Schulz

Image: Emile C. Wauters

Published in: on 08/16/2014 at 7:35  Leave a Comment  
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Theological wipeouts

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Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly — or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up.

Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making a fool of themselves.

Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want, Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Published in: on 06/04/2014 at 8:02  Leave a Comment  
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Three-fold Chords

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote many a choral piece for the Church, and the words of those pieces reflect his deep faith . . . Every part of Christian devotion is expressed in his music . . .

And yet, Bach’s music expresses the truth even when no words are used. The very order and logic of it speak of a universe ruled and governed by its Creator. Even more, Bach was able to put theology into the music itself.

. . . Arius, the fourth-century heretic . . . could not believe that it made any sense that Christians worship a God who is three Persons. The doctrine of the Trinity offended his sense of mathematical purity, a purity based upon a simplistic, undeveloped understanding.

. . . Athanasius, spent a lifetime refuting the error of Arius, and did so at great personal expense, going more than once into exile. For centuries, Christian theologians have refuted the Arian heresy, mostly by proving that the Trinity is a doctrine revealed clearly in the Scriptures and understood to be true by the Church in every age . . .

The Christian artist Johann Sebastian Bach did something, however, that theologians and scholars cannot do with all of the words of every language. Bach did not refute Arius; instead, he showed musically how the problem that vexed Arius could be solved. The “St. Anne” Fugue does not explain the truth; it demonstrates it with mathematical complexity, and yet with the simplicity of genius.

Is the “St. Anne” Fugue one or three? The answer, which every ear can hear for itself, is that “these three are one.”

-adapted from Robert Hart

Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-08-014-v#ixzz1w0X0oPhj

When theology becomes idolatry

The deepest crevice of hell
is reserved for theologians
who love their theology
more than Jesus.

-Karl Barth

Published in: on 02/24/2011 at 21:40  Leave a Comment  
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