WHY INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDY IS CRUCIAL FOR THEOLOGY?
CLAIM: People of faith who believe in God need history, philosophy & science to keep theology honest.
STATE OF AFFAIRS: Covid 19 has finally done what I was hoping decades of research and study would do — expose the deep problem of Spiritual Integrity. In one fell swoop, the SARS CoV-2 virus exploded the myth that we spiritual leaders know what we are talking about when we proclaim more than we know. It is proper for skeptics to ask why a hitherto unknown piece of protein wrapped in a skin of protective covering can so threaten the world that every house of worship has to close down and every doctrine to do with rituals (long held sacrosanct and which for Christianity, people have been executed for), were suddenly revised…overnight! It is now apparent to anyone who has not been comatose for the past 3 months that the world has changed forever, and with it, our beliefs about God.
CHALLENGE: I defy anyone who thinks that theology will survive unchanged and unchecked for its intellectual and spiritual integrity. I defy anyone who still thinks that the selling point of Christianity is the personal advantage of supernatural healing and other personal benefits in a competitive world. I defy anyone who still thinks that in the Age of Information, young people can continue to toe the line and not ask inconvenient questions. We are supposed to believe, worship and love God…period, no carrots or sticks, no promissory notes we cannot keep and no intolerance of others who do not share our doctrines. But we have become just like all the other religions, bickering among ourselves when not badmouthing others who in good faith seek God.
OUR ROOTS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: Saint Paul famously mentioned his respect for the God-Fearers, none of whom were either Jews or Jesus Followers (there were no Christians as a distinct religious community in his lifetime). Today, Christianity have devolved to become yet another institution peddling more than it can deliver. As a lifelong Christian and Jesus Follower of 43 years standing, I speak as an Insider wishing the Church the very best. Because the church is not a building or a denomination or a stadium. I am, you are, we are … the Church. The year 2020 will be remembered in Christian history as the year of reckoning in the field of science and theology. I will make sure of that. Ask me later.
HISTORY OF KOOL-AID CONSUMPTION: We have been fed a ton of Kool-Aid by well-meaning people who themselves drank a ton of Kool-Aid. This is a problem for every religion on earth. But don’t any atheist smirk too hard, for they know even less but many talk a good game. Dawkins, Dennet and Harris, all attack Christianity on the wrong grounds and caricature the faith at its worst while ignoring Christianity at its best, in its mercy ministries and quiet care for the weakest among us. They focus on the antics of some Megachurch pastors and corruption in high places of the hierarchy. Any lazy journalist can do that. Time to drink some real thoughtful stuff.
THE PROBLEM: The problem in Christianity is not God, science or the Bible but geohistorically dated and rigid interpretations that have come to replace belief in God. I invite you to list the ones you know and learn about the ones you don’t know. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and their publication in 1991 shocked the world of apologetics and biblical studies. It laid bare the fact that during Jesus’ time, there was no fixed scripture but that different groups of believers used different collections of texts, all called scripture. Our preoccupation with a fixed canon is a Greek inheritance, not a Jewish one. The testimonies of the texts have become a surrogate for God himself. Thus, we painted ourselves into a corner of our own making.
THE SOLUTION: All theological battles are battles of INTERPRETATIONS (whatever text you choose, you can always twist the interpretations) due to a confusion between the MESSAGE and the MEDIA. We have been trained to pick fights over media (e.g., how exactly to baptize or take the Lord’s Supper or dress women up in church, etc) when the message is compassion, kindness and love of God and creation, with rituals serving as reminders rather than litmus tests of faith. Distinguish the MESSAGE from the MEDIA.
THE OPPORTUNITY: For all the distress and suffering that Covid 19 represents, this real world heath tragedy is also an opportunity for religions, especially for Christainity (which is supposed to represent the compassion of Jesus) to come clean as a community of faith and put our house in order. The Christian faith rests upon Jesus’ teachings above all else. He did not come to start a new religion but to redirect a people’s gaze back to God — WITHOUT the need for a TEMPLE! Jesus spoke up for those outside his own religious tradition, such as the Samaritans, and treated them as friends. Jesus was critical of his own tradition where it has moved away from its prime objective. Jesus was less interested in conversion of religions than in the conversion of the minds, by making disciples, not converts. Paul interpreted Jesus as one who approves of the God Fearers of the Roman Empire. I am pretty convinced there were Hindus and Buddhists in first century Roman Palestine as there were Zoroastrians. We have no mention of Jesus’ Followers seeking to convert them. But by the time Christianity became a fully-fledged Roman-powered imperial religion in AD 381, the message of Jesus’ compassion evolved to become one of quantitative growth marked by a Me against Them motif. The Jesus Movement joined the ranks of competitive religions weaponized by the economic needs of polotics. During this tumultous 4th century, many who questioned the Church authorities were silenced one way or another. Several that we know about broke off to start their own versions of the Jesus Movement. Others remained inside Mother Church and survived to this day by turning their eyes away from the excesses. Every 500 years or so, internal corrections erupted, the Chalcedonian controversies, the Great Schism, the Reformation and now in the 21st century, the post-Christian post-postmodern era in an Age of Information.
This has been hastily written from bed on Monday morning after my sails caught a Mojo wind. So it comes from deep within my heart. Please excuse any typos or lack of flow, will be corrected as you point them out. I merely wish to start a needful conversation among people of goodwill and faith.
I shall, in other posts, expand on specific examples of how history, philosophy and science helps to keep theology honest and how earlier theologians had a healthy respect for extra-biblical data, aware that God’s revelation is far bigger than the human mind can encapsulate in any book. Why Saint John himself pointed out how inadequate his own Gospel is to tell his account of Jesus. Indeed, all the books in the world cannot possibly do so.
Blessings to all you readers.