A Theology Written in Dust

Matthew 18:4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Theologians have felt no hesitation in founding a system of speculative thought on the teachings of Jesus; and yet Jesus was never an inhabitant of the realm of speculative thought.” – Walter Rauschenbusch

We all have different gifts of the spirit.  We all have a role to play in God’s redemption of the world.  Some of us have the blessed gift of intellect, and some of those so blessed  have had the blessing to add to it the discipline of education to hone that gift. It’s cool if those with that gift and discipline want to spend time formulating lofty theologies and doctrines as long as we never forget that we are not alone in the project.  There is a certain creeping exclusivity to loftiness, a certain dissociation…a notion of an elite.  If we aren’t careful, we can find a developing schizophrenia in the mind of the Body of Christ, such that the body hears voices that it no longer recognizes as a part of itself that lead it not to positive life in the Spirit, but to insanity and chaos. Constructive theology is not the realm solely of the gifted intellectual. Constructive theology is going on on street corners and rural mountain hollows as much as it is in book-filled offices and seminary lecture halls.  I once asked a friend who was laying a blanket over a sleeping vagrant why he was out there doing that, his poignant response was simply, “Because the way I read the Bible, if I don’t get out and do this, this guy will f***ing freeze to death.” It is my humble opinion that the theology that moves most quickly and most often from head to heart and to hands is the theology that bears the most fruit for the Kingdom of God in the world.

Every day I see people sacrifice themselves and their means to reach out to people in physical and spiritual distress who have not only never opened a volume of Schleimacher, but have never even heard of the man.  While I find the reading and understanding of the great theologians to be affirming, I also find it to be of secondary concern. I have also known several people who have read not only Schleimacher, but every other noted theologian and can argue them as fluently as I can ask for a cup of coffee.  But to my observation, they have never really read the Bible, and certainly have made no effort to put their hearts and lives into obedience to the Jesus Christ that is revealed uniquely there.  I also, admittedly, know several people who do both, and that cannot be overlooked.  But my point today is this: If theology does not move us to reach deeper into the harvest with more and more of our lives, then I do not know that lofty theological treatises are anything more than a distraction from the mission.

I once had a man grab me by the shoulder after a worship service and shout so loudly and angrily directly into my face about the fact that I let someone speak in church whose “doctrine isn’t sound” that I had to wipe the man’s spit off of my face before I could respond to his accusation.  The man’s point was probably correct.  The speaker’s theology wasn’t linearly logical.  The problem was that though the angry man was probably right, his actions were not good.  The speaker labored in the mission every week…often every day.  The speaker was humble and filled with the grace that he himself had received. The angry man had not once left his corporate office to come out and help us reach people with a word of hope, a hug, a meal, or a blanket.  There were flowers and light in the life-wake of the speaker.  There was nothing in the wake of the angry man but hurt feelings and broken relationships. The anger came from a place of pride and he did not even recognize the grace he received in God telling me to turn the other cheek and me listening to God instead of responding to his physical grasp in kind.  If doctrine does not lead us to goodness, then no matter how powerfully logical that doctrine is, it is not of God.  If the ability to construct grand systematic theologies does not lead us and the author to humility and surrender to Christ, then it is not worth the paper it is written on.

The best theology I have ever read was written in the dust of the road by the feet of those whose hearts break for the people who are breaking God’s heart, carved in sand by the people who have been moved to get out in the garbage heaps of this world and be the compassion and joy of Christ to hurting and lonely people.  A few people who labor among them will have the gifts, disciplines, and blessing to tell their story and the story of Christ’s movement in them and among them.  That story may not be systematic, but it will be a theology worth its weight in gold. And I dare say that it won’t lead to a doctrine put on a shelf too high for our children to reach it*.

* – Walter Rauschenbusch: “Every generation tries to put its doctrine on a high shelf where the children cannot reach it.”


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