( painting by Mattia Preti 1655 )
It's remarkable that the greatest theologian that walked in the midst of humanity was Jesus. After all, was he not God in the flesh.
44But Jesus loudly declared, The one who believes in Me does not [only] believe in and trust in and rely on Me, but [in believing in Me he believes] in Him Who sent Me.
45And whoever sees Me sees Him Who sent Me.
49This is because I have never spoken on My own authority or of My own accord or as self-appointed, but the Father Who sent Me has Himself given Me orders [concerning] what to say and what to tell.
50And I know that His commandment is (means) eternal life. So whatever I speak, I am saying [exactly] what My Father has told Me to say and in accordance with His instructions. ( The Amplified Bible ; John Chapter 12 )
So although no one has seen God except maybe Moses who saw the Glory of God tucked away in the cleft of a rock, away from the radiation that might have vaporized him. I think we can say with some confidence, as humanity, we have seen God, and heard God...and tend to ignore it.
If Jesus thought theology had to be all figured out, that his rag tag band of ragamuffins all needed to march to the same tune, why didn't he just rent classroom space in local synagogue. I don't think Jesus came to create an institution who's biggest concern seems to be believing the right things.
To begin with, the faith that Jesus reveals to us is LIVED out in the wide open spaces of everyday life. It's to take a salt shaker and shake it every where, every last granule, into every nook and cranny of creation. It's to shine light into the path of your daily living. It is living in the reality of " CHRIST IN US ", allowing that truth to shine visibly into our daily living.
There is No Where in the gospels where the disciples make a statement of faith. Peter comes close on the road to Ceasarea Philipi, the others juggle answers between teacher, rabbi and prophet. You would think if you were a teacher and one student in the class gets the answer right you might want to look at your methodology, or maybe set the bar a little higher in terms of prerequisites for class enrollment.
But Jesus knows in the faith he has come to reveal there is far more learned in belonging and following. I find it fascinating, and breathlessly beautiful that Jesus opens the door to their faith journey, and leads them across the threshold into a wedding at the village of Cana. John in the opening of his gospel says that Jesus pitched his tent in the midst of humanity. Here Jesus reveals to his followers that they are to be his incarnational presence in the midst of humanity. The wedding is a snap shot of humanity, community and culture. There is the young and the old; family and friends. There is the messiness of dysfunctional family relations. But Jesus pours himself like kegs of wine into the midst of it all. Rather than have his students working out faith with ink and scroll in the sterile environment of the synagogue...in the midst of humanity is the scroll, the landscape on which real faith is worked out.
In the gospels you don't find propositional theological truth, you find the redemptive imagination of Jesus in radical scandalous eye opening parables about the Kingdom. It was a profound truth that captured imagination on one level. On another level it was a truth that couldn't be seen until it was lived out. I am the Truth, the Life, and the Way. Living Truth is Jesus. He lived the truth of his parables. This was the faith he came to reveal.
The evangelical preoccupation with “propositional correctness of Christian doctrine” tends to destroy the vitality of the Christian faith. The reason is that such an emphasis views faith as “little more than intellectual assent to propositions, losing the vital and dynamic connection with the person of Jesus Christ, who, for Christians, alone is the truth.”
In his survey of the rise of evangelicalism, Stanley Grenz claims that the “new evangelical theology,” which was formed in the fundamentalist battle with liberalism, “oriented itself to questions of propositional truth, in contrast to the issue of one’s relationship with God characteristic of classical evangelicalism.”
In our pursuit of propositional truth we have lost sight of the historical nature of theologizing. We treat Scripture passages as timeless and culture-free statements that can be assembled to yield a timeless and culture-free theology that stands over and above the shifting sands of our postmodern culture.
Similarly, Stanley Grenz and John Franke complain that because conservative theologians view the Bible as a “storehouse of theological facts,” the goal becomes that of compiling the “timeless body of right doctrines.”
For thousands of years we've been trying to figure God out with our theological construction, laws to keep us in line with our belief. The closest religion has come to nailing God down was on a cross, and we know how that turned out.
Jesus is the transcendent truth of God. It is a truth more like the laws of physics, an invisible force beyond human imagination that holds all creation together. Jesus, the Word that spoke creation into existence; is the same Word, made flesh that spoke radical scandalous theological truth in parables that sparked the redemptive imagination of the Kingdom. It was a truth that had to be wrestled with, a truth that unravels us, unnerves us, taking us to a space where we are no longer in control, a liminal place where we confront grace, mercy and love. It is a truth that can't really be etched out in granite. It's a truth in which it's timelessness, it's eternity is discovered when it is lived out.
I had coffee with an 84 year old friend a couple of weeks ago, a saint who has a real gift of sowing seeds of encouragement. He knows that the truth of Jesus can only be discovered by following Jesus. Faith has to be lived, not just believed. He's been phoning people in his church community to live the truth, to get out into the wide open spaces and live out the gospel.
In the Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is a parable of the Grand Inquisitor, where Jesus returns during the time of the Inquisition. Jesus performs a number of miracles echoing the miracles of the gospels. People recognize him and adore him, Jesus is arrested by the religious leaders of the day and sentenced to be burnt to death. The Grand Inquisitor visits Jesus in his cell and tells him that the church no longer needs him.The main portion of the story is the inquisitor explaining why Jesus return would interfere with the mission of the church.
The Inquisitor states that Jesus rejected the three temptations in favor of freedom, but thinks that Jesus has misjudged human nature. He does not believe that the vast majority of humanity can handle the freedom which Jesus has given them. The story ends when Christ, who has been silent throughout, kisses the Inquisitor on his "bloodless, aged lips" instead of answering him. On this, the Inquisitor releases Christ but tells him never to return. Christ, still silent, leaves into "the dark alleys of the city." Not only is the kiss ambiguous, but its effect on the Inquisitor is as well. Ivan concludes, "The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea."
Dostoevsky's story is just that, a story, but I wonder if we haven't become more enamored with our ideas of God, our theology. I wonder if Jesus came back today, if he wouldn't mess things up for us.
The truth really is simple...the truth is Jesus. It isn't a profound theological statement...it's a person. You want to know the truth...follow the person. The truth is found in the gospels. The truth becomes tangible when we live it out. When we live the gospels out daily, the truth becomes visible.