Theologian

To modify J.I. Packer’s famous line from his classic, Knowing God: As the clown longed to play Hamlet, so I wanted to blog about God![1]

R.C. Sproul has written a book called Everyone’s a Theologian and I agree with him.  Theology is the study of God and every person has thoughts about God—whether accurate or not.  I have spent much of my life pondering divine things, studying the Bible, and learning formally and informally from those that either disparage or love Christianity and religion.  I don’t consider myself an academic theologian but my undergraduate is in Bible, my masters in pastoral theology, and I do have a doctorate.  These, along with my carpenter’s tools and over thirty years’ experience in church, para-church, and social service ministry are also in my hand.  I have something to say.

My primary experience of God has been through nature, fatherhood, marriage, Scripture, and the cross.  Regarding, the natural world, I agree with C.S. Lewis who said,

“If we used [nature] as our only clue [to the existence of God], then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place).”[2]

For me, nature points to a Great Artist but the reason I believe in a loving Creator is because of the beauty of human love seen especially in healthy family.  There we see beauty in the emotional and sexual union within marriage, and experience deep trust and interdependency between spouses, parents, and children. Interestingly, even when we don’t see these things and experience brokenness in our relationships with our spouse or children, we retain an awareness of what things could be or should be. Fatherhood especially has provided me with powerful evidence of a loving Creator who, in Christianity, reveals Himself as “Our Father.”

Nature leads me to the existence of God, and fatherhood and marriage reveal a God of relationship and goodness.  From there, I reason that a loving Creator would not leave us without answers to our most challenging questions:

  • Where did we come from?
  • What is the purpose of life and what are we here for?
  • What is good and what is evil?
  • Is there an afterlife and, if so, what will it be like?[3]

Working as a carpenter has also taught me well the truth spoken by the great theologian, Clint Eastwood: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Ok, maybe Clint isn’t a theologian but his words underscore the sheer folly of the idea that humans can figure things out without any help from God.  In other words, experiencing our profound limitations drives us to seek answers outside ourselves.

The question becomes, then, where did a loving God give us answers to the questions above? We could start with the five major world religions, but which one? And zooming in on Christianity specifically, what ultimately leads a person to see Jesus as the only way to God, and the Bible as God’s Word? It is certainly beyond the scope of this introductory piece to answer these questions well, and each person’s journey to Christ is different. There may be many roads to Jesus even if there is only one way to God (John 14:6).  As a Christian minister, I have come to see the cross as the center of Christianity, further evidence of a loving God, and the gateway at the end of “the many roads to Jesus.”

Now, even though I have found answers in the Christian faith, I still live with many questions. To do justice to the things that keep us up at night, I want to talk about theology as “mystery discerning” rather than “problem-solving.” Richard Mow, in his book Adventures in Evangelical Civility, quotes Catholic theologian Thomas Weinandy, who explains that “to solve a problem… is to make our puzzles go away, and that is not the kind of resolution that we ought to expect as a matter of course in theological exploration.  But we can hope to succeed in knowing ‘more precisely and clearly what the mystery is.’”[4] As Joni Eareckson Tada—someone well acquainted with suffering—said in her devotional, Secret Strength, “God is a water tower and we have Dixie cups.”[5] My prayer is that this blog brings you “a cup of cold water in His name.”  Divine refreshment—even if it is just a sip from someone like me who is profoundly limited and whose words may be easily disposable.

 

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1973).

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone,1996), 37.

[3] Although I cannot now locate the exact source, I first heard the information bulleted here in a lecture with Q&A that Ravi Zacharias did at Harvard University.

[4] Richard J. Mouw, Adventures in Evangelical Civility (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016), 16.

[5] Joni Eareckson Tada, Secret Strength (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), 161.