Archives For Practical Theology

Small Theology

Mark Beuving —  May 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

The Beuving Family (Web) _0095I can remember looking forward to the day when I would have kids with whom I could have theological conversations. Not that this was the reason I wanted kids, I just thought it would be exciting to teach my heirs some amazing theology.

My daughters are now three and five years old. I have not begun reading them theology textbooks at bedtime, nor have they heard me speak the words “justification,” “pneumatology,” or “hypostatic union.” But we have certainly had plenty of theological conversations.

These conversations always arise unexpectedly. I don’t plan theology lessons for my girls; the theology invites itself into our regular conversations. Often, a character or plot development in a movie or TV show will lob me a doctrinal softball, and I’ll take a swing. (I’ll ask my girls questions like “Will Hiccup ever see his daddy again, even though he died?” or “Why do you think Rainbow Dash is so sad?” or “Who else do we know who died and came back to life again?”) Sometimes these turn into great conversations, sometimes they don’t. We never go very deep, but sometimes we have meaningful (if not complex) conversations about important theological truths.

We have talked about God’s constant provision and the importance of valuing God’s gifts when my daughters have complained about the dinner menu. We’ve talked about having compassion for the poor when both of my girls threw fits about the kind of sheets mommy put on their beds. We’ve had several chances to talk about human depravity and the importance of forgiveness when kids at church or at preschool have been mean.

My favorite theological conversations lately have come when we sing to our girls at bedtime. I’ve been singing part of Mumford and Sons’ “After the Storm”—the girls love it. I’ll sing, “There will come a time, you’ll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears.” Then I’ll stop and ask them, “Did you know that someday we won’t cry or be sad anymore? Do you know when that will be?” It’s a perfect chance to talk about the return of Christ and the reality of heaven.

I also cycle through the verses to “This Is My Father’s World.” Every night I’ll sing a couple of verses, and every now and then we’ll talk about what the song means. Just last night my five year old asked me what it means that God “shines in all that’s fair.” So we talked about God’s omnipresence, his power in creation, and the goodness of God’s world. We did this without using any big terms, which was a great exercise for me.

As I looked ahead to the time I would talk theology with my kids, I also pictured them much older than preschool age. But I’ve been surprised at how often I get to talk theology with my girls. I shouldn’t be surprised—I know that theology is practical. I know that everything in this world relates to God. But somehow, I didn’t expect theology to be so readily applicable to so many of the things my daughters experience so early in life. For me, it has been a great reminder that everything is theological, and that God cares about—and is active in—every detail of our lives, no matter how small our lives may be.

A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” John Frame widens that thought to extend to literally everything: “The most important fact about anything in the world is its relationship to God’s lordship.” Frame intends for this to include everything from inanimate objects to the immaterial thoughts of the human mind. Perhaps Abraham Kuyper covered the universal scope of theology most poignantly when he said, “There is not a square inch of the entire domain of human life of which Christ the King does not say, ‘That is mine!’”

What each of these godly thinkers is conveying is that theology is important. It’s not the exclusive domain of braniacs who have long since retired to their nerderies with their Bibles and stacks of incomprehensible commentaries. The twenty-something barista who rubs coffee stained shoulders with non-Christians and searches the Bible to see how God’s truth applies to the mundane details of her life is every bit as much a theologian as the ivory tower academic. Probably more so, actually, since God’s revelation is meant to address the real world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe don’t understand anything in this world properly until we see it in relation to the God who made it. This shouldn’t be a strange thought. After all, we live in a world that would instantly disintegrate without the constant upholding power of God (the Theo in Theology). This world was absolutely nothing until God told it to exist—and it obeyed his authoritative voice.

Flip through a theology textbook and you’ll find the usual categories: the doctrine of God, the doctrine of humanity, the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of salvation, etc. These are essential theological categories—issues in life that must be seen in their relation to Ultimate Reality: God himself. But equally valid as theology would be categories like technology, dating, the environment, the workplace, the auto industry, linguistics, geography, and blogging. Taken as an academic discipline, these categories don’t belong under the heading of theology. But if theology is the study of God (and it is), and if all of life is God’s (it is), then everything must be viewed theologically.

Unfortunately, Christians are not often trained to think theologically about everything. Our theological thoughts are limited to Sunday mornings or our occasional times spent in prayer or reading the Bible. Perhaps our minds will wander into the theological realm when we consider God’s sovereignty in some life event or when we see the sin of humanity on display.

But for the health of the church and the furtherance of the mission of God, Christians need to learn to see everything theologically. The seemingly endless hours we spend at work need to be viewed in terms of God’s lordship. Our parenting has everything to do with God and his will. The movies we watch and the music we listen to is theological to the core, and we must learn to see it that way.

I am privileged to teach at an institution where everything we teach relates to Christ’s lordship over every aspect of life. We actually teach book by book through the entire Bible (going much deeper than the survey level, an approach that is highly unusual, even for a Bible college). We do this not because we think the Bible is the only thing that should be taught, but because we believe the Bible should be deeply internalized and skillfully applied to everything.

We are training up an every-growing army of graduates who march into the world with their theological glasses firmly in place. They have been taught to look at everything they encounter in light of the King and his all-encompassing kingdom. As an example, before our students are cleared for graduation, they have to complete a senior project where they choose a specific subculture (whether it be a jungle tribe, a particular youth group, a community of artists, or a retirement home) and show precisely how the Bible speaks hope and transformation into that group of people.

We are committed to this mission of training the church to think theologically about everything. That’s why we started this blog, and that’s why we continue to post new material. That’s why we started Eternity Bible College, and this line of thinking runs in the veins of every one of our graduates.

 

If you would like to invest in this mission, we encourage you to partner with us in our end of the year giving campaign. All of your donations are tax-deductable, and in addition to ensuring that we can continue pumping out content on this blog and through our Silo Project, your donations will be used to efficiently train our students to live and die well.  

 

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I really enjoyed Love Wins. Did I agree with everything? No. Did it make me think? Yes. And that, I think, was Rob Bell’s goal.

The aftermath of Rob Bell’s Love Wins has left a wake of blogs, articles, and books soon-to-be published. Most of these writings attack Bell’s theological views on heaven and hell.

Some of them rightly question him on his treatment of scripture (The most glaring transgression in my mind is the misapplication of OT reconciliation/restoration passages to say that ALL people/nations will be restored to right relationship with God. When the context of these passages most clearly fall in line with God’s eternal plan for the people of God- now those in Jesus [cf. Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:14, 28-29]). Others rip him apart and attack a view that would probably seem foreign even to Bell.

I’m upset and saddened by those who fall into this second category- mostly because of their misrepresentation of Bell’s views. I’ll admit, nailing down Bell’s thoughts on heaven and hell is a little like nailing Jello to the wall. There are few places in the book where you can get a concrete glimpse into where he lands. However, a fair treatment of Bell must be upheld regardless (And if you haven’t read his book, you can’t talk). Here is the litmus test: if Rob Bell were to read what you said he believes, would he agree? Sadly, with many of these articles I don’t think he would.

So what am I adding to this discussion? In this blog, I will steer clear of conjecture and thoughts on Bell’s theological convictions on heaven and hell and speak towards his method and platform. While so much is being written about Rob Bell, I’d rather talk about my last visit to the chiropractor.

My neck was really tweaked. I looked sideways at my chiropractor with a half smile. He turned me around and quickly yanked my neck well beyond what was natural and normal (Is this even safe?!). I was immediately back to balanced. In order to re-align your neck, a chiropractor will extend your neck far past the natural range in order to get you back to center. If the chiropractor simply rotated my neck to normal, it would have quickly returned to jacked up. The over-extension forced my neck to rest normal once again.

This experience sheds light on what I believe Rob Bell is attempting to do with our thinking on heaven and hell. In his intentional line of questioning, he’s taking us well beyond what we’re comfortable with in order to bring us back to what he believes to be a more balanced position.

There are two ways to change someone’s thinking. One, you can plead and tell them where they ought to be and hope they change their thinking more towards your view. Or two, you can get them thinking so far beyond their current position that they move closer to the view you actually want them to hold than they would have with method one.

If ever you want $40,000 (I don’t know when this would apply), you’re more likely to get the full $40K if you ask for $80,000. In the stretching and questioning of Love Wins, Bell is more likely to get drastic results in changed thinking on heaven and hell. However, this leads to a very important question…

Is it right for Bell to use this method in his bestseller?

While I respect Rob Bell, appreciate his heart, admire what he’s trying to do, and am grateful for some/many of his observations in his book (Especially his thoughts against an unhealthy divorce of heaven in the earthly realm and more towards a marriage/recognition of heaven in the earthly realm [read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis or Jesus in the gospels.. ie- Matthew 6:10])- I believe his careless chiropractic method is reckless in his chosen medium.

Maybe his book is completely appropriate and effective for those in his church, the people he knows, and for his culture; but the same values don’t transfer when printed for mass media. The things Bell brings up would be great for a classroom setting or for shepherding someone through issues when you can walk with a person week in and week out as they wrestle through the questions. But when he tosses a grenade out to the general public without follow-up and instructions and says, “Here, fiddle around with it… you’ll figure it out” -it crosses over to the realm of carelessness.

And that’s what he’s done. Bell has introduced many ideas to be wrestled through without a guardian. Who will shepherd those going through his New York Times bestseller? Frankly, it shocks me that the chosen platform for this method comes from a man that plays the role of pastor. Isn’t careful shepherding and follow up the very thing that scripture calls church leadership to do (Titus 1:9)? What sorts of views and heresy will the masses form about Christianity with the platform Bell used?

Fortunately, neither the gates of Hell nor even Rob Bell can crush Jesus’ church (Matthew 16:18). But it doesn’t mean that a teacher like Rob Bell can be as careless as he wants (James 3:1).