Martin Luther used to say that your theology should make sense to a child.
I think his point was that a theology is lifeless and mechanical if you can’t live it, handle it and make it your own.
To Martin Luther, the Gospel, the ultimate good news, is simple, healing and welcome to the hardest – or softest hearts; God is good and He loves and cares for us.
Anything else – or more – is needless complication.
If there is anything faith should never be, it is the absorption of a formula or a ready-made system.
I love the historic faiths, but I love them because they are alive and have shifted to the needs and fears of humanity through the centuries.
At least at their best they have.
I love the beauty and simplicity of Jesus’ ministry – He talked, He healed and He listened.
Many times in history we have seen ‘back to the gospel’ movements, but I find it odd – and interesting – that, first, they seem to be essential, and second, they are all so different from each other.
From the Franciscans, to the Amish, to Seventh Day Adventists, and many more, all reject some elements and strike out in new territory.
Perhaps that is the unifying element of God’s character in the world – He is always doing something new.
But somehow, that ‘something new’, what might be called the American gospel is a variation on ‘I’m not going to Hell, but you are’.
I don’t hear that phrase directly, but I do hear near-constant gleeful or accusatory versions of it.
Apparently there is a competition I am unaware of. You might be forgiven for thinking that the way to Heaven, or God’s Graces is somehow based on one’s ability to take every advantage, speak rudely and condescendingly to those of any other (or no) religion, and parade one’s own self-righteousness at every opportunity.
You could call it an Ayn Rand flavored theological self-absorption, but I think it’s even worse than that.
What (or where) are you when the only ones you consider worthy of spending eternity with you are those you approve of?
I don’t know about anyone else, but it strikes me as grandiose psychopathology to imagine that only those who agree with me – and meet my theological criteria – will make it into ‘my’ Heaven.
Contemporary American Christianity has created something I had never imagined would be possible: a unified narcissism.
It is not really unified though. It only takes the slightest philosophical shift to split a body like this into a thousand resentful shards; each one protesting its innocence and theological purity.
There’s a courage and transcendence that emerges from aligning with something larger than one ’s self, and there’s something petty and fearful that emerges when we believe in something smaller than ourselves.
To say that current ‘Christians’ have acquired a well-earned reputation for bigotry and hatred is a stale cliché of our times.
But it is hard to imagine how something so far from the Gospel of Jesus (and Paul) could have become so commonplace – and so acceptable.
The Apostle Paul clearly stated that he would gladly give up his personal salvation for the salvation of his people (Romans 9:2-4). Could you imagine any preacher saying that today?
Humphrey Bogart was a film star even though he was far from the standard of Hollywood handsomeness. One critic observed that Humphrey had a ‘lived-in face’.
Perhaps that is what our theology should look like; not perfectly aligned, or even consistent, but ‘lived-in’, worn, comfortable and obviously custom-fitted to each one of us.
I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of people who carry their faith like a giant painted placard. Everyone can see that it isn’t comfortable, doesn’t fit and certainly isn’t welcoming. Faith can be a stilted, clumsy clutter of the heart.
But faith that is real and solid will lift more than it burdens, and heal more than it hurts.
Children recognize the distinction immediately; they know the difference between life and death.
Adults deny it, but we are easily fooled. With enough paint or voltage, dead things can appear alive. But children and (some) older people are wise (or simple) enough to look past the appearances.
Faith, far from its source, can become brittle, ugly and lonely. The mere presence of a child will remind us of the real and worthy and what should be solid and what should be soft.
If Hell indeed is ultimate isolation, it doesn’t matter if anyone else is there – or even if God is there. This distended alienating philosophy precludes any connection, any belonging, and any relationship.
It seems impossible, but somehow we have become accustomed to a theology that prepares us for, and equips us for, a life in Hell.
Good luck explaining that to a child.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.