May 1, 2009

on Theology

I know, I know. Easter post is still coming. Sorry.
Meanwhile, iMonk is getting rid of some of his theology. Last time he wrote something like this, I felt convicted. I'm not feeling as convicted this time so maybe I've been living my faith more and thinking less about it as a "theological extortion scheme," but I need constant admonishment like this.

I'm not throwing away any of my newfound Catholic theology - mostly because I'm loving all of it! So I'll put forth my own paraphrase of iMonk:
[Theology alone] is not the God who came to us in Jesus. It’s not.

There’s more. He is more. Your journey is more.

I love the analogy C.S. Lewis uses to describe the difference between God and theology - akin to the difference between looking at the Atlantic ocean and a looking at a map of it.
In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, "I've no use for all that stuff. But mind you, I'm a religious man too. I know there's a God. I've felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!"

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it.

In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.

In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

I love the idea of theology as a map drawn by the millions of Christians that have been experiencing God over the centuries. In fact, I used part of this same Lewis quote back when Agora talked about the "Cloud of Witnesses" in Hebrews - which I called the "Cloud of Cartographers."

I think it's hard for me to maintain the tension between walking along the beach (i.e., simply living by faith) and charting a course with the map (i.e., explaining my "reason for hope"). I mentioned at Agora last weekend that my faith goes thru ebbs and flows. These days I feel it swinging towards simply living by faith and it feels good.


Kristi said...

I love this analogy. I am a Virgo and like columns and rows. I like to have life mapped out and to know what to expect. however, I find that I'm happiest when I let go of the map and let God just guide me, because he takes me places I wouldn't normally go!

Josh said...

I've just started reading through your journey and still have a long way to go. Thank you for very much for sharing with us.