Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Only theology can save the Earth?

“It may well be that only theology – good theology – can save the Earth now.”

- Jim Wallis, God's Politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it, 353 (Oxford: Lion, 2005).

Discuss.

30 comments:

Scratch said...

Just curious as to what you base that on. I am a 16 year old girl, who's havin big trouble with her faith, with a fair few people tryin to help her. But i can't seem to latch on to it. If theology can save the earth, then why do so many people get so frustrated with it, reject it, and then live better lives away from it? please someone, tell me i am wrong.

Brian said...

Scratch, I think to make any adequate response, we would have to ask how you define the term "better"... as in what makes a "better" life? If you define this as happiness, again, how do you define this term? If it is temporal happiness, how long does is last... does it fade? Does the rejection of theology lead to a long-lasting fulfillment? Personal experiences and my experiences with others suggest that for all the temporary happiness (even long-term) that comes from liberation from theology, it does not lead to the abiding sense of joy and fulfillment that I see in mature Christians. Rejection of theology seems to lead to a hedonism which can be very stimulating, but always craves more. If it does not lead to hedonism, it leads to a sense of unfulfilled purpose and questions that (as far as I can tell) have no answers in the absence of theology. Anyhow, those are my thoughts. I wish you the best as you struggle and would just encourage you that the life experiences beyond high school often lead to a broader understanding and appreciation of faith. If you wanted a different perspective or just wanted to share your thoughts, my e-mail is Skeptic111305@gmail.com

byron smith said...

In context, the quote is talking specifically of ecological problems: i.e. only good theology can save the environment. However, if it is in any way true of ecology, I suspect it will be similarly true (or false) in other areas of life.

why do so many people get so frustrated with it, reject it, and then live better lives away from it?
Good question! Perhaps at least partially because there is a lot of poor theology around. Theology is reflection upon the good news that is at the heart of Christianity. All too often, it ends up sounding like bad or boring or irrelevant news.

Jesus promises his followers both sufferings like his own and life to the full. Will life outside of the Christian community (without theology) be easier? Yes, in many ways. But will following Jesus be worth it? Yes!

Scratch said...

better, more happy, more love, less sadness, and worrying about what god wants. And i'm not just saying this to get away and shed all responsibility, that is not my intent. I am from the reformed church, and it's really conservative and judgemental. They beleive that if you aren't reformed, then basically, you are going to hell, so prepare.

Scratch said...

And i think that sucks.

Scratch said...

How do define happiness...
stability,
health,
not being in want,
Look up aristotles twelve derinitions of happiness. i agree with many of them.
Yes, happiness does fade, sure, but almost always comes back again.
I have seen many mature Christians that have been happy, yea i think so, but i think that is is a false hope. my Father himslef had fallen away, and he says that Christians dont really actually deep down beleive in God. I think he is wrong. My Mother is a reformer, and she says that non - christians actually know that God exists. I also beleive she is wrong. I personally beleive that most humans beleive in a higher being or purpose.
My dad seems to be completely satisfied, and he left the church some 10 years ago. And that throws most of your argument out the window, unless he is acting, or it takes longer. He was a builder, and now, he is a very rich man, satisfied and happy.
Explanation?

byron smith said...

There is a wonderful story in John 8, where Jesus disarms a judgemental crowd and rescues a woman about to be torn apart by their anger. He doesn't condone what she's done, but speaks words of life: "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." This is theology in action that can save the earth.

If someone thinks "God only loves people like me" (or acts like it), perhaps they need a fresh encounter with the radical grace of Jesus.

Scratch said...

Tell me byron, have you ever been to New Zealand?

byron smith said...

I don't know what your church is like, though I do know from experience that some (too many!) Christian communities can fail to show the grace and love of God that Jesus reveals and shares. Being part of such a church can feel more like slavery than liberation. Leaving it can be a relief. This is sad, but true.

I haven't been to New Zealand, though one of my best friends lives in Auckland.

Scratch said...

That is beautiful and amazing. Then how could the same god kill so many people just for existing? Canaan i mean.that's like, crreating people to throw them in hell.

Scratch said...

Which type of church do you go to?

byron smith said...

I see from your profile that you are in Wellington. I know very little about the church scene there.

byron smith said...

I go to an Anglican church.

I also find the stories of the Canaanite genocide disturbing and confusing. But I do not feel I can let go of them, even if I do place a lot more weight on the stories of Jesus. Prior to Jesus, God's revelations were partial and veiled. They were like a shadow compared with a real person, the New Testament says.

byron smith said...

As for your father, it may have been that leaving was a relief for him, like I said. God doesn't promise that only people who go to church will receive his blessings. Nor does he promise that life will be easier for those who do go to the church. Often it is the opposite.

God is doing something much bigger than making certain people's lives more comfortable. He is building a new kind of human being, capable of loving and being loved, of trusting and being trusted, of hoping and sharing, people who are not content with the world as it currently is but who yearn and pray for a better world. So for me the question is not "will my life be better or worse without church? Will it be easier or harder? Happier or sadder?" My question is "will I be part of what God is doing in Jesus? Will I receive from him with thanksgiving and trust the opportunities to grow into someone who is more fully alive and help others do the same?"

Rain said...

Even if God's purposes were veiled, we do know enough to know that what he did was wrong. How can you defend something like that? It's fine to stress the good parts, but no good to pass away the bad parts and say, ah, God had a purpose, we just dont understand it, and so on.

How is it a good thing to bless someone that haas left the church? What idea do you think that would give them? Dad has got a far 'better' life now, and if you tell him it's because of God, how do you think he'll take that? It hardly seems fair as well for God to bless those outside his church, but withhold his blessings (that can so easily come to the ungodly) to those who are his people!! Nothing logical and sane works that way.

Rain said...

Sorry, Scratch and Rain are the same people, different blogs. One is my "ok family, this is a blog you can know about" and the other (rainmaker) is my private blog.

byron smith said...

How can you defend something like that?
I don't. I wrestle with it, and find some partial perspectives that shed some light, but am left with many questions.

How is it a good thing to bless someone that haas left the church?
Because God loves to give. He is generous to all. Jesus said that the Father sends his rain (a good thing, especially if you want to eat in that climate!) on the righteous and the wicked - that is, his generosity is not limited to one group or kind of person.

And Jesus tells us to act in the same way - not repaying wrong for wrong, curse for curse, blow for blow. Instead, he says we should be like God and do good to those who would seek to harm us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who hate us.

And these teachings of Jesus have significant consequences for our understanding of God. For a start, the blessings God gives are not all rewards for good behaviour (nor is all suffering punishment). It might be nice if the world worked like that - well, actually, it would probably be disastrous. None of us has earned blessings. God's unmerited goodness is our only hope. So we can't read off someone's moral worth by how "blessed" their life is, nor can we evaluate actions simply by their immediate consequences.

God's generosity is neither logical nor "sane", by our standards. He is crazily generous, just look at the story of the lost son in Luke 15. A son tells his father, "I wish you were dead because I want your money". Incredibly, the father gives him the money, which he then uses to run away and live however he likes. When he finally comes to his senses, stone broke, he decides that maybe he can apply to be a lowly servant in his father's house. But his father, despite all that the son has done, is still waiting and hoping and looking out for his son's return. When he see him, he runs and embraces him, doesn't even let him finish his little prepared speech, but calls for a party because his son has returned. God is like that - illogically and unfathomably generous.

Rain said...

Yea, that is all good and everything, but why bless the unrighteous, and not the righteous? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Man, i have so many questions for you, you answer them all very well. i much appreciate someone who has the time to talk to a little girl bogged down.
Could I possibly ask a few questions unrelated to this topic that we are discussing? i'd much enjoy getting my butt whipped in an argument.

byron smith said...

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short series on what is often called "the problem of evil", which is the very issue you are raising - where is God's justice? I probably need to re-write it, because much of it was pretty unclear while I was trying to sort some things out in my head, but you might find it helpful.

My short version/attempted summary:
Where is God's justice? That is exactly the problem the Bible continually wrestles with, and it gives us two answers, both of which we must hold onto. First, God's justice begins to be established in Jesus, particularly in his resurrection from the dead. Here is the first taste of a world put right. Second, God's justice is yet to come and so we wait and pray and yearn for it. And we live our lives in the light of this hope, fighting evil where we find it now because God has promised that one day he will do for his whole broken and hurting world what he did for the crucified Jesus.

As for other questions, I'd be happy to discuss them. I'm happy to keep talking here if you're ok with a slightly more public discussion, or you can email me (my address is here).

Rain said...

Not convinced, sorry. I've heard that one too many times.
I have so many questions, i forgot them all.
I will get back to you when i think of them. I will write em dwon from now on.

Rain said...

One question. one of the main contestants of the Christian faith is evolution. Most of the western world believes in the Big Bang theory, or some other theory that strongly opposes the Christian faith.

One of the arguments of evolution is that we can see the light of stars burning billions of light years away, and since the light would have taken billions of years to get to earth, the earth must be billions of years old.

The Creationists say that God created the world as a mature but young earth, sending the light to the world straight away.

But why would god himself create a world that looks like it is millions of years old, and give his creation the impression that this is so? Isn't that almost purposefully misleading?

Rain said...

Also, why did God purposefully withhold his Word from certain parts of the world? Shouldn't he want all of His creation to be able to at least hear of his word?

Does this mean that if you are not chosen, you can never be? Does this mean that God can never accept someone that He has not hand or mass picked?

It hardly seems fair to someone who feels like they are not written in the book of life.

byron smith said...

Personally, I see no real conflict between the Christian faith in a gracious creator and the theories of the Big Bang and evolution. I do not think that the opening chapters of Genesis need to be read in a literalistic manner, especially as they have many indications of a genre other than straight historical narrative (e.g. the highly patterned structure of chapter one, the polemic parallels with other ancient near east creation accounts, the unremarkable presence of a talking snake, and so on). Literal six day creationists are something of a minority in my experience. Happy to talk about this further and point you in the direction of further reading, but it's time for bed now. I'll reply to your other post tomorrow. Peace.

Rain said...

So you beleive in theistic evolution? Personally, how long do you thik it took the world to be created?

Scratch said...

Sorry, i didn't mean to offend.

byron smith said...

Oops - no, my apologies! I didn't notice your question (for some reason I don't think I received the usual notification email) and have been having a very busy week (I'm heading off overseas in a week), so haven't checked my blog much.

I guess I believe in some kind of theistic evolution, though haven't really looked into it in great detail. From what I've checked out and based on others I trust, I've moved away from an earlier belief in a young earth. I would go with the scientific consensus of a universe that is around 13-14 billion years old and a planet that is around 4.5 billion years.

If this is a big issue for you, I could try to dig up some good things to read on the topic. I don't think it ought to be a major issue for Christians at all. If you want to doubt Christianity, I'd suggest far better reasons (and more interesting answers) are to be found in the problem of evil and suffering.

Peace.

Rain said...

Mmm, thanks. yea, i would like that.

byron smith said...

Sorry for the delay again. I'm switching countries for a few years in a few days and so have been quite busy.

Here are a few thoughts off the top of my head:
Start with this post to put some things in context. Then if you're up for a lot more detail, try the series that starts here and follow it through the blog. Finally, do a search for "evolution" in either of these two blogs.

Peace - I might not get back to this blog for the next few weeks as I will be travelling.

Scratch said...

ta. will look asap.

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