Our Place in History

A few weeks ago, Kyle, Tyler, and I attended panel #2 of a two-part series at Claremont School of Theology. The first one was on Church in Society, which I was sad to miss, and the second was on Transforming Society--or something like that; I don't remember exactly. The panel consisted of several liberal theologians from top schools across the country. In a fascinating attempt to keep the audience involved, we jotted down what we believed to be theological predicaments that ought to be at the forefront of theologians' and clergies' minds when it comes to making the world a better place. Then the scholars each volunteered to address a specific one. The list was the usual: economic meltdown, AIDS, poverty, homosexuality, global warming, and on and on. It was actually quite the downer. But to hear the smart people articulate approaches to discuss and even implement change in these areas was inspiring and encouraging. (It reminded me again and again that before I am anything else good, like a philanthropist, volunteer, educator, mother, etc. I am a spiritual being intimately related to my environment, family, neighbors, and Creator. --Perhaps affirming again that I am entering the right profession for me.)

Afterwards, while the three of us were enjoying a flavorful and aromatic hookah at a trendy Mediterranean joint in the Claremont Village, the conversation veered into something along the lines of, what right do those people, those smart people, the "scholars" and theologians have to make any claims about anything, be it a doctrinal truth they uphold, or personal approaches to social issues (like Just Peacemaking Theory), or whatever. Before we can argue one way or the other for anything, don't we need to humbly position ourselves, our minds, and our ideas about the world in a larger context, and that context being all of world history? I don't think the panel would have disagreed with us, but they certainly might argue that there isn't always time for such macro-approaches to conversation, so we need to just assume some things from the get-go. However, we decided that there needs to be time, if only a sentence or two, in which the speaker can acknowledge her seemingly inconsequential ideas and then go on to share them at length. This would make the ideas so much more credible, would it not?

But how un-Enlightenment of us to admit from the start that perhaps we do not have this...this God-thing, this theology-stuff all figured out, especially us scholars. I'm not harping on the academy, just the opposite, in fact. I love it when I begin a new class each quarter and my professor confesses not having all the answers, not always understanding everything that ought to be understood, and therefore not always able to articulate complex ideas about the nature of God in as clear way as necessary. I like these professors way more than the ones who boldly and arrogantly claim, "look kids, here's how it is. now go pastor."

So, all that to say, I opened Latourette's volume-one church history book last week (a mere 1000 page work) and to my delight, the entire first chapter devotes itself to adequately addressing the need for the church to remember the small, small, small fraction of time it has existed and experienced influence on the world when considering the course of world history. Fabulous! I was a bit embarrassed that I had a church history class on Evangelicalism at Yale in Latourette Hall, that this is my third church history class at Fuller, in which I read pieces of Latourette's works in the prior two, and it was only this fourth time that I bothered reading chapter one, and that's just because Dr. Bradley actually assigned it. (THANK YOU!)

Here a bit of what he says.

Christianity is relatively young. Compared with the course of mankind on the earth, it began only a few moments ago...If one accepts the perspective set forth in the NT that in Christ is the secret of God's plan for the entire creation...Christianity becomes relatively even more recent, for the few centuries since the coming of Christ are only an infinitesimal fraction of the time which has elapsed since the earth, not to speak of the vast universe, came into being...Christianity has been present during only a fifth or a sixth of the brief span of civilized mankind.

Again, fabulous! Now, I am can talk, or listen to someone else talk about her doctrine of the trinity. Now I can discuss the significance of Protestant denominations. Now, I can embrace the call to live as a pacifist. Now, when it's all contextualized and we are free to admit that we don't have this Christian-follow-Jesus-live-in-the-kingdom-life-thing all figured out can I begin to start claiming Christianity and following Jesus to that I can live life in the kingdom of God. So please, yes, let's have as many panels as possible that discuss minutia like hte doctrine of the Trinity, just so we can remember that although it's a huge and orthodox concept, really, it's fairly small. (How heretical of me, I know, since our entire faith hangs on the existence of said doctrine.)

I'll stop with this last quote which I find incredibly freeing. Latourette goes on to say,

If Christianity is only near the beginning of its course it may be that the forms which it has developed, whether institutional, intellectual, or ritual are by no means to be final or continuously characteristic.

Praise God! Let's move on people! And thank you to all you pastors, theologians, preachers, and laity out there who are already embodying this for me as I seek my own road of pastoral ministry. This all merges for me in a way that has given me more permission to dream about new church communities outside the institution, denominational constraints, and the pressures that come with ordination. hmmmm....


so it goes said...

i like this

Cafe Pasadena said...

Good writing, and reading.

Thoughtful points. We all come trained with presuppositions. If they are off kilter to start, then we're already off target & need to begin again.