Friday, June 01, 2007

Thoughts About Thinking About Faith...

I ran across the following quote via Steven Harris who gets it from this interview with a gentleman named Liam Goligher.

Liam is concerned that the works of these theologians [advocates of the New Perspective on Paul, e.g. NT Wright] are overly complex, and that it seems it simply isn’t possible to popularise their teaching. To him, theology should be capable of a simple explanation that even a child can understand, whilst, of course, it can also be explored and discussed at much greater levels of complexity.
I don't know this man, and have no idea about what his credentials may or may not be (though I did see at another site that he uses the title Dr.). That being said this sentence is absurd and dangerous.

It's absurd because theology has always been difficult and complex. The writings of the OT prophets and poets, the theology of James and Paul and Peter and the author of Hebrews, the teachings of Christ himself...they're all complex. There is a reason why there is so much disagreement concerning the teachings of Scripture. Those teachings are sometimes very dense and require prolonged analysis and consideration, and developing a systematic theology from the Bible necessarily involves some intellectual heavy lifting.

It's dangerous because it suggests that anyone speaking in complex sentences and using polysyllabic words is somehow a less able or devout Christian. NT Wright is a great man, a great thinker and as far as I can tell a great Christian. He even writes some great devotional material that I think more Christians should read. Goligher's opinions above don't make me second guess Wright's faith or theology, they only make me think that Goligher is in over his head when he's reading Wright's academic works.

There are a great many academics in the world who believe that complex discussion about hermeneutics, the Historical Jesus, the Historical Paul, textual criticism, literary theory, etc., is important and are also devout Christians. This world doesn't need fewer people critically engaging complex issues, it needs more. This isn't intellectual snobbery. I don't think that you need to read Greek and Hebrew in order to be a thoughtful Christian, but being able to read ancient languages and complex theology doesn't preclude faith either.

Having faith like a child isn't the same thing as thinking like one.

4 comments:

Tara said...

so true my friend. But I gotta admit with my serious mommy-brain right now I tend towards child-like thinking :) But I have hope that I too, shall someday be able to use polysyllabic words again.

Jon, Angie, Elijah & Brady said...

i'm with you. as ravi says: "let my people think!"

but, on the other hand, a faith that requires a certain intelligent ability is not one worth having because it is not availabe to all.

that said, if you have a brain you are supposed to use it, though the TV has taught us not to.

i'm in a class right now where i'm feeling dumb. pining for some simplicity.

Colin Toffelmire said...

ya, i hear what you're saying...i'm not advocating an elitist approach to faith. there's a song by caedmon's call that talks about Christianity being a river where "the strong can swim in deep and the weak and the broken can walk across so easily." i believe that.

as for the class, i figure any class where you don't feel dumb at least some of the time wasn't really worth the money you paid for it. but that's just me.

cheers all.

Jon, Angie, Elijah & Brady said...

i agree. it is really good to be stretched by a class.