Friday, April 04, 2008

Theology on Tap: afterthoughts

Theology on Tap ended up being a delightfully disorganized conversation. I expected a more organized conversation with some sort of facilitation or at least a topic. But, for better or worse, it was more like several conversations. On one side of the table there was a conversation about the Four-Square tradition, on another side there was a conversation about education in America, American citizenship, etc. On my side of the table my friend Caleb, my girlfriend Amanda, and I couldn't figure out what to talk about at first but ended up talking about some good stuff.

"ok..." I said, as we smiled at each other, feeling like we needed to find something theological to talk about... "Transubstantiation, what's your thought?" I said, half-joking but fairly interested in a conversation about the Eucharist. The three of us laughed a bit as Caleb began to answer; "I don't care... it doesn't matter!"
Whether or not the rest of the group realized it, there was actually something very Eucharistic about the whole thing... except instead of bread and wine we had peanuts and beer. We were there with intension and we were sharing ourselves with each other.

With all that was said tonight the one conversation which stuck with me tonight was about the difficulty of questioning ideas which we have carried with us our whole lives. I was talking to Caleb about "the rapture." Caleb, who was raised in and whose family is still involved in the Plymouth Brethren church (the tradition from which our culture has inherited dispensationalism and "rapture" theology), has recently began to question dispensationalism and has had some trouble accepting the concept of the rapture. He said that he gets a lot of blank stares from his family whenever he begins to suggest anything other than a dispensationalist eschatology. Because it has been such a part of his ecclesiological background, Caleb has experienced some serious tension--deciding between his best understanding of scripture and the kerygma of his tradition.

I have experienced some similar tension throughout my theological and biblical education. For example, when I read Scripture I don't see anything to merit some of the soteriological lingo which has been such a part of my background and my tradition: stuff like "getting saved" and "accepting Jesus into my heart." In fact, I have trouble with any soteriology which is bent on figuring out who is in and who is out of the faith. But when I try to suggest anything else, like Caleb, I get some blank stares. It's such a huge part of my tradition. It's dangerous territory to questions that!

So, some questions I have are:
Where does tradition enter into the process of making theological decisions? Which tradition do I incorporate into such a discussion (my own evangelical background or the overarching Christian historical scene... and even that is extremely difficult, just look at the difference between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox tradition)? And at what point should I trust my interpretation of Scripture over my tradition's interpretation?

Overall, Theology on Tap was a good time... good conversations and good beer!

3 comments:

nate said...

Wow, a blog post just for me? Thanks man, that was good to read. I wouldn't mind striking up an email conversation sometime over some of the things you brought up. I too came from a dispensational background. I started having doubts as a senior--by the end of the first semester of grad school, I gave Darby back his beliefs in the rapture.

Tradition...ouch. Does it say ANYWHERE in the bible what the books of the bible were to be? So God used tradition and fallible men to compose a canon? Also, if we claim to be "sola scriptura" shouldn't we be able to offer some scriptural evidence of such a belief? It just doesn't say in the bible that after Jesus, the sole basis for authority is scripture. I started seminary 5 years ago, finished 3 years ago. Those five years have been leading me somewhere I thought I'd never go!
Peace man, keep the writing coming, it's a gift. Hit me up via email sometime.

WES ELLIS said...

Nate,
Thanks for the comment. It truly does get confusing when we start using language like "Sola Scriptura" while the Scripture itself is not independent of tradition, reason, or experience. Scripture came to us through tradition, we understand it through our best reason, and our experience influences (maybe even dictates) how we understand and internalize the text. So, it's impossible to be "Sola Scriptura."
I guess the best approach is to be open and trust that God is active, even outside the pages of the Bible. While at the same time allowing the Bible to be authoritative in our lives.

nate said...

I almost wrote my thesis on canon but decided, after a month of research my presuppositions had been shattered, and the results of the paper may get me removed from my fellowship. I wrote a few blogs in the past on canon, but they are terse in scope. You might want to check them out in my blog archive.

I don't believe that any of the 23,000 plus protestant denoms in the US are truly "sola scritura..." we all have a pope at some level...even those groups that feign authority (even the friends/quakers) have some sort of hierarchy. So which is the best hierarchy. (One cannot objectively read scripture and not see that desired an UNDIVIDED church with one hierarchy--Jerusalem.) I have my answer, do you have one? email it to me if you get a chance, but it may take a while for me to get back to you...busy next few weeks. Peace!