Nuance and Theology

I find it interesting how theological issues are so divisive. Often issues are framed in very stark black and white terms and only one position is presented as the only viable option. I saw this often in my younger years with the Landmark Baptists when it came to the concept of the “church.” Landmarkers essentially argued that for Catholics the church was the “universal, visible church,” while for most Protestants the church was the “universal, invisible church,” and for Baptists the church was the “local, visible church.” For them the word “ecclesia” always meant a local body of believers and they believed that they were the “true” body of believers. The problem is that “church” isn’t limited to a specific word, but to many words and concepts in the New Testament. Hence “church” can have a broad meaning and interpreted differently depending on context. This is called nuance.

Another example is the doctrine of justification. For Calvinists the principle meaning is that of forensic justification, while other’s there are moral and ethical aspects to it. Permitting the various words and concepts to have their say in their respective contexts allows for the various shades of meaning to come out – nuance.

This doesn’t mean people won’t run to their favorite verses to argue for their specific theological preferences, but recognizing nuance should allow for more openness in dialog and less dogmatism.

Post By Anthony Lawson (1 Posts)

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3 thoughts on “Nuance and Theology

  1. I am going to run for my favorite verse to support my opinion here…”Jesus wept” sort of like I imagine Him weeping now over our silliness.

  2. The need to feel superior to someone is an all too human inclination. This constitutes the basis for academic degrees, eugenics, racism, sexism, socioeconomic status, as well as notions of religious ascendancy.

    Think of theological competition as a variation of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Only instead of comparisons of material goods, status is measured in terms of heavenly rewards. For example if YOU are going to heaven because of good works – which I am, for whatever reasons, unable to match – I can get to heaven because of MY faith. (Oh, and by the way, MY faith is superior to YOUR works because MY preacher said so. And don’t YOU forget it!!!)

    Furthermore, because the existence of God cannot be proved one way (existence) or the other (nonexistence), religious doctrines flowing therefrom offer to put have-nots on an equal footing with haves of this world. After all, THEY are going to heaven. This is the bread and butter of fundamentalism. It is also why religion and poverty tend to walk hand in hand.

    Religious divisions also have practical uses. One of the more common is as a component of a divide-and-conquer strategy for controlling the working class. It is amazing how, in a time of national crisis, leaders urge the masses to put their religious prejudices aside for THE CAUSE. Then, once the proximal distress passes, the gung ho (working together) propaganda ceases to flow.

    It is also worth pointing out that every ideology tend to breed its own antithesis. Federalist snobbery sired the Democratic Party backlash. Laissez-faire capitalism spawned communism as well as labor unions. Victorian patriarchy proved to be a fertile breeding ground for nascent feminism. Papal corruption was wholly responsible for the Protestant Reformation. Both the French and Russian Revolutions were products of their respective out-of-touch monarchies.

    In the end, MY God – or, more accurately in post-ancient monotheism, MY version of a particular Bronze Age tribal deity – is superior to YOUR god (who’s probably a devil anyway in MY opinion) because, without the illusion, I become a nobody. That is, to word it as Winston Churchill might, something my hubris will not up with put!

    By the way, vanity is the principal reason creationists so despite Darwinists. With creationism comes the delusion of being created in image of the supreme being of the universe. Man is superior to woman because HE was created in the divinity’s image and woman derived from him. Both are superior to the rest of live on earth.

    On the other hand, if Darwin’s theories are true, mankind is just one of the pack. He’s not really all that special. Something came before. By the same token, humankind may simply be a stepping stone in the evolutionary process. Either way, Darwin’s pin pricks the creationist’s bubble of superiority.

  3. Among the more stunning examples of theologically-inspired hubris has been the rise in neo-geocentrism. Despite attention given to “The Principle,” the rather quaint notion that, not just the sun but, the whole universe revolves around the earth has been stirring in the backwaters of fundamentalism at least a couple of decades.

    Much of the accompany war on science would fodder for a comedy routine were it not for the disturbing fact that a strong anti-intellectual current runs through the United States. Consequently, Americans are more vulnerable to this hokum than they suspect.

    One reason is that, as with much of right-wing propaganda, creationism and geocentrism both appeals to human beings’ innate vanity by offering an exaggerated sense of self-importance that can be easily exploited for nefarious political purposes. Moreover, while the American public has been infinitely warned of the dangers of socialism, they remain oblivious to the seduction of fascism.

    In truth, although I am no prophet, I have every reason to believe that Americans are being groomed – much as a pedophile grooms a victim – for a fascist future. At this point, much of the stage is set. Nevertheless, one significant missing ingredient is a charismatic leader – the man on horseback the secularists writing The Constitution of the United States in 1787 so feared – able to sway the masses with dynamic rhetoric.

    When fascism comes to the United States, it will be heralded as proof of God’s blessing American exceptionalism. For a time, patriotism and prosperity will soar to dizzying heights. Yet, instead of being the end of the beginning, it will be the beginning of the end. To rephrase a line from America The Beautiful, America’s demise will be a time when a beautiful for patriot dream that once saw beyond the years will be extinguished in a wave of human tears.

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