important preliminary comments here (part 1)
our american identity here (part 2)
my framing theological assumption here (part 3)
the unfortunate results of being reactors here (part 4)
the unfortunate results of being simplifiers here (part 5)
once we americans simplify something, our immediate next step is to put it into a system. simplified bits by themselves usually have very little use for us; in fact, i think one of the prime motivations we have for simplifying things is in order to systematize them. we sure do love our simple systems. look through ANY bookstore (not just christian bookstores) and you’ll see ample proof of this.
since we’re systematizers…
we have very little or no room for mystery. i touched on this quite a bit in my last post; but, when we care so deeply about our resolved systems of belief, there’s just very little room for things that don’t fit into those simple systems. i can’t tell you how many times a n0n-systematizable (is that a word?) subject has come up in conversation, and my conversation partner, committed to a resolved system, will say something like: well, i just don’t think about that. or: i’ll leave that one to others to figure out. really, it results in ‘bumper-sticker theology’ in many cases. “let go and let god” becomes a neat little system for living, and for avoiding mystery.
problem is: our faith should be chock-full of mystery! we see through a glass dimly. we strive to understand (we should) and we strive to see (we should), but we’ll only understand and see a percentage of the grand mysteries of god and the universe. this is not only a biological limitation of being human — it’s a great and loving gift from god! if overly-simplified answers rob us the opportunity for growth and faith, overly-simplified systems (filled with simplified answers) are like a band of robbers. here’s a bold hunch: i think our faith systems (when overly-simpified, or too-closely held) not only rob us, they become the primary reason we have become so neutered in connecting with the real world, full of mystery.
we only want theology bits that fit into an explainable whole. sure, sytematic theology has value. but we’ve insisted for too long (because it’s part of who we are as americans, to the core) that EVERYTHING fit in a system. if we have ten ‘bits’ in our system, and an 11th ‘bit’ comes up, we reject it on the grounds that our system is already complete, and this new piece doesn’t fit the already-resolved system.
we have lots of simplified systematic theologies in the american church. ‘let go and let god’ is a systematic theology. purpose-driven life is a systematic theology. PDL has obviously been used by god in powerful ways (i bagged on that book quite a bit when it came out — but i can’t deny that god really used it). but if you suggest a possible sixth ‘purpose’ for consideration by someone committed to the five purposes in PDL, it is immediately dismissed, because the system is already complete, and there is no room left for expansion or reconsideration.
different systems aren’t appreciated. this ties back to us being reactors. we’re a culture of polarity. and when i’ve concluded that my simplified systematic theology resolves enough for me, i am prone to only react to yours. we don’t seem to have the ability to see that our systems can be helpful, but that another system can provide a different and helpful perspective, a different and helpful metaphor, or a different and helpful set of questions. yes, we’re a culture of polarity and dismissiveness.
next up: since we’re highly individualistic (part 7)