Ever tried to hide your theology? I have. Or perhaps conceal is a better word.
I'll just be honest: seminary was a hair-raising experience for me. There are many reasons for this, but here is one of them: my shallow theology and my growing faith were being constantly poked, upended, retooled, tested, and tried. I am not alone in this experience. Some people leave their faith in seminary. My faith was in a furnace, blasting hot, being severely refined, until it looked in some ways completely different than the faith I held in my childhood years as a Baptist pastor's kid, and the faith of my 20s and early 30s. I didn't exactly recognize it. Which isn't a bad thing: our theology should grow and deepen with time.
But the truth is, I graduated from seminary and emerged emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
I had some great experiences in seminary, and I learned a ton. I think I got my money's worth. But I was female in a denominational seminary where women weren't supposed to lead and preach in the church. I grew to be firmly Arminian; so many of my classmates and professors leaned towards Calvinism as many of my friends do. (Let's clarify, I am still shaped through Calvin's theological contributions.) I was shaped and formed by life-giving elements of Wesleyan theology through my church. My understanding that the Bible is not a science textbook colored my reading of the Creation narrative in Genesis. I tossed off the dispensationalism of my youth (including that firm belief that the rapture would happen before the tribulation and we were all going to escape this earth), and I became firmly convinced that Christians trumpeting the Republican Party or the Democratic Party wasn't something Jesus was primarily calling us to at all. He called us instead to help bring his Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, making disciples, and to serve the broken, the cast-off, the least and the last.
To give you an idea of how much I changed, my favorite part of the week became hanging out with recovering addicts, women in a residential program who were raw and exposed. Never did I picture myself there, but God did and opened the doors wide. I opened the Bible with them and read the stories in the book of John; I cried and prayed with them. These beautiful women taught me about the power of the Gospel and the ravishing, outstanding love of Jesus for the broken.
So to say I stood out like a sore thumb is an understatement. No one could figure me out exactly. Sometimes I tried to keep my mouth shut, other times I opened it and felt so different, sometimes affirmed and understood, many times not. As much as I would have loved to be right at home in my surroundings, my theology was showing.
When I served as a pastoral intern and then an interim pastor, there was no going back.
Some of us who have been in the Church for a long time have tried to escape theology. We're so tired of nit-picky differences and theological debates and agendas and people who believe slightly different and try to make mountains out of molehills. Some want to opt out, to be trans-denominational, to do faith on their own or to quite simply give up.
I hope I learn from many streams of the Christian faith, growing in the knowledge of what it means to be like Jesus. But as for theology, we all have an understanding of God and his word, whether we admit it or not, and I have just exposed mine. I'm not trying to prove a point. I'm not trying to convince you of anything.
I'm simply trying to tell you that I have wrestled with God, Scripture, and Church Tradition about theology, about what it means to know and love him, and I, like Jacob, would not let go until he blessed me. Consequently, I now walk with a knowing limp.
The limp is for my good, for my humility, for the express purpose of reminding me that I don't know all there is about God, or even half of it. And so I continue to wrestle with Scripture, I continue to seek God, I continue to grow and learn what it means to be his disciple.
It just so happens that I'm no longer hiding my theology—as if I even could in the first place. And in this, I feel, finally, free.
Next week: "Oops, your theology is showing, part 2." Come with me as I explore concepts from the book Coffeehouse Theology by my friend Ed Cyzewski, and how our culture shapes our theology, like it or not.
Are you hiding your theology? How has your theology, or what you know to be true about God and his kingdom, changed or deepened in the last year?