Q&A with Ed Cyzewski, author of Coffeehouse Theology

EdC200_thumb1Ed Cyzewski blogs at www.inamirrordimly.com where he shares imperfect and sometimes sarcastic thoughts about following Jesus. He is the author of Coffeehouse Theology and co-author of the upcoming books Unfollowers: The Dropouts, Detractors, and Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation. Find him on twitter: @edcyzewski or Facebook, and preview his books through his e-newsletter. After recently meeting Ed online and being challenged and encouraged by his book Coffeehouse Theology, I thought I would give you the unique privilege of discovering what makes his theology tick in a question and answer format. Prepare to be challenged, amused, and encouraged. Enjoy!

What would you say to the average person in the church pew who asks, “Why should I care about theology?” I used to think I held to my particular beliefs because I was clever or really holy. Let’s face it: we’re all convinced that we’re right, even if there is tremendous diversity among Christians that should give us cause for humility and curiosity. 

It’s important to know where our beliefs come from, who has shaped them, why they’re so diverse, and how they determine the way we live. I’m a big fan of talking about our beliefs (i.e. theology) in community, and that’s why “coffeehouse” was part of my book’s title.

For instance, many evangelicals in America don’t realize how radically western Christianity shifted during the 1800’s, and how those shifts influence who we are today. We fight tooth and nail over theology because we know deep down that a shift in theology means we need to change the big and small decisions we make each day.

Coffeehouse-angled-160_thumb_thumbWhat are two of the biggest ways your theology has evolved or been shaped in the last five years? I’ll pinpoint one big thing since it impacts so many other areas.

I answer the question, “Why do we read the Bible?” very differently now. Even when I wrote Coffeehouse Theology, I wanted to find THE ANSWERS. That’s why I read the Bible. My answers were just more progressive or post-evangelical. You can be conservative or liberal and reduce the Bible to a guide with the right answers.

When I read the Bible today, I’m reading it to hear what the Spirit is speaking to myself and to my community. I had some of those pieces in place when I wrote Coffeehouse Theology, but I still wanted to be “right.” While people get nervous at the thought of me saying this, the point of scripture is to become Christ-like and to join in God’s Kingdom work. So the “test” of our theology isn’t only “having the right answers." The test is what our fruit looks like based on our answers. If I may be so bold, there are people who love Jesus and have the right fruit even though they have what I consider the “wrong” answers.

As a case study, you mention that your views on women in ministry completely changed because of your experience of God’s work through women. Can you give us a quick synopsis of how you believe God, Scripture, Tradition, and the Global Church can work together to grow and deepen our theology? The ministry of Marilyn Lazlo opened my eyes to my hypocrisy about women in ministry during my college years. How could I praise a solitary woman for evangelizing a tribe in the jungle, teaching all of the men the Gospel, but then say she can’t teach affluent Americans in my own church?

Global Christian ministry in South Asia, meet western American theology.

I also saw my mother-in-law use her gifts of authority in prison ministry. It was authority that brought order and encouragement without shaming or holding anyone back.

Then I studied scripture and learned about the context of the New Testament and the tension in early Christian history where women were gradually shoved out of ministry roles by the male hierarchy.

My take on women in ministry now is that you can’t escape tension in the Bible whichever way you go on this issue (and many others). If God is opposed to women teaching men, opponents of women in ministry need to consider what Deborah, Huldah, and Priscilla were up to. If I support women in ministry, I have to explain why Paul’s commands concerning women made sense in his context but not in our own.

I also love to bring up Paul’s teachings about head coverings in 1 Corinthians. For Paul, women HAD to wear head coverings in order to pray. It wasn’t up for debate. There was no other practice in the church at that time. We overlook a tension like that without even blinking, but the truth is that the Bible creates tension like this all of the time.

In all of these issues we have to ask questions about Christian history and global Christian ministry without prioritizing American theology. If we’re reading for ONLY the right answer, that approach to theology will be unsettling. However, if we’re looking for Christ and desire to imitate him, we will be able to rest better with the tension these practices create.

As a fun aside, I’ll also add that Jewish students of scripture are WAY better at handling the tension that scripture creates.

Can you name a recent example where the American church has learned and grown from the global church’s perspectives on theology? The most important shifts among evangelical ministries in North America that I’ve seen have come from the lessons that missionaries brought back from the mission field and applied to the western context (this was especially huge at Fuller Theological Seminary). There are lots of buzz words and inaccessible scholarly books about this, but overall, the fact that American church planters are thinking of themselves as missionaries is such a wonderful shift that has been sorely needed for a million reasons. The more we learn from missionaries like Leslie Newbigin, the better prepared we’ll be for the challenges that American churches will face in the years to come.

What’s next for you in your writing, and why are you passionate about it? I’m co-authoring two books that release this spring. One is called The Unfollowers: the Dropouts, Detractors, and Doubters of Jesus, and it asks: What kept people from following Jesus and could those same things keep us from following him today? The other book is called The Good News of Revelation, and it suggests that Revelation had an encouraging message about persevering in the midst of suffering while trusting God to one day bring salvation and justice. So I’m pretty much calling out the theology behind The Left Behind series.

I provide book samples and previews each month to my e-newsletter subscribers. New subscribers also receive two free E-books.

Anything else you want to share?

  1. It’s hockey season. That just makes me happy.
  2. Thanks for hosting me at your blog! I really appreciate it.

Your turn: What is one way your theology has changed or deepened in the last five years?