Have you ever watched the The Matrix? Crazy movie, right? The thing that continually keeps reminding me of that movie is the last thing you’d probably think of, even though the movie is rife with motifs, themes, and analogies of it. The thing that keeps reminding me of that movie is theology.
Now, before I lose half of you, let me say this. Everyone is a theologian, even if not in the professional or academic sense. If you’ve ever said anything about God, or even had a single thought about God, you’re a theologian. Like it or not, words and thoughts about God are, by definition, theology. Even if those thoughts or words are something like, I don’t think God exists, you’re still a theologian, albeit a very poor one. So then the question we ought to ask ourselves is not whether or not we are theologians, but what sort of theologians are we? Are we good or bad theologians? I hope to help us diagnose that here. We don’t need to live in an ivory tower in order to be good theologians. We do need to learn a few things about what makes a good theologian, though.
I for one haven’t always been interested in spirituality and theology, at least not Christian spirituality. Perhaps I should restate that. At one time I thought I was interested in Christian spirituality, but I was really obsessed with something entirely different. It might have looked like Christian theology, smelled like it, and even sounded Christian. But I was about to have an experience that would change all of that. That experience would be followed by many more experiences. All these experiences would take the world I thought I knew as “Christian spirituality” and completely flip it on it’s head, essentially turning my theological world upside down. Some might refer to an experience like this as a paradigm shift, and I think that would be a fair assessment of what I went through.
A paradigm shift is:
- a transition from truths believed to be undisputed to another entirely different and possibly contrary set of truths
- a correction to underlying assumptions about a given topic
- a dramatic change in perspective
- a revelation
- an epiphany
I had a theological paradigm shift. I call it my theological “Matrix” moment. It wasn’t so much a single moment, but many moments leading up to one pivotal point when all of it came crashing through in a sudden realization, like a dam breaking and finally releasing a tidal wave it had been trying to hold back. It was that point where the world of theology and spirituality which I had imagined around me suddenly evaporated into thin air, revealing a greater, bigger, grander world of theology than I had ever realized was there. This also left me with the harsh realization of just how wrong I had been about the imaginary world I had thought to be the real one.
I describe it as a “Matrix” moment because one cannot be told about this moment, this paradigm shift. Yes, just like in the movie, Matrix-like paradigm shifts in Theology have to be seen and experienced firsthand. But I warn you: once you start down this path, there will be no turning back. You take the blue pill and you get to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Or you can take the red pill and all this will just have been a dream. You can go back to your normal life, believing all the same stuff you believed before, and pretending that this awkward conversation never happened. As some who have “left” the Matrix and then woke up in the real world have said, “Ignorance is bliss,” or more accurately, ignorance was bliss. Some of the stuff I want to show you simply cannot be unseen. You have been given fair warning.
If you’re still reading this I’ll take it as a sign that I didn’t scare you off, at least not yet. We’re going to start by talking about two paradoxical theologies. There are really only two schools of theology that all systems of theology fall into. Whatever your theology is now, whatever your religion or moral system, it falls into one of two schools. There is the theology of glory (i.e., man’s glory) and there is a theology of the cross. There is no other kind. The first is man-made and man-centered, while the other is revealed by God in the Bible and is Christ-centered. It goes without saying, then, (or at least it should) that a Christ-centered theology would be a cross-centered theology.
Over the next several times that I write for Christ Hold Fast I want to take a good look at the dramatic differences between these two theologies. We’ll do this with the help of Scripture first, and secondly, a set of statements written by Martin Luther in 1518. These are brief statements, making definite truth claims, and being compared with Scripture to test whether they are true or not. We’ll take a close look at each statement, one or two at a time. Each time I’ll explain and illustrate what Luther means and will discuss the relevant passages from the Bible.
Over the course of this series, if I have done my job properly, the paradigm will begin to shift as you read and think about each one. You will begin to realize that, right or wrong, you have a certain type of theology, even if you didn’t realize it up until now. You either believe in a theology of glory, or a theology of the cross.