Monday, September 12, 2005

Over-pruning the tree of life

Have you ever met a quality assurance department? Their job is to catch mistakes. They can weed out what is flawed. If they have a good eye for quality and for the final product, that improves the end results. But if they prune too fiercely, the plant is damaged. When that's the case, they create deserts in their wake and for all their work, the one thing they cannot create is quality. They can prune, but they cannot grow. They can destroy, but not create. And if the quality control department itself has no quality controls on its own workings, the results can be disastrous. Like a letter that has been cut to pieces in a well-intentioned effort to improve it, an overly-zealous QA department can actually leave things in a worse condition than the first.

Right now, I believe the Quality Control branch of Christianity is out of control itself. It doesn't know when to stop pruning. It doesn't recognize healthy growth when it sees it, doesn't recognize which parts ought to be cut and which ought to stay. And it definitely does not recognize that it could ever, ever be part of the problem. In an effort to have something pure, it has instead made some areas nearly sterile.

There are three areas that I think need to be reclaimed from being blacklisted by the folks in QA:

Reclaiming a collegial approach to certain aspects of theology
While many things are clearly taught us, we have also asked questions that go beyond what is written. Areas in which the Bible and the ancient church do not require a specific stand may allow some legitimate differences of opinion. The QA department intuitively dislikes the idea of legitimate differences; their entire job depends on knowing with certainty what is right and wrong. That's a good job; it should be limited to areas where we do in fact know with certainty what is right and wrong.

Reclaiming a rightful place for joy, gladness, and love
In today's vast academic desert, many serious thinkers -- and even many Christians -- have abandoned matters of the heart. With all the intellectual rigor of my son fleeing cooties on the playground, we've swept "emotions" into Oprah's corner of the world or into the world of psychology. The heart has been deemed irrational and largely unworthy of serious consideration. Although joy, gladness, and love are among the things we most treasure in life, we've lost hold of them and have become unwilling to publicly consider them as even worthy of mention. The gifts of God which give us the most value in life must not be an embarrassment and cannot be banned from our discussions.

Reclaiming a rightful place for beauty, awe, and wonder
We're an age that likes its mysteries solved, its facts catalogued, measured, and analyzed. But few things energize a human soul in the same way as beauty, awe, and wonder. Having analyzed the world around us does not require that we cease to appreciate it. I'd like to reclaim the great heritage of Christian mysticism: a rational soul's response to an awesome world. Granted, the Quality Assurance department had largely shut down mysticism in this part of the world because mysticism had its fair share of flakes, and (at its worst) had become just one more avenue for the unspiritual to exercise spiritual one-upmanship and call it spirituality. (Most of that work has now been transferred to the Quality Assurance department.) But the sidelining of mysticism has left little appreciation for beauty and wonder, awe and mystery. Those who acknowledge the experience of God as part their lives often these days present a one-sided intellectualism or emotionalism instead of a deeper, more sustained encounter with God.

Experiencing problems with the theological QA department? I'd like to hear about it.

1 comment:

Diane said...

You make some very good points. However, IMO you are only hitting one section of the (evangelical) Body of Christ. There is also that huge and ever-growing Charismatic/Pentecostal section where emotions and other "stuff" are way too much in evidence, while theology is kicked out of the door (I am saying this as a Charismatic/Pentecostal myself).

It would be great if these two sections could somehow balance--each giving their best to the other.