Yesterday, we debated the reasonableness of religious pluralism. In response, Andy Bryan wrote at his blog:
There are some people for whom theology is a set of propositions to which one may subscribe. If you subscribe to one set of propositions, you are a Christian. If you subscribe to another, you are Jewish. If you subscribe to another, you are a Muslim. And so forth. Even agnosticism and atheism fit in nicely here, as the subscription to their own respective sets of propositions about God.
For a Christian who has this mindset, evangelism seems to be a rather rudimentary process of comparing sets of propositions and ascertaining which set is "right" and which set is "wrong," and convincing people to subscribe to the "right" one. The "right" set of propositions is almost always the set held by the one doing the evangelizing, which makes the set of propositions held by the object of evangelism, by definition, "wrong."
To start out, theology is more than a set of propositions. Peter Hodgson (I think) says that theology is a kind of "creative fiction," or a poetic retelling of that which we know to be true about God. (I'm paraphrasing.) Dovetailing this idea, I see theology as the art of describing God and God's relationship with creation. It is less scientific than imaginative. Reducing it to a mere set of propositions is like hanging color-by-number paintings in an art gallery.
Secondly, Jesus did not say to his followers, "Go therefore and compare sets of propositions with all nations, convincing them that their sets are wrong and yours is right. And lo, I will be with you (and only you) always, till the end of the age." No, he said, "Go and make disciples." It's about relationships, not doctrines. Jesus seems to care a whole lot more about how we treat one another than about how we get other people to believe what we believe.
Read the whole post. I completely agree that religion is more than a set of theological propositions. I completely agree that evangelizing through intellectual argumentation is foolish. So I don't know of Andy is actually critiquing me here or is just using my post to express his concerns about a form of evangelism that I equally consider to be annoying and ineffective.
But although religion is more than agreeing to certain theological propositions (as John Wesley argued tirelessly), all religions, including Christianity, contain a certain amount of intellectual content. That's why the early Church formulated the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. In fact, that's why they wrote the New Testament. To be a Christian means -- among other things -- believing in certain things, such as that s/he is a sinner and that Christ is the Son of God who can forgive those sins. One cannot be a Christian if one deviates from these propositions, such as believing that one is a god and that Christ is a potted plant, or was a complete fabrication of early Church. This has been the collective understanding of the Church since the composition of the New Testament until very recently.
Discipleship, as Andy says, is about relationships. But that there are certain theological propositions involved at some level is unavoidable. How we treat each other is probably more important than doctrine, but -- if I understand him correctly -- Andy is saying that doctrine is of no importance whatsoever. Here we disagree.
Am I wrong? In a previous post I linked to a long list of statements in the New Testament in which Jesus and the epistolary writers asserted that correct teaching matters.
Were they wrong?
The early Church, through writing, prayer, debate, and ecumencial councils, hammered out what were their core beliefs and what were (necessarily) not. From these, they created the creeds.
Were they wrong?
The people of the Church through its whole history has considered various propositions of doctrine, and their relative importance or unimportance. But it has never stopped contemplating who God is and what he is doing.
Were they wrong?
It is only in the modern bizarro world that we live in today where religious pluralism has been invented and considered to be something more than an intellectual incoherency. That's why I find it hard to debate religious pluralism -- it's a pure non sequitur. It is a self-refuting statement devoid of meaning.