When Ideology Trumps Theology
I’m a glutton for punishment. I could have decided to slouch along the sidelines of ministry and watch the many controversies within the church zip past. Perhaps peeking over the pew on occasion and catching a slight breeze off the mini-tornadoes of debate that exist under the umbrella that is American Evangelicalism.
Public prayer, the roles of women, the role of the Holy Spirit, capital punishment, responses to poverty, HIV/AIDS, divorce, adult or infant baptism, health or wealth . . . . . .
But you see I’m optimistic to a fault so I have decided to throw myself into a few of the storms. Sort of like that completely unrealistic heifer in the movie “Twister.” I decided to ride the windy tumult on occasion. Most recently, I became a Christian environmentalist.
As my position on environmental stewardship (also known as Creation Care) has become more public I’ve been reminded afresh of a the very painful way many of us in faith communities go about making decisions. I’m convinced perhaps now more than ever that those of us in the church need to put grace and peace before our own agendas. We need to out God’s agenda first.
“Well, duh,” you might say. This is nothing new. But since the Garden we have put our own agendas before God’s agenda. It seems to be the way of humankind. Since we’ve not managed to solve this issue yet I believe the conversation bears repeating for the church today. I will use Christian environmentalism as a little test case here.
There are both fans and skeptics involved in the debate over how much energy and resources Christians should place on caring for Creation. Should we care about the issue at all? Is there room in the Kingdom of God for conversations about sustainability, land and water use, resource management, and stewardship of the land?
These are just a few of the current arguments. Every debate inside Christendom has its respective list of questions, fans, and skeptics. Because a Christian response to environmentalism is a fierce debate today, this issue can shed new light on how we engage with ideas and thoughts in our culture today. For example:
When I speak about Creation Care I receive two basic replies. The first is an overflowing sigh of thanksgiving that seems to emanate from the depths of a person’s gut. “Thank you Jesus that we are finally doing something about this.” People say. “I am so happy we are finally taking this conversation into the church.” They smile.
The other response often goes like this. “Hmmm, isn’t this a liberal agenda item?” “Are you saying that you think Obama is right?” “Isn’t this an issue for Democrats?”
These are fair questions and this is not to mock any of them. Where I struggle is with the fact that rarely does someone say to me “is this biblical?”
“Is this biblical” is the question we should be asking in every debate, on both sides. In a subject area that is rife with pantheists and a real concern that worship of God may be diverted from Creator to Creation, “is this biblical” is an essential question. But sadly I receive the biblical query in small numbers compared to those who are angry with our current President or what they perceive to be a liberal political agenda.
There is a leadership lesson here for the church that brings me to reflect on my own responses to issues. How often do I let my own ideologies drive my theology? I am usually tempted to consider first how a particular issue or response fits into my own ideological framework rather than asking the simple question, “well, is it biblical?” And if so, then how do I adjust my life accordingly (whether I want to or not).
My desire to be a good steward of the earth comes from Scripture. Sure, people can lump the passions of “green” folks like me into whatever camp they want. But to honor the conversation I do my best to let Scripture drive my agenda. This principle applies to other dicey debates as well.
If we let theology drive our ideology we open ourselves up to the horrifying yet humble possibility that we might be wrong. This puts us in a place where the Holy Spirit can move in our lives and can shape our very souls. Eugene Peterson (and I am paraphrasing here) once remarked that the moment we declare we know it all is the moment that we’ve told the Holy Spirit to take a hike.
To claim we know it all and then to declare a particular political or social camp captures that viewpoint is to place the wisdom that belongs to God alone into the hands of sinful humanity. We enter dangerous territory when we ask ideological questions before theological questions, especially in the church.
Whether environmentalism, immigration reform or economic recovery, we do the Kingdom of God justice when we venture out bravely and search first for a theological position rather than hunker down smugly behind our ideologies. This can leave us exposed, caught in the cross-fires, but strangely free to live a bit more like Jesus, who came to free us from the very ideologies of his own day, and our days as well.