Six Words Describing My Theology
These are not in order of importance, but stations in a circle of interaction and connection. They balance each other and move together. These are very brief sketches, to be filled out in future posts.
I am inspired by the vision and practice of the Christians based in Ireland who worked mainly on the western fringe of Europe from the 5th through the 12th centuries. The flavor of the mission was decidedly different from that of the Roman mission, which would eventually take precedence. The Celtic movement was decentralized, centered on nature, rooted in spiritual practices, incarnational, communal, and inclusive. In many ways the Celtic mission anticipated not only some themes of the Reformation, but now finds remarkable resonance among 21st century Christians. It is a road-not-traveled by which we may not only reconnect with our Christian origins, but speak with integrity to our world.
“Celtic” today means more for me than a recovery of ancient history, but paying attention to the theologies emerging from the fringes, the edges, and outside of the mainstream, but which are also fed by roots driven deep into the biblical and Christian tradition.
(We Presbyterians also have a Celtic connection from our Scottish heritage; much of the energy in this Celtic revival emerges from places like Iona, Scotland.)
I am grounded in the doctrines and outlook established by the Orthodox church as a continuation and articulation of the faith of the apostles, the New Testament, and Jesus Christ. Discovering the theology and spirituality of the Eastern Church early in my education kept me Christian; I daily rely on the insights of the early fathers and mothers of the church. Along with the affirmation of the Trinity and Christ’s two natures, I also have embraced the doctrine of “Theosis” which talks about how humans become by grace what Christ is by nature, and participate in God’s reality. This mystical grounding feeds, informs, and orients my faith.
(It also means that I move decidedly away from theories of the atonement which involve Jesus having to die to satisfy the honor or wrath of an angry Father.)
I believe the church requires constant reforming and reimagining according to the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ. As he is attested in Scripture, Jesus Christ is the One Word of God to whom we belong and whom we must worship and serve in life and in death (Barmen). The Scriptures are the unique and authoritative witness to him (C-67). Constant self-critical vigilance is required for the church to resist wandering after the lure of wealth, privilege, and power, and remain faithful to the Lord Jesus and his life of humility, service, healing, justice, peace, and love. Being Reformed is more a matter of faithfulness to this general approach of the Reformers than it is about trying to apply in our time their specific solutions to 16th century problems.
The church is organized according to two principles: a. responsibility rests with the elders, and b. elders bear that responsibility by gathering in councils. Leadership is at once concentrated among those who have demonstrated a commitment to discipleship, and at the same time diffused in a group so that no individual becomes central. The responsibility of elders gathered in councils is to discern and follow the will of Jesus Christ, who is the only Head of the Church.
Human beings are caught between the true world in which we are created by God as spiritual beings destined for eternal life, and the false world of delusion, sin, ego-centricity, and personality which we have invented. Christ calls us to repentance: the process of awakening to a different way of seeing, thinking, and acting. In repentance we resonate with Christ and increasingly perceive according to his perspective. We come to see the reality of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls, and the extend it into our social and ecological life. Changed people change the world. The more Christlike we become, the more we reshape our world according to Christ’s principles and values. Nothing is more imperative for the future of humanity and creation than that people follow Jesus’ Way of non-violence, humility, equality, inclusion, simplicity, generosity, forgiveness, and walking lightly on the Earth. That, by the way, is the urgency behind our evangelism.
Contemplation is a centering, grounding awareness which we experience in prayer and meditation, and which we express in connection and compassion. In contemplation we experience Presence, the fullness of time, immediacy, the eternal now. Through the depth, silence, and sensation of contemplation we learn to see from ever higher, broader, and more inclusive perspectives. By looking inward we become more open, identifying with others. Because it gives us access to realities far larger than our minds or senses can comprehend, contemplation knows by means of ritual, symbol, story, metaphor, archetype, poetry, and imagery. Contemplation connects us, however subtly, with the ultimate source of energy, light, and life. It funds, energizes, and feeds our work of discipleship in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking in humility with the living God.