A Little More Room to Wiggle
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
As an evangelical who holds firmly to the basic tenants of the Christian faith and yet as one who is open to new insights recognising that our understanding of the mysteries of God are only ever partial and our ability to push our understandings of Scripture beyond the limits of what they were intended to convey is forever with us. I often struggle with those who have everything nailed down so tightly that there is no room to wiggle, nor is there any room for genuine doubt or lack of certainty on any particular issue. However, as I read the New Testament I don’t find a one-size-fits-all theology but several theologies vying with one another for our attention. It is not so much that these theologies are at odds with each other, although sometimes from our limited perspective they seem to be, rather they present us with a range of perspectives and sometimes give us alternative reading on the same issue each with a slightly different emphasis and flavour.
Thus, the writing of John differs in tone and even genre from those of Paul. James and Matthew are closer in their orientation than either Mark or Peter. Luke and the writer to the Hebrews appear to live in almost different worlds, etc., etc. Correspondingly, different writers use different analogies, metaphor, images, symbols, and constructions, etc., when writing on the same topic and place great weight on one aspect than another. The dilemma, of course, comes when we seek to systematise all of their views and in the process decontextualise their meanings by removing them from the original context, particularly when we use a proof-texting approach as evangelicals have sometimes been known to do. In the process, we often end up saying more than the New Testament writers intended to convey.
Throughout the history of the church, there have always been different theologies floating around, some more substantial than others, but even dubious theologies have raised significant issues and over time lead to great clarity within the church as a whole. Perhaps, the way forward as we seek to live in and engage the post-everything world we now inhabit is to seek to lay aside many of the crippling effects of modernity on the Christian faith in the West and to focus on the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. In doing so, we shall begin to understand anew God’s purpose for humanity and indeed the whole of creation. Then just maybe we will be less concerned with the miniature of theology and more concerned with God and his purposes in the world and our place within those purposes. And perhaps we will have just a little more room to wiggle.