Thursday, February 4, 2016

Whole Food Theology

I once knew an herbalist who told me something interesting about the drug valium. She said that a small percentage of people have a very severe reaction to it but that if one of those people had instead taken valerian, the herbal source of valium, they would have just vomited and been perfectly safe. By refining the valerian, the drug companies had managed to remove built in safeguards in the form of other substances present in the unprocessed valerian.

I'd like to propose something similar in the area of theology. A few Sundays ago, I heard a very awkward exposition of penal substitution by someone who claimed to be a former pastor. It was during an open mike response time after the sermon. Now recently I've found myself defending penal substitution, not because I am bound and determined that it's the true way or anything, but rather that I think it's 1) a possible way to look at atonement which answers adequately at least some of the questions raised by atonement, and 2) a view that many quality Jesus followers have had in the recent past and to impugn it as evil would be to impugn them. Point out weaknesses, yes, propose something different, yes, but vilify, no. But hearing this fellow put it "God had to protect us from himself..." I thought, "that can't be it." and "I guess it's this kind of thing that my sometime opponents are fighting against."

As I see it, the ex-pastor fellow had a highly refined and potentially toxic form of theology. The demands for purity that he had put upon it were distorting it all out of shape. But the solution is not to formulate an antidote. I think the antidote will always be just as distorted. Read the story. The story itself, with its symbols and foreshadowing and relationships both unfathomably cosmic and accessibly human, is like the valerian. The theology could sometimes be like the valium, distilled, pure -- and potentially toxic. No, I am not putting down theology in general. I am merely proposing that we try not to define things in the hard and fast manner to which we have become accustomed and admit that we don't know.

 (cue a memory of singing beside my Dad in church, "But I know whom I have believed...")

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