How often have you had a theological discussion with someone that was neither logical (“ology,” from the Greek “logia”—the study of) nor much about God? How often have you had theological discussions that left you angry and/or resentful of whomever you had that discussion with? I know I’ve had more than a few.
Many times I’ve been approached by people who say, “What do you do with this passage, Darren?” Red lights and warning alarms go off in my head when I hear this. This isn’t someone looking to discuss God so both our hearts can grow in love for Him, as any theological discussion should be. No, they are looking to beat me up. They already have a preconceived notion about what I will say and their cruel rebuttal is lying in wait, ready to strike the lethal blow.
Schools of Thought
One of the funny things about theology is that there are so many schools of thought out there. Each school of thought has as their basis the things they think are most important. The problem is, very few of those most important things are important to the other schools of thought out there.
People are taught in seminaries and churches what to believe is most important. They study specific scriptures and historical figures and writings and know them backwards and forwards. Then they engage you and expect you to know what they do and believe as they do. When you don’t, oh my, all seminary is about to break loose!
I’m not saying that seminary or theology is bad. No, theology is like electricity. Handle it with wisdom and care and it will illuminate a city. Mistreated it will kill you before you can even feel it.
Know God, Not Just About God
We must use theology as our means to know God. Not know about Him. Not to prove our intellectual superiority. Not to justify our own sins. We must use it with care so that it will illuminate our hearts, not be the death of them.
There is far too much out there to study to be well-versed enough in any given person’s theology to have rational conversations. But people have them anyway, most often with disastrous consequences. I’m not saying that people in error shouldn’t be lovingly corrected about things that are well-established truths or fundamental principles of Christianity, but there again I’ve rarely seen that done lovingly.
Maybe it’s time to change how we view and use theology. Maybe it is time for us to use theology to know God more, instead of knowing more about God. Maybe it is time to start basing our discussions about God around God and with God.
My Little Secret
I’ve developed a little secret I’ll let you in on when it comes to theological discussions. It has worked well for me, and when I employ this technique, it has never led to bitter discussions or resentment.
I never start conversations with baited questions.
“What do you do with _____?”
“How would you respond to _____?”
“How can you believe ______?”
Defenses are immediately up. I know mine are when I hear things like that. Instead, I like to start conversations with honest questions, or with stories.
Speak From Experience
When I tell someone the story of my experience with God surrounding some aspect of how or what I think of Him (my theology), people are much more at ease with the discussion. They may still disagree, but still they must immediately draw a conclusion about me: either I’m a liar, I am genuine and deceived, or I might actually know a little about what I’m saying. I’ve had very few people accuse me of being a liar when I tell personal stories. Some believe I am deceived, but most are softened to my position.
But even then, if someone does not agree with me, I never feel the need to convince them. I try to be convincing, but not overbearing. I don’t feel the need to convince people. I see that everything I believe about God and have experienced in my life with Him is a gift of grace from Him. How can I then expect to force what I have down someone else’s throat and it be a blessing to them?
Sometimes I have been forced to come kicking and screaming to truths I have rejected, but that is the exception and not the rule. If that is your normative experience, I would consider changing some things in your life. God is mostly kind in His dealings with me, and so I try to do the same with others. When I judge others by what I believe and belittle and berate them with what I have, I then open up the Lord to judge me in the same manner. Believe me, you don’t want that!
If you are to be judged by the Lord, you want Him to judge you with mercy, love and grace, which He has freely offered to us.
By being kind, conversant, and not forceful, I have seen many people accept what I believe. And in doing so I have been able to hear very clearly someone else’s valid views because they in turn softened and became kind with their views too.
More “Theo”, Less “Ology”
Oh, and one more thing—I never engage in conversations about things I don’t have experience with. If I only know scriptures or concepts, but I have never walked them out in prayer or experience, I stay away from them. It is okay to say, “I don’t know. I haven’t given that much thought.” If you try to have a conversation with someone about something you have only been taught, but have not walked out in prayer, thought and experience, people can smell that. You’ll look like a phony and people will pounce.
I think it is high time to start making the end goal of our theology to better know that “Theo” instead of just trying to prove to others how much “ology” we know.
What about you? What has worked for you in your discussions? What hasn’t? What turns you off to others wanting to discuss theology? What softens you?