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Sunday, October 09, 2005

not a tame lion

I almost majored in theology in college.

It was in college that I first heard the term "systematic theology." At first I was intrigued because systematic thinking has never come naturally to me. I was impressed by anyone who could organize their thoughts about God into a nice logical system. I wanted to learn more about God, and I thought that might be the way to do it.

It wasn't long before I became disenchanted. Barth's systematic theology was nothing like Tillich's. It was hard enough to learn names like Schleiermacher, Pannenberg, and Troeltsch; keeping their systems straight was beyond my level of ability or interest. And John Calvin... (shudder).

My junior year, I changed my major from theology to computers, and I never looked back.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I looked back often, wondering if there was something I was missing. The other theology majors seemed to thrive in the interchange of ideas. I, on the other hand, couldn't fit any of them to my own understanding. Was I lacking? It didn't seem like it. In fact, the more I studied theology the more each system seemed inadequate.

It seemed to me that there was something important that was not being said, that I didn't know how to say either.

I've written about how my studies of Taoism helped me to reconcile myself with unanswered questions. That was an important step, but the missing piece to the puzzle finally came to me from an unlikely source, or maybe not so unlikely a source.

C.S. Lewis was not a theologian. He was a professor of medieval and renaissance literature, who also wrote some books about his faith, including a childrens' fiction series that remains popular more than 40 years after Lewis' death. In the Chronicles of Narnia, the Christ figure Aslan inspires awe and even a little fear among the animals. As one character says, "He's not a tame lion." I think those five words sum up exactly what is wrong with systematic theology.

Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God and told parables to describe what God is like, but he did not have a systematic theology. Furthermore, he doesn't easily fit anyone else's system. Like new wine poured into old wineskins, he spills out of any container we might try to force him into.

Jesus says, "Follow me," and his disciples follow. Sometimes I've struggled with where he has wanted me to go, but looking back I can see that every difficult experience has been an opportunity for growth. Sometimes, like Jonah, I've run away, but God has never run away from me.

That's where my theology is now, trying to discern God's call in my own life. I'll never be a great systematic thinker, and fortunately I don't need to be. Perhaps God has called some to organize their belief systems for the benefit of others. I don't know. What I do know is that I've been pulled in a different direction, and that's good enough for me.


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