Thursday, September 1, 2011

re: Religion vs Theology


You ask (I wrote to a student):  "My main concern is, why dont [preachers] come clean on their congregations on the inconsistencies in the bible?"


It depends a lot on who the preacher is and where the question is being asked.  Just like with religion and theology, there are different words to describe the preacher's various roles:  pastor, minister, priest, teacher, confessor, friend.  I have friends who are preachers.  Some of them are pastors to their congregations, and when they stand before their congregations in official events, it is most definitely their job to promote the master narrative of the faith.  They may have in their flocks (did I mention "shepherds?") those who have questions, who have doubts, but the main meeting is the time to model the perfect faith for the mass of people who are there for community, and this they inevitably do.  It gets much trickier when they meet one-on-one with questioning-doubters.  Their job is still to model the perfect faith, but in a private situation one might get a bit of a preacher's own theology into the mix. 


Or not.


As for the specific question about the inconsistencies in the Bible, this depends a lot on the denomination.  I know a very vocal handful of people who will insist that the Bible is never inconsistent, but of the four preachers I know personally well enough to have had such discussions, none of them would argue this position.  Three, and perhaps all four of them, would hold the Truth of their faith as coming from a personal relationship with God, and not from the Text.  God is infinite; text is human.  We use the text to give shape to our experience, but neither Don, nor Andy, nor Denise, nor Debbie worship the text.


Yet all four will hold it high in a service and proclaim "The Word of The Lord," to which their congregations will respond the ritual response "Thanks be to God."


A very telling thing happens when one goes through the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  The candidate for the ministry is asked to write a "credo," a statement of belief.  This is not a short piece--it's expected to be thorough, and it's expected to touch on all of the thorny issues of faith.  While they are writing this, they are studying Hebrew and Greek, the history of Christianity, the specific history of Methodism, methods of pastoral practice, and other subjects in the graduate-level degree program that will culminate in their ordination.  The credo is a make-or-break piece.  It must be honest and it must be detailed.


A friend of mine was going through this program; at the same time we were reading The Gospel of Mary in a study group--kind of an advanced Sunday-school class for those who in the church who think about such things and like to do so in the company of others.  My friend told us about the reaction of one of her readers when she submitted her Credo.  She was accused of coming dangerously close to the Manichean Heresy.


I didn't know what that meant, so I had to go do my homework and learn for myself.  Here, very briefly, is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says:  "Manich√¶ism, like Gnosticism, was an intellectual religion, it despised the simplicity of the crowd. As it professed to bring salvation through knowledge, ignorance was sin."
So I gather that the Manichean Heresy is the pursuit of intellectual wisdom above the simplicity of the crowd.  Since my friend went on to be ordained and now has her own church, I also gather that modern Methodism allows for such "heretical" behavior.  And since I learn in the Catholic Encyclopedia the details of Mani and his writings and the intellectual impact this has had over the history of Christianity, I gather that it's not an unusual perspective for one to have, and that Catholic sholars include this as public knowledge, free for those with inquiring minds.

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