Hey! I just look for the meaning of "theologian" because I feel ticklish when typing it and calling myself a theologian, but Google said theologian is someone who studies theology, so it is me! So I can call myself a theologian! Haha. This is just for the sake of cool title, anyway.
I had a hard-yet-fun time doing my lecture reflection for my Systematic Theology class, discovering about truth, God, Jesus, Bible, End Time, etc. I just learn the surface, though. A very thin layer. Still in the process of investigating, questioning, researching, digging, disclosing, revealing, and approaching this beautiful word of God.
So, I am going to share my essay, for my friends in Indonesia who are curious about what I am learning here. This class is unique because my lecturer has done a very awesome job! Basically, we come to Bible College bringing our own ideology and we call this presuppositions. They shape our way of thinking and understanding and interpreting scriptures. Mostly, we got these presuppositions from the denomination where we come from. My lecturer pictured it this way:
Our mind is inside the jar, and it has been shaped that way. When he tries to give us any information, we will just squeeze it into where it fits, because we have had all these presupposition already. That's why he will throw this thought-provoking topic, the most random thing to us, in the form of sharp-edge star into the jar to cut our presuppositions and let us rethink about it. He will not force his belief and brainwash us, instead, he wants us to find what we should believe. By cutting our presuppositions, not to say it is wrong, but to make enough place for us to accept new information and do a thorough research fairly, based on the Bible. Honestly, I am really grateful for this, although I know I am going through a lot of confusion and questioning more than before. I feel that I come here to build something on my well-built foundation, but now my foundation is simply, shattered. It is a good thing, though, because this time is the chance to build it again, stronger than before. This is a journey, a magnificent journey.
One thing I always remember from my lecturer, he said, "Do not come to Bible College expecting you will be more spiritual than others. God doesn't love you more because you have more theological knowledge, and it doesn't save you either. God doesn't become closer to you just because you learn about Him. This is not a shortcut to grow spiritually. We are just like a coal miner. We can't eat it, we will die. Coals have to be put on fire to live and release energy for people. So your theology should become alive because we are on fire for the sake of people out there. Ignite it and generate God's love for others. If you just keep stacking the coals, the fire will die, only smoke remains." This is a very good and meaningful parable, hey? Basically he is reminding us that without love, everything is in vain.
So, yeah, my essay does not contain any answer, actually more of them are questions! Haha. And I call myself a theologian. Oh my.
Despite all my and our questions, there is one thing we should always keep in mind. One well known theologian Karl Barth was asked by his assistant one day, "What do you think is the truth?" and he will sing, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so". Enjoy.
It is said that everyone is doing theology, even the atheist, although then they come to the conclusion that there is no God. When talking about theology, it’s strongly related to truth, because we believe in what is true, at least for us. Honestly I come to Bible College to seek the truth, because I've got so many questions during my five years journey with Jesus as a Christian. However, I also fear that what I will hear is not the truth, but only opinions from what people believe, and it might be different from each other, depending on what denominations they are from.
I don’t know if I have to feel relieved or not now, due to the fact that they are not going to give me the truth, and I have to find it myself. It’s a good thing that they do not brainwash me, but I feel disappointed, too, because I don’t get what I want (the truth) and instead, I've got more questions than before.
Yes, we have to check the scriptures, but it still depends on our understanding and interpretation of the scripture itself, so it is not necessarily the truth. I am also aware that our interpretation of the scriptures may again refer back to our presuppositions. We tend to fit the scriptures to our opinion instead of doing vice versa.
So I come to the conclusion that I will never find the answers of all my questions because human’s mind is way too limited to comprehend God and His work, and if we do, “we would have either reduced God to human size or leaped over the divine-human difference,” (Wilson, 2013, p. 72). However, we still can believe in the truth that God is love and Jesus Christ died for our sins and that He is risen, which again, becomes the truth for us simply from what we feel and what we have experienced.
So it is something we believe that we call faith. I believe that faith comes from knowledge, because we need to know first before we believe in it. Just like Paul said in Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Even knowing the fact that we don’t know what will happen in the future yet God is with us. So it doesn't necessarily knowing the whole thing because faith is to see the things unseen, but I am talking about knowing what we believe in.
Personally, for me faith is a mysterious and dangerous thing to discuss. It applies differently to everyone. Is there such thing as right and wrong faith? When someone is sick and he is staying at home believing that Jesus will heal him instead of going to hospital, is that right or wrong? When someone needs money to pay the tuition fee, yet he waits and prays instead of trying to borrow from someone, is that right or wrong? I think we really need wisdom to deal with faith because there’s this possibility someone might end up in disappointment because of his faith, not because it’s wrong but just different from how God intends it to be. This is why we need God’s wisdom instead of human wisdom which is limited. We also need God’s wisdom to read and interpret the Bible.
It can be said that Bible is a story book and we believe in a story world, because we were not there and saw it with our own eyes. Yet we believe it happened in this real world because of the historical proofs. I used to think that Bible is flawless, that it’s 100% correct, because it’s inspired by God. I thought God used human like robots, to write down word by word exactly the same as God intended it to be. I love that idea, though, because it’s more accurate and trustable. As Enns (2005, pp. 71-110) stated, there are many contradictions in the Old Testament, such as laws about slaves, Passovers, sacrifice, and Gentiles. Not to mention the opposites found in wisdom literature like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. However I got satisfying explanations that the Old Testament was written over a very long period of time, maybe almost one thousand years. That’s why the same event can be told differently. It also depends on the genre, for example the wisdom literature. Just like what I learned in my Old Testament class that we shouldn't read poetry the same way as we read narrative story.
What’s more awesome is the fact that books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes do not offer rules or steps “to do” and to be applied the way it is, because some contradict each other and we might get confused. Instead, they offer us wisdom which should be applied to our lives by wisdom as well. Now I realize that the Bible is not Mathematics; it’s Literature. Bible is not perfect, but it’s beautiful because of the humanity inside. It’s beautiful because God used our imperfections. Does it mean the Bible is not trustable? That’s why we shouldn’t believe in the Bible, but we believe through the Bible. It is a medium to the Word of God. We believe what John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” We believe in Jesus through Himself, the Word of God.
If then, we believe that Bible is inspired by God, how do we define God Himself from what we read in the Bible? I was taught that God is spirit and so far it makes sense for me. I understand that God is too divine to be described, yet it’s unavoidable that people will ask who God is and how He is, and we can learn about Him through the Bible. Jesus said in John 4:24 that “God is Spirit”. However, it is important to know that God as the divine Spirit “is not merely a substance or an existing thing, but an active subject, an activity, a process” (Grenz, 2000, p. 82). He can choose to show Himself in any form He wants to, such as when He appeared as a burning bush to Moses in Exodus. He also said in Exodus 33:20 that we can’t see His face, for no one may see Him and live, which shows how holy and divine God is.
I also believe (and like the idea) that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and immutable. But in the class I was told that maybe God is not. There were times when God is not like what I believe. So I start to read again about God through this new perspective.
I truly believe that God is Almighty or omnipotent, since He stated it to Abram, “I am God Almighty”. If someone said there is something God cannot do, He cannot sin, well but omnipotent or almighty doesn’t mean “can do anything”. It means unlimited power, so God is not limited by anything to do whatever He wants to do (Packer, 1926). It also applies to God’s omnipresence. There’s no place where we can hide from God (Psalm 139:7), yet God can choose not to be present. For example when Jesus was crucified and bearing our sins, because God is holy.
However, I still cannot conclude whether God is omniscient or not. According to the dictionaries, omniscient means having unlimited knowledge. I always thought that God’s knowledge is not limited by space and time, He knows even what’s in men’s hearts (Psalms 44:21) and yes the scripture tells us God knows the future (Isaiah 46:9-10) because He is the Alpha and Omega. Then how could God still need to test Abraham’s faith and why did God regret destroying human with the flood? Yes, we have our free will of choice and some people said God doesn’t know our choices. He just knows if we choose A, this will happen and if we choose B, that will happen. But I thought God knows everything even before it happens, including what we will choose, A or B?
I also agree that God is unchanging, He is the same in the past, present, and future. Even so, it’s kind of funny seeing God changed His mind after some ‘discussions’ with men like Abram and Moses. Just like what Enns (2005, p.103) said, “He acts more humanlike than godlike.” I would like to believe that there must be reasons why God did that. To make it safe, I prefer the idea that God just wants to take us into account. That He is open and just. That He loves us so much that He speaks to us like a friend. That’s the reason why He creates us, right?
Talking about creation, I never doubt or think at all about the truth behind it. I simply reject evolution theory and believe that God created Adam and Eve. Christians believe that God is the creator of all. Yet there are some arguments about creation and whether we should take it literary. According to Grenz (2000, pp.109-110), creation happened in the past when God in the beginning created Heaven and Earth (Gen 1:1), yet it’s still continuing to the future when God creates new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1) It means that the act of creation is not complete. There is also an idea that what Bible means with 6 days is actually 6000 years because one day for God is 1000 years for us, and after everything is finished when Jesus comes for the second time, God will rest on the seventh day.
All these things about Creation and the Second Coming have raised so many arguments but for me it will remain a mystery, since we don’t know whether to take the stories literally or not. Those two are strongly connected, if we take the creation story literally, then we know what will happen in the second coming (like rapture, including what happens when we die, etc.) is literal, too, and vice versa.
I also would rather not to stand on one side either Bible or science. I just realized from the discussions with my classmates, that it doesn't need to be black and white. It doesn't need to be either Theology or Science is the right one. Theology never makes sense (because God is too great for our logic), yet science makes too much sense (which is scary because we depend too much on logic). Some scientific theories contradict to the Bible (like Darwin’s theory), but some support it! So it’s not impossible for theology and science to walk hand in hand.
Maybe for some people it’s not important how God created this world, as long as we believe that God created us, that’s enough. Well, I agree, because the key message about the whole creation story is about love, how God created us out of abundant love. However, I do concern about people who ignore the doctrine of creation because it is important for them to know about God’s love from the beginning, not only from what Christ has done on the cross.
I do have a question, though. If God created us out of love, then why in the end there will be people who won’t be saved? Okay, because one person has fallen to sin then we all sin. We don’t have choice. Then because of one man, Jesus, everyone can be saved, but why is it a choice? Then there will be people who make wrong choices. There will be people who don’t understand and do not choose Him.
In conclusion, I agree with the idea that truth is not in the box, and one thing for sure that should be the centre core of our faith is that Jesus loves us. It should remain unshakable. However, I also learn that wrong theology can be fatal for other people and ruin their lives. Therefore we need to prayerfully check the scripture and learn and ask God for wisdom.
Is Genesis a myth? It is said that the intention of Genesis is not to give us scientific truth, but universal truth about who God is and what the world is like. It’s a framework truth. So I learn that truth is not in the box, we can use more and less method. When we believe that Jesus is the truth, we can measure whether something drives us more to Jesus or drives us less from Jesus. The centre core of our faith remains unshakable there. However, to believe in Jesus as the truth, we need to be convinced of the Bible as the only source to know Christ. So, is Bible a myth?
Along with the advance progress of technology, it seems rational to consider Bible as myth, but apparently it already happened long time ago even for Greek and Hebrew thought. According to Oswalt (2009, pp. 23-28), they have this swaying thought and faith regarding God (or gods). They recognize one God, God the Creator, but then also many gods, who have control to reward them and punish them. Time goes by when logic and science rule this world, rationality becomes rationalism and creates more questions to ask and explanation to doubt.
Not only in Christianity, other religions and beliefs also have the same situation. They derive the teaching from historical moments, not merely a myth, although it also links with supernatural phenomenon which cannot be explained by logic and science. For example, Buddhism worships Siddhartha Gautama who was born in around 500 BC before then he had “the moment of enlightenment” and became Buddha (Dickson, 2004, p. 50). He is not one of the gods created by human or just an illusion or psychological experience.
It is important to understand the definition of the myth itself. According to Oswalt (2009, pp. 31-38), there are some definitions of myth, they can be “a false legend of the gods”, “story of the gods in which results of natural causes are accounted for supernaturally”, “a narrative in which there is a deeply serious use of symbolism to convey profound realities”. He concludes that myth is “a form of expression, that the continuities among human, natural, and divine realms are expressed and actualized”. He argues that if this definition is accepted, then Bible is not myth, whatever the Bible is, because Bible has “completely different understanding of existence and of the relations among the realms. It is not a continuous divine reality out of the real invisible world into this visible reflection of that reality. It is a rehearsal of the nonrepeateable acts of God in identifiable time and space in concert with human beings to provoke human choices and behaviour through the medium of memory. So whether Bible is symbol or literal, it is not myth" (p. 46).
Bible is the only source where we can learn to know God and His character. However, His character portrayed differently in the Old and New Testament. Therefore some scholars claim that He has different personality. God in the Old Testament is bad, wrathful, jealous, but God in the New Testament (Jesus Christ) is good, graceful, merciful, patient, etc. Jesus wants to save us from that Old Testament God who wants to punish us. I do wonder why God in the Old Testament seems like to destroy people and exclusively love His nation, which sounds a bit unfair for me. Then how about other nations? Does God care for them, provide for them, love them and notice them?
However, I believe that God is good both in the Old and New Testament. I come to this realization when learning about the book of Jonah. We often struggle and rebel against God, when He tells us to do something against our human will. However, we can see God’s character towards His beloved ones who call out His name, compassionate and merciful. It might be late for us, but it is never too late for God. God never says, “Too late, you have already ruined it,” and He still can and is able to make something good out of something bad.
God’s character is described by Jonah as “merciful, slow to anger, compassionate, and abounding in love,” (Bruckner, 2004, pp. 110-111). It is not only stated but can be seen and felt through our journey together with Jonah. He also has shown how patient He is when reasoning with the angry Jonah, just like a father who tries to teach something to his angry son very patiently. He did not even tell or insist Jonah to do something. He just demonstrated and asked questions to Jonah gently.
God’s loving character then was revealed in Jesus Christ perfectly. Just like God who loves everyone, even the enemy of His children, so does Jesus who died for everyone, the lover and hater of God. He is a relational God who comes entering space and time, becoming weak and vulnerable but coming out as the majestic God of love. We can engage with Him because He becomes us in our weakest.
There are some beliefs that God incarnated as Jesus, or Jesus is just ordinary human before he gets baptized and adopted by God to become the instrument of salvation. Or that the whole story about Jesus being God Himself is just myth? Phillips as quoted by Yancey (1995, p. 20) states “I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths, but I did not find the slightest flavour of myth here. No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay behind them.” Jesus Himself never offered proof of His identity. He gave hint and clue, but that’s all.
I, maybe like most Christians, ever doubted Jesus. We have a lot of false teachers in my country who claim as god’s incarnation. They do miracles, teach doctrines, and make disciples, before the neighbourhood find it disturbing simply because the teaching is different from what the country accepts. This makes me question, what is the difference? How if all this time, we Christians are just deceived by a man who claimed to be God?
If I am told to learn about Him to know more, even Yancey (1995, p. 23) states that the more he studied Jesus, the more difficult it was. It is dangerous when we assume that we know the attributes of God and we collect Him from any source rather than revelation from God. It’s not Jesus is like God, but God is just like Himself. God is actually like Jesus. So that means if I have any idea of God that doesn't fit Jesus then I have to chunk it away. However, Yancey (1995, p. 24) states that we should see Jesus as a human being to make sense of him, because He was, just like everyone else, yet different.
Should we see Jesus from below or above? Karkkainen (2003, p. 12-14) states that there are two options to see Jesus, from below sees the historical Jesus and basis, for above uses the theological approach found in the New Testament. According to Pannenberg as quoted by Karkkainen, it is important to see both way. History is important so that we do not “create our own Christ”, but it should not limit the miracles and work of Christ recorded by His disciples.
Some denominations like Pentecost and Charismatic, as mentioned by Karkkainen (2003, p. 16) have the most “controversial Christological model”, where they look to Christ as the miracle worker and baptizer with the Holy Spirit, as source of power for healing, casting out evil, and giving prophecy. Grenz (2000, p. 440) states that in conversion the Spirit gives us power for service. He enables us to do things in the process of salvation, from sanctification to glorification. So the saving work does not end at conversion, rather it is a continuous process of transformation to be Christlike which happens on and on. Pentecostal movement believes so, but I think the process and manifestation happens in more dramatic way. Coming from Pentecostal background myself, I see the significant difference, not in the terms of which one is better, but it is simply different. How, then, the same Spirit produces different outcomes?
I must say I would rather not to think, discuss, and argue about this with anyone. However, this one part will lead to many other aspects, such as the way we talk about wisdom, gift, prayer, worship, and many more. It is important to understand about the Holy Spirit just like how we understand Jesus, yet it is hard. I love the remark by Eduard Schweizer as quoted by Karkkainen (2010, p. 3) that “long before the Spirit was a theme of doctrine, He was a fact in the experience of the community”. I come to this conclusion that we should see the Holy Spirit from the way He works in the Pentecost and forward. He enables people to speak in tongue, in other languages, and they produce a lot of miracles. It still can and is happening today. He also works within people to enable us to love unconditionally, forgive genuinely, and bless wholeheartedly. In a dramatic or calm way, it is the same Holy Spirit who works to glorify God and help us to be more Christ like day by day.
It is dangerous, though, when we start to think that Holy Spirit should be trained in certain way to have a level up, to work more powerfully, do greater miracle, produce clearer prophecy and vision, bring us closer to God, and so on. I am so surprised that somewhere out there we can find prophetic training and even audition. For this reason, people discipline ourselves to pray and read Bible every day, fast every week, train ourselves in every occasion, then soon it will be legalism. I struggled before to differentiate legalism and obedience. Now I understand, that obedience comes as a result of a humble heart, while legalism is on the contrary.
I think spiritual discipline is also part of obedience to God. Sometimes we are lazy to do such things because of our flesh, but we are told that by God’s strength we actually can conquer it, as long as we obey. Therefore it can help us to grow in Christ. The process of growing also sometimes happen through suffering and crisis. Just like the parable of a coal that needs pressure to turn into a diamond, Chandler (2014, p. 81) mentions that “through the ages, men and women have been shaped into Christlikeness through suffering”. This power that presses us, then, will shape us spiritually depending on how we deal with it. Back again, how we respond to problems and how we come out from the problems (either as victor or loser) depends on our relationship with Him, which can only be built through intimacy and time spent together.