If it’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven, it’s harder for an elephant to thread that needle than for a person who has right theology to not get arrogant. How many people do you know who have read one John Calvin book and thrown it down in a spiral while doing a touchdown dance as though they’d accomplished something themselves?
Five years after releasing my third book, Searching for God Knows What, the publisher came to me and asked if they could reprint the book. The book has sold strong for all those years, and they wanted to bump it into a second life. As a writer, I was excited about the idea. Before Million Miles, Searching was the book I was most proud of, so I agreed to put a new cover on it and write some extra material.
The two main components I added to the book are a new introduction in which I argue that right theology has no redemptive power at all, that redemptive power only comes through a relationship with Jesus. I explain why right theology has become a false idol, and when it’s used as a pacifier to make us feel right rather than redeemed, it breeds arrogance and is bait for an offensive, controlling personality. Many Christian leaders belittle other pastors and thinkers in the name of right theology. This is distracting, and by distracting I mean it’s a song and dance that distracts people from seeing Christ.
The second addition to the book is a personality theory I wrote and printed in the final chapter. I call it The Genesis Theory and it explains, I believe, how our personalities have developed based on the depiction of the fall of man in Genesis 2 and 3. I’m hoping to qualify this theory through trial at a Christian University. The seed of this theory is in this reprint.
Anyway, here is a bit of the new introduction. It’s only a bit of it, but it will give you an idea of what the book is about. Hope you like the additions. Thanks so much.
….and through a dark night of the soul, I came to realize salvation happens through a mysterious, indefinable, relational interaction with Jesus in which we become one with him. I realized Christian conversion worked more like falling in love than understanding a series of concepts or ideas. This is not to say there are no true ideas, it is only to say there is something else, something beyond. There are true ideas involved in marriage and sex, but marriage and sex also involve something else, and that something else is mysterious.
If we have a controlling personality, in which we like to check things off of lists, this is going to be extremely hard for us to understand and embrace. God give us no control, really, over this “system” of relationship. Introducing somebody to Jesus is not about presenting ideas, then, as much as it is introducing a person to a Deity who lives and interacts. Evangelism, then, looks like setting somebody up on a blind date: God does the work, we just tell them about him and where they can find him.
You might be getting upset by this. You might think I am saying truth should be thrown out, that theology doesn’t matter. But this is not what I’m saying at all. What I’m intending to illustrate is our drive to define God with a mathematical theology has become a false God rather than an arrow that points to the real God. Theology can become an idol, but it is more useful as guardrails on a road to the true God. Theology is very important, but it is not God, and knowing facts about God is not the same as knowing God. Let me give you an extreme example of how very bad we have gotten about this in the west.
About the time (and I share this in the book, so forgive the repetition) I was thinking through these things, I was teaching a class in Canada, and my students were freshman college students, all of whom had grown up in the church. The class was called “The Gospel and Culture.” I started the class with an experiment, I told the class I was going to share the gospel of Jesus, but I was going to leave something out. I wanted them to figure out what I’d left out. I talked first about sin, about how we are fallen creatures. I told some stories and used some illustrations. I talked about repentance, and again told some stories, then I talked about God’s forgiveness, and I talked about heaven. I went on for some time. And when I finally stopped and asked the class to tell me what I’d left out, after twenty or more minutes of discussion, not one student realized I’d left out Jesus. Not one. And I believe I could repeat that same experiment in Christian classrooms across North America.
What I came to understand, then, is Christian conversion is relational. It is not theological or intellectual any more than marriage is theological or intellectual. In other words, a child could become a Christian if they had a mysterious encounter with Jesus, and a simple thinker could become a Christian if they had a mysterious encounter with Christ, and even a person who was a Muslim or a Buddhist could become a Christian if they had a mysterious relational encounter with Christ. This is the only answer at which I could arrive that matched the reality in which we live, the complexity of scripture, and the mysterious invitation offered to us by Jesus.
I hear the masses saying, “But no! A person cannot believe in multiple Gods and be a Christian.” Let me counter with some questions:
Can a person have bad theology and be a Christian?
Has your theology ever been corrected, and were you really a Christian before?
Is your theology all worked out now so you have no more reason to study, and if not, are you a Christian?
If you believe a person’s theology has to be right to be qualified for Christian conversion, then you are saying a person comes to know God, in part, because he has right ideas, and I respectfully disagree. Do I think right theology is important? Absolutely, but I do not believe it has any agency to convert anymore than directions to the doctor’s office has the power to heal.
I have a friend who countered, adamantly, that unless a person understood and agreed with the theological idea of total depravity, he could not be a Christian. I asked my friend when it was that he understood the idea himself, and he answered his sophomore year in seminary. I asked him, then, when he had become a Christian, and he told me when he was in the third grade. His reasoning was obviously insane, and I don’t think he is alone. I believe that God wants us to engage with and be transformed by His Word. So does that mean someone from another faith who encounters Jesus might have their ideology corrected? Maybe. What I’m saying, though, is that God doesn’t exclude someone from his saving grace because they don’t have the correct theological checklist. And for those of us who judge and condemn them, why would we stand in opposition when the God we love and serve is himself so adamant about being in relationship with them just as He is with us?
Would you do me a favor as you read this book? Would you be willing to grow and expand your understanding of God and how He works? If your understanding of Christianity is relatively conservative, it may surprise you that our theology is remarkably similar. It’s just that I am going to continue to pull power and beauty away from facts about God and give them to God himself. To the degree your right theology is your false God, this is going to disturb you. You are going to revolt, inside, because the thing you have been placing your security in (namely your ability to come up with and defend right ideas) is going to be threatened. But make no mistake, I am not attacking right theology, I am simply making theology a window rather than a wall.
On this journey, you may travel through the same dark night of the soul through which I have come. But on the other side, I assure you, is Christ, and you will love him for what He has done. You will stand bloodied from the battle, kneeling before Him, knowing He is all the hope you had, and hopefully, in a delightful moment of freedom, realize He is always the only hope you need.