Unpacking and Re-Packing Theological Luggage

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How much baggage do you carry on your faith journey? Is that baggage filled with the clothes you will need to attire yourself along the way?

Genesis 12:1        

1 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.”

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons The Only Journey” by  Celestine Chua is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Musings generated by Genesis 12:1

Faithing* begins with an invitation to leave all that is familiar, to embark on a journey to an unknown destination. As with any journey, what luggage you choose and how you pack it will determine much about your journey.

Much of the history of Christianity has been about packing for a journey of belief, rather than a faithing* journey. In fact, if you choose a journey of belief, your bags have already been packed for you. The packing manifest is called ‘orthodox (traditional) theology.’ For belief journeys, the theology baggage is filled to the full, bursting at the seams. All that is required is that you carry the luggage with you. Those who have traveled with other luggage are called heretics, apostate. Those who have chosen to travel light (no luggage) are called agnostics or atheists and are considered an abomination.

Unfortunately, the orthodox (traditional) luggage that many people are carrying isn’t providing them with the attire they need to meet and greet the world as it is today. As a result, great numbers of people have dissociated themselves from the church leaving their baggage at the unclaimed luggage terminal. For others — that is, younger generations, there is no inclination to carry traditional luggage. Instead, they pack a knapsack full of ‘spirituality.’

During my seminary training, I was taught that exegesis of scripture was good and eisegesis was bad. Exegesis means the interpretation of the text based on its original intent; eisegesis, reading your own interpretation into the text. In order to be ordained, I had to show that my exegesis of a text (and my general beliefs about matters related to Christianity) fit within the theological luggage of the church. Somewhat out of step with my contemporaries, I have come to understand that I must do both exegesis and eisegesis. To understand the original intent of scripture has set me on a journey with Yeshua*. What did he actually teach? How did he understand his mission and his relationship with God? How was his life in keeping with his teachings?

The advent of quantum physics has changed the way we understand “truth.” It was previously thought that truth was absolute and unchangeable. Quantum mechanics has taught us that the observer is not irrelevant to that which is observed — that is, observing a system changes the system. Religious truth is like that — the “truth” is dependent upon the observer and the context that is being observed. So, there is no longer “Truth;” just “truths.” Ultimately, this means that truth is relational, not propositional or factual.

Throughout much of its theological history, the church has approached scripture and faith through the lens of objective Truth. But it has done its own reading “into the text” — a layer of interpretation that is often at odds with Yeshua’s* own self-understanding and teachings. Yeshua* claimed the appellation the Human One (Wisdom’s Child) — translations of “the son of the man.” The church has read Yeshua* as divine savior, “the Son of God.” Traditionally, the theological task has been to interpret the faith through the lens of scripture (sola scripture, sola fide). This is the church as guardian. A number of contemporary theologians (e.g., Catherine Keller) understand theology as a constructive, rather than interpretative, task. Constructive theology focuses more on current existential questions and seeks to build contemporary frameworks within which those questions can be answered.

The church’s theology is in the position of being both a guide to the Good News that frees us from any dominating system (even when the domination comes from the church itself) and a guardian which protects those who herald the Good News. When theology strays too far in one direction or the other, the Good News of Yeshua is stifled. It is time for the church to guide its members into new patterns of freedom in thinking.

My faithing journey has required me to set aside the packing manifest of traditional theology and look to alternate packing manuals provided by some who, in my estimation, have succeeded at both understanding the original intent of scripture (filtered through Yeshua’s* self-understanding) and repacking those understandings in some contemporary luggage. Some of those influences have been Marcus Borg (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time), Bishop Spong (former Christians have dropped out “as a direct response to the small minds saying unbelievable things”), John Dominic Crossan (importance of resisting “Empire”), John Caputo (“God doesn’t exist; God insists”), Peter Rollins (Insurrection), Elizabeth Boyden Howes (faithful to Yeshua, filtered through Carl Jung), and Walter Wink (The Human Being).

So, I am called to be an exe/eise-gete — that is, one who is faithful to the text filtered through a faithful dialogue with a contemporary worldview. Sometimes that means that our contemporary worldview trumps the actual sentiments of scripture — for example, the current understanding of the formation of the universe trumps Genesis 1 & 2 as a way of understanding creation; the expansiveness of a 13.8 billion year-old universe and the insignificance of the planet earth (or our solar system) trumps the Christian exceptionalism and the idea of a theistic God who is “up there.”

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In short, the faithing journey means regularly un-packing and re-packing my theological luggage — new questions, new ways of looking at old answers. Sometimes, it even means traveling light, without much baggage. All this to the consternation of those Caputo calls “the long robes” — that is, the ones who understand themselves as the guardians of the Tradition.

[Image: “Creative Commons .truth.is.relative.” by Dee Ashley is licensed under CC BY 2.0]
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