"I'd Like a Can of Theology, Please!"

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Apparently, it’s possible to put almost anything in a ready-to-open can. Everything from a canned loaf of bread, to canned peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to canned pizza.
There’s the exotic (alligator, rattlesnake) and there’s the odd. (Cheeseburger? Hot Dog? Scrambled eggs? Bacon?)

Note: Do a Google search; you'll find many more...if you have a strong stomach! (e.g., Scorpions, Crickets, Grasshoppers, Brains, Tongue)

For those who prefer effortless and immediate, canned food is the way to go.
From a purely pragmatic perspective, I suppose they offer some distinct advantages:

  • Pre-packaged; the work is already done.
  • Self-Contained.
  • Wide assortment for individual tastes and various occasions.
  • Less expensive.
  • Simple to store and organize.
  • Long shelf-life. 
  • Perfect for those who don’t cook, and have no interest in learning how.
  • Instructions are included, to avoid confusion.
  • Preparation is minimal, thus saving time.
  • Available when needed.
  • Knowing there are cans on the shelf provides contentment and reduce anxiety.

I wish theology were as easy as canned food!

(You didn’t think this was a discussion about the health factors of canned food, did you?

How convenient would it be to have all my beliefs—all the RIGHT answers—pre-packaged, neatly stacked on a shelf for me to use? 
They are there when I need them, but otherwise, out of sight, so they don't invade every part of my life. 

I’d like a can of theology, please.

I'm busy and don't have the time...or attention span...for in-depth Bible study, or to learn the intricacies of hermeneutics, or to research church history, or to scour through denominational doctrines.
I have no interest in a thoughtful examination of what I believe, and why.
I get bored with self-reflection, contemplation and meditation.
I'm too impatient to listen to others drone on about the validity of their faith, particularly if it's different than mine.
I prefer to avoid big words and lengthy explanations.
Endless questions about deep matters give me a headache, and cut into my time watching TV. 

I’d like a can of theology, please.

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Self-contained solutions for the difficult people, complicated situations and complex questions that unexpectedly confront and confound me.

A variety of cans, for occasions requiring a demanding decision: dating, marriage, raising children, voting/politics, career, science, running a business, other religions.

Pre-packaged retorts to subdue folks who challenge me, disagree with me, or try to argue with me. 

It would be awesome to respond when people bring up topics I find offensive, especially those that go against my personal tastes, preconceptions, partisan positions, or that contradicts what my pastor says from the pulpit. 

Tell me what I believe, and what to say. I'm good with that. 
Give me quick, templated comebacks! 
Provide me with cut-and-paste Bible verses.

I’d like a can of theology, please.

Regardless of the subject, I open the cabinet, find the right container, pop the top and dish it out.

Poor Person: I can’t afford to buy groceries for my children.
Canned Theology: Matthew 21:22

Sick Person: I have fibromyalgia.
Canned Theology: Be healed, in Jesus’ Name!

Buddhist: I’m on my own path to God.
Canned Theology: Jesus is the only way!

Dissenter: I don’t agree with your interpretation of that verse.
Canned Theology: The Bible is perfectly clear!

Female: I want to be a pastor.
Canned Theology: The Bible forbids women from exercising authority over a man

Depressed Person: I’m have such dark thoughts.
Canned Theology: The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Discouraged Person: I feel overwhelmed.
Canned Theology: Let go, and let God.

Transgender Person: I prefer this gender pronoun.
Canned Theology: God created male and female.

Progressive Christian: I think it’s important to recognize the emotional and physical needs of people as part of our ministry.
Canned Theology: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Activist: Our government is harming vulnerable people, so we must resist.
Canned Theology: God puts leaders in power, and we should submit to them and respect them.

Gay Person: I tried to change my sexual orientation, and it didn’t work.
Canned Theology: You didn’t have enough faith. With God, all things are possible.
Gay Person: I think God made me gay. I don’t see it as sin.
Canned Theology: Leviticus says you are an abomination. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

Individual packages of ready-to-serve Truth for any problem, discussion, disagreement or question.
Fast.
Efficient.
No muss. No fuss.
Easy-Breezy.

God always…
Our church believes...
You must…
I can’t…
My Pastor teaches...
The Bible says...
Obviously…

I could quickly shut down those endless conflicts or any unpleasant encounter without much planning or preparation, then get back to the truly important thing in my life: ME!

That would be great!

I’d like a can of theology, please.


Sadly, theology doesn’t work that way.
I studied theology as part of my extensive ministry training in college and seminary. Systematic Theology, Baptist Theology, Protestant Theology, Hebrew Theology, Pauline Theology.

I can attest that it is not easy, or quick. 
It’s hard work!
It’s frustrating.
Theology requires thinking, pondering, questioning, revising, adding to, taking away, re-thinking, more questions…

Theology is not…cannot be…static, fixed, settled. It can never be fully and finally defined. 
It’s always growing, ever changing because:

  1. It’s about God. 
    The word "theology" is made up of two words, which together mean “the study of and understanding of God.”

    Can God ever be understood?
    Therefore, does our study of God ever reach a conclusion?

    Are our words, concepts, thoughts adequate to define God?
    (If we do, is God still God, or is God merely our god?)

  2. Our world changes!
    Jesus "re-interpreted" accepted theology of his day with statements such as "You've heard it said...But I say to you..."
    The church was once convinced the earth was the center of the universe.
    The Puritans killed those they suspected of witchcraft. 
    I've read old Christian books promoting slavery.
    Clergy of the 1800s would be appalled at the casual dress code in church today. 
    When I was growing up, I heard sermons that included support of racial segregation, and against interracial marriage. We were told why having separate churches was a good thing.
    Just after I was born, my mother was asked to step from a leadership role in the church because she was divorced.
    My home church resisted guitars in church; many churches today have full rock bands.
    In recent years, we've seen churches modify previously staunch positions on women's role in the church, corporal punishment of children, inclusivity of LGBTQ individuals. 

    Some beliefs are not...should not be...eternal. (Even canned foods have a suggested expiration date!) There comes a time to throw it out. 
    It was the Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Merton who asserted: "If the You of five years ago doesn't consider the You of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually." (emphasis added)
     
  3. We're different. 
    What we think, what we know, and what we think we know about God comes from our own unique experience of the divine.
    My experience, my personality, my background, my aptitudes will impact how I see God. (i.e., my theology) 
    Your beliefs...your theology...can be different, depending on those same factors in your life.
    We are all different vessels for Truth. 

Obviously, some churches and individuals still hold on outdated theologies. 
They prefer a more definitive approach to God.
Spell it out. 
Codify it.
This, not that.
Leave nothing to chance. 
No doubts. No speculation.
It’s what WE believe, not what YOU think.

To me, that’s Canned Theology
We see it in our…

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Incontestable Doctrinal Positions
Unassailable Creeds
Rigid Codes of Morality
Out-of-context Bible Verses
Black-and-White, All-Encompassing Condemnations
Categorical, Absolute Dogma
Blind Allegiance to a Religious Leader
Unquestionable Adherence to Historic Traditions
Never-to-be-Doubted Statements of Faith
Rote Recitations of Religious Platitudes

Personally, I find such theology restrictive…even dangerous.

But granted, it’s easier!
It’s portable.
It’s convenient.
It doesn’t require much time or thought, energy or effort, concentration or commitment.

Yes, I’d like to buy a can of theology, please.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I’d like to also include:  

  • Instant Theology
  • Microwave Theology
  • Ready-to-Serve Theology
  • Fill-in-the-Blank Theology
  • Drive-Thru, Fast-Food Theology
  • One-Size-Fits-All Theology

 

Personal Note: I'm fairly certain some of my ministerial friends are freaking out, thinking I’m advocating the abandonment of theological training over experiential and/or metaphysical individuality. 
I’m really not!

I value the theological training I received. I appreciate learning to research, to exegete. I am grateful for being taught hermeneutics, exposition, historic context and setting.  
It’s been beneficial to me in my 40+ years studying and teaching the Bible, as well as in my personal spiritual growth.

I think “good” theology is important, but we get so caught up in what “good” entails, and who gets to define “good.”
Worse, we judge others using our personal determination of “good” (right) theology. 
Being a "good" Christian is dependant on "good" theology. (i.e., my theology!)

What good is "good" theology if it doesn't impact the way we view other? The way we treat one another?