Why Bad Theology Matters

This month is five years since I started this blog…FIVE YEARS! As I was working on the new site (which includes password protecting all my old entries), the term “ignorance is bliss” reverberated in my head.

This blog has seen me through some of the most pivotal moments in my life: it’s traveled through Europe and South America with me, it’s gone with me on multiple “mission trips” to varying countries; it’s seen me through break-ups, moving to two new cities, the death of my child-hood pet, starting seminary, my engagement and marriage, transferring to a new seminary, and has sat with me as I’ve wrestled through deep theological shifts and changes.

It’s been a whirlwind—and really, those of you who have kept up with me, THANKS, I commend you, heh. As I read through all of my old posts, I laughed at how silly most of them were—you know, my hyper-spiritualizing EVERYTHING, the  overuse of Christian jargon, and let's not forget the really bad application to Scripture taken completely out of context. Oh well, it's part of the journey.

Along with being really embarrassed, I couldn’t help but recognize how much easier it was to be excited about my faith when I didn’t know about the dark history of Christianity—colonialism, colonization,  racism. It was easier when I didn’t know that literally everything I’ve ever heard a mega-church pastor preach from a pulpit, or everything I’ve read from Christian self-help blogs is an interpretation—a subjective one at that. It’s easy when you idolize certain Christian figures and think everything they teach is from God’s own mouth, because well, it doesn’t require much thinking for yourself—and frankly, I think many church leaders don't want you to actually think for yourself (because you might come to difference conclusions). It’s also easier when things are taught to you as black and white because you can learn to ignore the gray areas… and pretend that most of life doesn’t actually take place in the gray areas.

I’ll just be real: the less you know about Christianity, the easier it is to be a Christian.

A couple days ago, several students from my Women in Church History and Theology class taught by prof. John Thompson got together for the second time at his house to have dinner and drinks, catch up, share stories, and talk theology. As we sat at Dr. Thompson's dinner table, our conversation naturally gravitated toward being women and the obstacles we’ve encountered trying to pursue our calling. It was clear we all face similar tensions: being really discouraged and wanting to cry/scream/give up, while at the same time feeling empowered, energized, and ready to take on whatever comes our way because of the incredible women who came before us—women in history who faced serious consequences for living out their faith.

Our conversation reflected that tension as we flip-flopped between tears and laughter; encouragement and "wait, why are we doing this again?" At one point in the conversation we expressed our concerns about terrible exegesis,  and how God interestingly works despite really bad interpretations of Scripture (hey, this blog is proof). But despite that truth, we couldn't help but recognize the sober reality (and that tension once again), that bad theology destroys.  In fact, it quite literally kills. It’s killed people for centuries, and it kills people even now. Bad theology has justified genocide, ethnocide, and slavery. Bad theology has kept women silent and given space for spiritual and physical abuse. Sure, God can and has worked through it, but bad theology isn't harmless, and we shouldn't treat it as such. 

It's this reality that sends me into spirals of "why am I doing this again?" I mean, what difference could my tiny, vapor of a life possibly make when much of Christian history has produced some really terrible, really harmful stuff?

I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know one thing:  God will find really interesting ways to regularly remind me of my calling. Sometimes it's through a professor; sometimes it's through conversations with friends; sometimes it's through a national crisis that takes me to the streets to march; sometimes it's through the messages and emails I receive from you encouraging me to keep writing.

But there's also another reason I keep doing this—why I keep digging deeper, spending 60+ hours a week learning a bunch of languages, reading a bunch of books, and writing a bunch of papers. It’s because knowledge empowers.

Knowledge teaches me about the context and culture of the first century, so I can understand things like what it meant that Jesus said Mary was doing the right thing by "sitting as his feet." Knowledge taught me about first century imperial cult worship and what an honest application of  the command “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” would be. Knowledge teaches about the beautiful, liberating , life-giving implications of  "the Gospel"—how it should affect every aspect of life and society (including our activism) and that people before us used it to wield power instead of service. Knowledge teaches us about the past so that we can re-create a new future...so we can be better people, better followers of Jesus—better neighbors, citizens, friends.

Knowledge empowers us so that we can empower others.

If you’ve ever wondered why I write so much about women, it’s because I’ve experienced first hand the beauty and freedom that comes in being empowered by knowledge. And it's (quite literally) my job to pass on the knowledge I receive to you.

So, sure, ignorance produces bliss, but knowledge empowers. And my hope is that the deeper you dig into the knowledge of the Divine, the more empowered you’ll be to live like Jesus did.