Thursday, February 17, 2005

I'm A Cherry Ghost

They don’t know nothing
About my soul
About my soul

Twice in the last week I have been greeted by these words as I’ve driven onto the seminary campus, listening to my new favorite station 89.3 “The Current” (MPR’s new music station). It’s the opening stanza from “Theologians” off Wilco’s most recent CD A Ghost Is Born. I’ve listened to my own copy of the CD many times, but for some reason this song stuck out to me more when I heard on the radio.

The first time I was going to do research on the Atonement. I was specifically researching ideas (John Calvin’s mostly) of Christ’s descent into hell, as mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed. Not exactly dinner conversation. The second time I was on my way to my Systematic Theology class.

So, as a young theology student I suppose I should be insulted by the claim I know nothing about Jeff Tweedy’s soul. Theology is after all a serious endeavor. It’s humanity’s attempt to make sense of God and our relationship to him (and ultimately our relationship to others, the world and ourselves).

The problem is that I think Jeff Tweedy is right. Theologians don’t seem to know anything about his soul or anyone else’s for that matter. Academic theology has created this world where questions are asked that don’t really apply to most people’s life. And the theologians seem to like it that way.

Let’s be honest, do most people care about the concept of Christ’s descent into hell? No, they may be curious when they read it in the Apostles’ Creed, but it isn’t going to change their life.

Practical theology isn’t any better. You go to most churches in America, and the sermons are basically sanitized morality lessons. There is nothing inherently wrong or heretical with them; they’re just shallow. And the congregation seems to like it that way.

How do you raise the level of spiritual and theological reflection in American churches, and how do you get theologians to address real issues in ways that meet people where they’re at?

Is it too much to ask for deep thinking theology that impacts my life, my world, my reality?


Streak said...

Unbelievable song and great post. And might I add what a lucky bastard you are! The thought of hearing Wilco on the radio in Oklahoma is such a radical thought it boggles the mind.

Here is my serious question. Do you think there are good theologians who aren't read by the masses, or are there no really good theologians for them to read?

smallman. said...

But I think a better question is why man is attempting to comprehend the things and nature of God?" When you say theology is merely our attempt to understand Him or at least make enough sense of Him to go about our business, are we doing it so we have another fact, or some more trivia? Are we studying theology for academic persuits or a sense of moral/spiritual superiority? I think that if we plumb the depths of Christ, if we do it without a steady flow of application (i.e. asking ourselves often "what does this say about the character of Christ?") then we often become bogged down or sometimes depressed by the head knowledge we've gained. Or at least dogmatic and pharasatic.

But I do agree to a larger extent. I feel like there are two major groups in Christianity: one, the people who study theology which for the larger part is irrelevant to anyone else outside of their academic circles; and those who don't study theology, and while they could recite the Lord's prayer, would be hard pressed to be able to find it. Let alone other doctrines held by Christians, why homosexuality or abortion is wrong. That is a bummer.

Kristofer said...

Maggi Dawn had a quotation from C S Lewis about the importance of theology.

". Theology means “the science of God,” and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children? Theology is practical. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas."

I think it is important to have theologicans that also do other things, I know a professor in physics that also inspires me alot theologically.

Believers' wear

Gayla said...

To answer your original question: By teaching CORRECT theology about God. God is holy, He is sovereign and, He created us for His pleasure and for His name sake and glory. There are a lot of doctrines espoused from the pulpit that hold very little actual biblical accuarcy. Sometimes theology is even "created" so we can "explain" God or make us feel better about Him.

I'm not so sure that theologians need to meet people where they're at as much as they need to address the theology of God accurately.

Justin said...

Ben, how different do you find "meet[ing] people where they’re at" and "American Christianity has become content to exist as a mere imitation of popular culture"?

The Jesus Junk you condemned in "Live Strong" remains a persuasive answer to the question of the Gospel's relevancy. Why? Because commerce consistently provides easy, practical answers to complex problems, and because crafty marketing convinces us these are the best and fullest answers.

If you want theology to "meet people where they're at," return to Christian retail, where grace sells cheap.

Your inability to grasp Jeff Tweedy's soul is not a shortcoming. It's a call to the humility that will make you an excellent pastor. If you see him without a "God-shaped hole," though one might well exist, thank God. You will be able to truly meet him where he's at, rather than where you presume he is.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this off and on all week ... great topic, Ben.

Jesus commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. So often when we think of theology, the definition of that word is limited to the intellectual pursuit of understanding God is, and ignores the importance of incorporating the rest of who we are as people.

We learn about God through his revealed Word and the study thereof, true enough. But I also come to know the heart of God when I feel emotions myself. I learn about Him as I physically experience creation through the five senses He has given me. And through meditating on the mysteries of faith, my spirit discovers God and worships Him in a special way as well. These aspects of theology are just as important a means of coming to know God as understanding the minutiae of justification.

An accurate theological perspective must incorporate ALL of who we are as people, and give us a means to come to God as whole persons in worship.

That's what I eventually came to see was lacking in Calvin's work ... it's very intellectual, but ignores that we are sensual, emotional, spiritual people. In the end, that's what I couldn't buy about it.

ryan jewell said...

hi...i'm new here...
in my opinion, theologians should exist to put the questions out there that people need to think about. there really is no way to meet anyone where they are you really think that someone can comprehend your soul or relationship with god? if theologians ask the question, people may or may not try and find the answer. if you ask and then give them an answer to accompany it, there is a good chance they will just disagree and throw the baby out with the bath water. i don't think you can ever truly meet anyone where they are at...because you are not them.

the best teachers i have ever had were the ones that knew the right questions to ask.


JackieLou said...

Stumbled across your blog and wanted to say, I don't know, thank you maybe. As a struggling Christian I read theology and get to a point where I either feel I'm too stupid to get what the big deal is or that these people have too much freaking time on their hands. That's just me, but I truly desire to know God it's only that sometimes I wonder why would He make it so complicated? The people I have known and considered the most "Godly" don't worry about most of this stuff, they simply live their lives of service. I may not understand the trinity or predestination or any of that sort of thing, but I know when I see someone truly living a life of service in Jesus' name compared to sitting around and debating things. I am torn between thirsting for knowledge so I can defend my beliefs and thirsting for attitudes that resemble Jesus'. I'm sorry for the long comment. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think theology is important perhaps but for me personally focusing soley on it has caused me to lose focus on the greatest commandment: Love God and love your neighbor.

Carolyn said...

hi ben. I'm new to this blogging stuff, and stumbled across your blog.

i too am in full time Christian ministry - on the pastoral/psychology side as well as being a Bible College professor.

i remember only too well my first years in Bible college and Systematic Theology I, II, and III! :eek:

what we sometimes forget in full time ministry is that we do need to have a 'handle' on the doctrines and study of theology - yes, the study (or science) of theos - God.

it wouldn't be worth the journey, dear ben, if it were not shaking your tree and throwing off some of the stinky fruit you've developed over the years. Or like having the dross burnt off.

it can be an amazing journey.

I pray that Jesus mightily blesses you and shows you His truth on a deeper level than ever before. it is much better that a pastor has worked this stuff out before he (or she) takes the pulpit.

Jim said...


Like your blog and have added you as a link on mine ( I've been in full time ministry for a while now, though I'm not ordained and honestly have no plans for that, though at the same time I take theology very seriously, almost as seriously as I take relationships with real human beings. You're asking good questions and making me think--which is something that pastors don't often get me to do. You're going to make a good one.

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Jennifer said...

Anon, that's not theology; that's living.

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