Today I’m pleased to welcome to the Rally to Restore Unity longtime friend-of-the-blog Jason Boyett. Jason is the author of O Me of Little Faith—(one of my favorite books on the topic of doubt)—as well as a bunch of other books including the funny and informative Pocket Guide Series. He blogs here and here…and recently wrote a great piece on the death of Osama Bin Laden. Jason always has something wise to say, so I’m thankful he took the time to join our little virtual rally!
My brother, Brooks, runs an inner-city apartment ministry in a poverty-stricken section of our hometown. He spends his days with new immigrant families, poor single moms, kids who've never met their imprisoned fathers, and 31-year-old grandmothers.
We grew up Southern Baptist. A few weeks into his ministry, one or two well-meaning churchgoers would ask him questions intended to gauge the "success" of his work. They wanted theological results. They wanted numbers. "Have you seen any kids get saved?" they asked.
"No professions of faith," Brooks would tell them. "But I fed two crackheads this week."
He led a group of middle school boys in a Bible study about "the great fights of the Bible," which was the only subject he could find that kept their attention. He hung out with a formerly schizophrenic one-legged black man who is close to our dad's age. Eventually Brooks performed the guy's wedding to his already-cohabitating fiancé. He started coordinating Christmas gifts for dozens of children, sent hundreds of kids to class with backpacks full of school supplies, and found ways to help families buy insulin, pay their electricity bill, and find jobs.
Yesterday I asked him what kind of a role theology played in his work. This is what he told me:
Last month, I met three little girls who have been permanently removed from any contact with their father. You name the abuse, they endured it. It’s awful. So I have a hard time with people getting worked up about Calvinists or Arminians or Rob Bell being a heretic or Benny Hinn’s hair. There’s a lot more horrible things going on in this world deserving of our anger or passion. Of course, I also have a hard time telling those girls that God, in his sovereignty, ordained for them to have a horrible dad. But I can share with them my simple theology:
This world is broken, full of sin and sickness and pain and trouble and evil. That all that bad stuff keeps us from having a relationship with God, a relationship He desires. That God sent His perfect Son the the earth, to teach us and show us and example on earth of what God is like. And, most importantly, to take all of that sin and pain and brokenness in the world onto his body and die on the cross for us, because He loves us, unconditionally, so that we can have a relationship with Him. And that we become his adopted kids, so that even though dads on this earth let us down, He’s a Dad who never will. And that once He has us, once we accept what Jesus did, then He never lets us go. That’s really all the theology needed, I think.
In terms of works, I think reaching out to the least -- the broken, the hurting, the hungry, the poor -- is birthed out of the simple theology that the world is broken, but Jesus has fixed it and is fixing it, and for some crazy reason, trusts us humans to help with the healing.
So, for these girls, I put that into action by helping their grandmother, who is raising them now, with whatever support she needs (financial, emotional, etc.). By spending time with them and modeling who a man is supposed to be. By getting them in touch with caring women who can show them love. By telling and showing them who Jesus is.
It’s more simple than we’ve made it out to be, I think.
Look, I love theology. I love to study it and argue about it as much as any Bible nerd. Theology is important because it gives us a framework. Doctrine helps explain our faith and gives it shape.
But theology is a messy business. The Bible is a messy set of documents written for a messy people in a messy culture thousands of years ago. Translating it to who we are now in the world we live in now is equally messy. That's why we argue about it. That's why we fight about what we should and shouldn't believe.
But faith is not theology. It's obedience. It's action. When Jesus gave the greatest commandment, he said nothing about what we're supposed to believe. Instead, he told us what to do: 1) Love God. 2) Love people.
It's a shame when we get so passionate about theology that we forget to be passionate about love.
My brother's ministry benefits from Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian volunteers. He's watched Southern Baptist deacons flip burgers while Pentecostal worship leaders helped raise money. He's supported by Calvinists and Arminians, by twenty-something hipsters and our octogenarian grandparents. He brings all those worlds together so a bunch of Christians can love the "least of these."
As much as I love theology, I hate that the details of it divide us. I like when theology is simple. When it says "love," and a bunch of different people team up to do that.
Next time you feel yourself getting worked up about someone's theology, how about getting worked up about helping people instead? Head over to Charity:Water to make a donation. I think I will.
Because I think that's a better way to love God.