The notion of an opposable theology is based on the assumption the human mind is capable of holding two or more, differing, possibly contradictory ideas in dynamic tension, rejecting narrow either/or choices, and allowing a deeper, richer insight to emerge. Just as the human hand is stronger because of the combined, opposing strength of the fingers and the thumb – making increased strength and finer precision possible – the mind is also capable of prolonged wrestling with two or more concepts.
What if this mental capacity for opposable thinking is essential to understanding the complexities of theology?
The risk of rejecting an opposable approach to theological inquiry is settling for overly-simplified half-truths, inadequate for comprehending the fullness of theological truth. An inadequate understanding of theological truth inevitably leads to an inadequate understanding of God.
Many examples of opposable theology are found throughout Scripture in the form of paradox.
The mystics of the Church seem especially gifted in perceiving the broader beauties, complexities and mysteries of Truth – embracing the greater, incomprehensible mystery that is God.
Now, in this final post of the series, let’s turn our attention to “holy curiosity.”
Curious: inquisitive, searching, questioning, wondering, exploring, seeking, interested, processing, studying, researching, ruminating.
Curiosity is the opposite of both (a) rigid dogma and (b) decided, declared disbelief. Both dogma and disbelief narrow the possibilities. Dogma demands a precise, “correct” truth – “You must believe…!” Disbelief rejects anything distasteful or disagreeable – “I can’t believe…!” Curiosity allows space for dogma and disbelief to collide, and creates spacious room for curiosity to do its work.
What if a richer approach to theological inquiry begins with curiosity? What if a better theological question begins with “I wonder…”
“I wonder how God can be both one, and three…”
“I wonder why there’s so much violence in the Bible…”
“I wonder how Jesus could be human and God…”
“I wonder if the Bible’s relevant, today…”
“I wonder who will be saved…”
“I wonder about eternity and heaven…”
“I wonder if miracles are real…”
“I wonder where evil comes from…”
“I wonder why God allows bad things to happen…”
“I wonder what other religions know about God, that I still need to learn…”
Let me be clear: I’m NOT suggesting there aren’t absolute truths. Of course there are! I’m also not suggesting there isn’t a healthy place for spiritual doubt and disbelief. Of course there is! And, I certainly acknowledge that hateful, demeaning, bigoted, misogynistic lies and falsehoods must be rejected and opposed! But, even the most absolute, clearest of truths can be understood in deeper, richer, more complex and applicable ways. Just consenting to a particular religious answer does not automatically lead to comprehending the full range of it’s theological implications or applications. Nor does rejecting a falsehood necessarily lead to truth.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and an Oxford trained theologian, said, “When I was young I was sure of everything; in a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before; at present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve ever been “sure of everything.” But, my certainty on a range of theological topics has ebbed and flowed through the years. While a few of my theological stances have shifted dramatically, most of my beliefs are in a steady, ongoing process of growth and development. And, the longer I know God, and continue seeking to know God more, my curiosity and longing for God increases. And, ministry and life continue to challenge the substance and relevance of my theology.
How is my theology true and relevant, in an increasingly secular world?
How is my theology true and relevant, in the aftermath of a global pandemic?
How is my theology relevant and true, when so many “Christian” leaders say and do so many things I find appalling?
How is my theology relevant and true, and evident in my own words, actions, and priorities?
How is my theology – as a white privileged man – relevant and true in response to ongoing systemic injustice?
How is my theology relevant and true, as my denomination divides over disagreements regarding human sexuality?
How is my theology relevant and true, as Russia decimates Ukraine, and a massive existential crisis ensues?
How is my theology relevant and true as the planet warms and creation suffers?
I could go on and on and on. I can “confidently” give theological answers to each of those questions, and more. But, do I believe them, really? Are my answers life-giving? Do they inspire hope, faith, trust in God? Are they sufficient? Do they ring hollow? Do they speak to hurting, uncertain hearts?
Sometimes they do – I think. Sometimes they don’t – I’m sure.
So, for the foreseeable future, I still have a lot more to learn about God. Holy curiosity and an opposable theology might help.
This is the fifth and final post in a series called “Developing an ‘Opposable’ Theology.” If you haven’t already, this post will make more sense if you read posts 1-4. If you would like to receive notifications of future posts, please sign up below.