Thursday, May 07, 2009

theology in a nutshell

Today, I had reason to remember that conversation years ago on my NE Iowa Candidacy Committee when they asked, "What's the gospel in a nutshell?" I gave an answer somewhat similar to the words in John 3:16... God loves us and because God loved us so much, God gave us Jesus who gave his life for us. My answer didn't meet their expectations and they encouraged me to work on it. Somehow, by the grace of God, I eventually spoke some word that reassured them that I could be approved for ordination and make the promises to preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures, the creeds and the Lutheran confessions--that my theology was Lutheran. "We are saved by grace through faith and that is not our own doing but is a gift of God."

I've never been very comfortable with pat answers for complex questions. That said, I can understand why people ask. What we believe about God, God's role in the world, sin and evil, our role in the world as flawed and amazing human beings--all of that is important. And we especially want to know where our leaders are coming from on these most important matters.

In ministry, though, it's surprising how seldom one is asked "What's your theology?" More often the questions come in other forms. Why did God allow that to happen? What am I supposed to do with my life? What does the Bible say about ____? Does God love me? And even then, if I fall into answering, those answers are not always most helpful.

What I do know is that God has given a variety of gifts... some of us are passionate about stunning articulation of profound truths, some of us can speak a real and concrete word of God's love for the sinner and transformation of lives, some of us cling to the wonder and mystery of the God of all creation, some of us hear the voice of Jesus speaking right to our hearts, some of us are working for God's reign of justice and peace to be realized more fully. We see Jesus as lord, savior, friend, teacher/prophet, lover. It seems to me that all these ways of sensing God's presence in our lives are needed--not only broadly among people of Christian faith--but even among Lutherans. God created a body with a beautiful diversity.

Perhaps one of my strongest convictions is that God has created us to love us. Jesus showed us who God is and loved us even to the point of dying but God raised him from the dead. When Jesus' earthly life was done we received an Advocate--the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. We are broken vessels but God continues to work, a patient potter, to mold us--into those who love God and one another. I'm still not sure I've got that "gospel in a nutshell" answer right (maybe you feel that way too) but God is not finished with us yet.

As we grapple with theology on the way,
Pastor Joy


LMM said...

Your post speaks volumes to me! I, too, have been asked a similar question and now in the interviewing process for first call, I am still challenged by the limitation of my words to define my theology.
And so I keep on keepin' on. Learning, praying, listening, discerning and listening some more.
Thank you.

Carey said...

You are a very generous person, Joy. Sometimes our first instincts are right, I think, even if they seem too simple. And I think you should trust yours.