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Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Alpha retreat feedback

More afterglow from the retreat yesterday. This morning I heard lots of stories from people who were at the retreat, lots of people saying that it was an amazing day. One person told me it was in the top four days of his life, along with his marriage and the birth of his kids. One said, "I'm so glad I skipped the Gophers' game to come." Others just smile and nod and say, "It was wonderful."

What strikes me is that this is so different from the sometimes cold discipline of theology. I've studied theology with some amazing thinkers. But studying about God can be a whole different matter than interacting with God. This goes right back to the garden of Eden. In Genesis 3, we have a story about the first theological conversation between Adam, Eve, and the serpent.

First of all, yes, Adam is a participant even though he doesn't say anything. He just stands there, the same mistake so many men make when it comes to spiritual matters in their families. Instead of being engaged spiritually, they're watching the women in their lives make those decisions. I can't tell you how many times I've met women who tell me, "My husband really isn't interested in church." That's just one example. So Adam's in the conversation, passive and unhelpful. Eve and the snake talk about God, but Eve never thinks to say, "Lord? What do you think of all this?" God is certainly within reach of Eve's voice, but she never turns to him. Instead she engages in theological conversation, speculating about God's actions and motives. Talking about God is radically different than talking to him.

I believe this is part of what has happened to mainline churches in America. We have such a rich tradition of theological study, but it has backfired on us in some ways. We have learned to speculate about God in a way that leads us away from relationship with God rather than toward him. Increasingly mainline churches have retreated to language that depersonalizes God rather than leading to greater intimacy with him. We argue about theodicy -- the question of whether God is responsible for evil's existence -- rather than letting misfortune drive us to the cross where we meet Jesus and learn to trust him more deeply.

What happens when we think about God instead of talking to him? We are masters of our own mental processes, and so we begin to think and act as if we are masters over God. This is precisely the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. "Go ahead," Satan invites, "You can be like God!" By defining and delineating the particulars of theological abstraction, we distance ourselves from God and we are left cold in the dark.

So it was refreshing yesterday to talk about the Holy Spirit, yes, but then to move immediately to prayer and worship, inviting God to fill his people with his Spirit. I don't remember anyone ever walking out of "Theology of the Triune God" in seminary saying, "This changed my life." There is a time and a place for thinking deeply about who God is, but we must resist the temptation (quite literally) to allow deep thinking to distance ourselves from relationship with God, so that logic replaces lordship.

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