The Unexamined Life




The unexamined (unreflective) faith is not worth believing - Grenz and Olson

There is an old Charlie Brown comes strip where Lucy is offering psychiatric help to Charlie. Lucy shares that life is like a deck chair on a cruise ship: some people face the back of the ship to see where they have been while others orient themselves forward to see where they are going. Charlie expressed frustration as he says, “I’ve never been able to get one unfolded.”

Some folks tend to stay focused on the past, wishing things would return to the days of old while others can be future-facing, hoping for a better and brighter day. Then there are those like Charlie Brown, simply unable to unfold the chair and even begin processing their surroundings. (Analogy borrowed from Grenz and Olson)

Contemplative spiritual practices teach us how to unfold the chair, examine our past, and pray for the future.

Too much dearly held theology that is held by the people in our communities is based on blind faith, tradition, and cultural myths. - Kurt Fredrickson

One of the significant challenges in pastoral ministry is helping people understand the work of theological reflection. Anyone who has ever had a thought about life, existence, or attempts to answer the ‘deeper questions’ are theologians. Statements like, “God’s got it” or “God is in control” are attempts at theological answers to life’s most significant challenges. But are they theologically helpful?

Not all theology is good theology. In seminary, we learned that good theology is theology that can be put into practice in the daily life of the believer. If the theology is not practical, it is not good.

I began teaching Old Testament courses in the fall of 2015. I was fresh out of seminary and began teaching at my alma mater (APU. I had a student that enjoyed bringing up debates about supposed ‘hot topics’ in ministry. While not helping their case in finding a spouse, the student adamantly fought for a sort of ‘created order’ that put men in a position of power over women. As a novice professor, and in a moment of weakness, I walked to the podium, grasped both sides and said, “If your theology causes you to belittle, demean, dehumanize another person, you are doing it wrong.” (this was when I learned about the spiritual practice of saying sorry, inviting others to coffee, and engaging in critical reflection of experience).

While the delivery was not my finest, I still affirm the sentiment:

If your theology excludes people from the table, from love, from connecting with self, others, or God, it is not good theology.

With so much happening in recent weeks, from children being run over near a school bus, natural disasters, synagogue and bar shootings, it is easy to jump to our long-held, unreflected theology, and offer crappy advice to a sufferer, or worse yet, suggest a biblical passage that really should stay in its original context.

Contemplative practices, unfolding the deck chair, help us uncover the roots of our beliefs, evaluate our context and culture, and determine how we need to grow and relearn our theology.

Doing Theology

There are a few paradigms for ‘doing theology.’ One that my tradition holds to is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

Scripture: As the cornerstone of faith, Scripture plays a vital role in helping us understand God, ourselves, each other, and the world around us. To become faithful interpreters of Scripture, we must do the work of exegesis (of Scripture, of culture, and of self).

Tradition: Theological heritage is essential. We must know where we’ve come from to see our way forward (face backward and forward). However, we must recognize the areas where our tradition has sought assimilation, been a product of privilege, and repent of our bias.

Reason: There are a lot of illogical aphorisms that exist in Christianity. While I affirm that God is infinite in being, God also seeks to communicate to us within our context, time, and place.

Experience: The real kicker. Experience must be evaluated and reflected upon to be considered helpful. I’ve known far too many leaders in organizations that tout their experience as a captain while sinking their 10th ship.

Create space for reflection

  • Seek out pastors and spiritual mentors to help you evaluate your experience, reason, and tradition.

  • Seek out spiritual directors to help you navigate your faith, calling, and intended vocation.

  • We cannot know how shallow we really are until we seek to measure our depth. Getting in touch with your pain is, well, painful. Seek out trusted friends and mentors.

  • Read. Pray. Seek Silence and Solitude.