This short article looks at two of these theologies. I call them Triumphalist theology, and Join-the-Dots theology.
Triumphalist Theology is a way of thinking which always has to have an upbeat, 'God's in charge', answer to every problem. One sees Triumphalist Theology at work amongst the preachers of so called Prosperity Doctrine, and also amongst Muslims when they chant, "Allah Akbar - God is great!", as if saying that solves every problem!
For this kind of a mindset to be effective, and to be retained, these people have to reject the possibility that they could be wrong. Hence they adopt the attitude, "We're right and everyone else is wrong!"
Join-the-Dots Theology is a theology which tries to answer every problem by quoting Bible verses. It's true that certain verses from the Bible can help in a given situation, but so often this approach is simply an excuse not to have to think seriously about a problem oneself, and then do something about it.
Join-the-Dots Theology afficionados think that the Bible speaks about every situation human beings can come across. They can't see that there are millions of issues which the Bible doesn't speak about. And they can't see that there are many issues which the Bible does speak about, but with words addressed to a society vastly different to ours today. Join-the-dots theology is escapist theology.
Both theologies are especially rife within evangelical circles. People who think this way have a strong tendency to 'big up' positive Bible verses while 'playing down' what they see as negative Scriptures. By failing to understand the full balance of Scripture they inevitably end in error.
The book of Ecclesiastes is the best example I can think of to illustrate this. I believe this book was included in the Bible to show that things are not all rosy and upbeat. When Solomon wrote:
"Meaningless, meaningless ... everything is meaningless!" (Eccl 1:2)... he wasn't just writing nonsense. It's folly to dismiss his words just because we don't like them!
The account given us of Solomon's interaction with God at the start of his reign (1 Kings 3:5-15) shows that his renowned wisdom was indeed a gift from God. If we dismiss his words we're at risk of dismissing God Himself.
So what did Solomon mean by saying that everything is meaningless? Well, it's not rocket science. In many ways, compared to God, and compared to what's going on in heaven, we are not much more than ants crawling around in the dust. Everything we do here is of very limited value.
If we compare life on earth, here and now, with what life will be like (and is like) in heaven — it's like comparing the life of a foetus in the womb with the life of an adult person. This life is simply a preparation for the next one, so if we take ourselves too seriously in this life we're missing the point of it entirely.
Humility is not something human beings are renowned for. From politicians, to Church leaders, to ordinary folk, we see people strutting around as if they're something special. But the reality is that none of us are particularly special at all. Everything that we are has been repeated many times over throughout human history. And anything that we do could equally well be done by someone else.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.The book of Numbers in the Old Testament has a remarkable account about a donkey which spoke up and saved a renegade prophet's life (Num 22:21-32). In his song about Balaam's donkey Don Francisco wrote:
Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. (Eccl 1:8-11)
So when the Lord starts using you, don't you pay it any mind — He could have used the dog next door if He'd been so inclined!Humility is one of the greatest and godliest of character traits, but sadly it's so often missing in the Church.
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Eccl 2:23-25)Sometimes we just need to chill out, kick back, and stop trying to BE something special — for ourselves or for God. We're special anyway, because we've been designed by God (Psalm 139:13-16) and because He loves us, regardless of what we do.
And that's the main point. It's not who or what we think we are, or who we are in other people's eyes, that counts. It's who we are in God's eyes that counts — and that's the only thing that counts at all! So when we understand that we are priceless in His eyes — every man, woman and child that has ever lived — then we have a real reason to hold our heads up high!
Triumphalist theology gets upset at every setback and says, "This is the attack of Satan!" Realistic theology says, "What can I learn from this? What is God trying to teach me, if anything?"
Join-the-dots theology always wants to find a Scripture for every problem. But that can be like putting a wee sticking plaster over a mortal wound. The wound goes untreated while the spiritual 'doctor' secretly shines his halo and says, "What a good boy am I!"
When faced with a serious problem join-the-dots theologians take a bunch of Scriptures and join them up saying, "Look at what a great picture I've made!" But God looks at that silly picture and shakes His head sadly as He compares it to His master paintings.
What are God's master paintings? They're His age old wisdom as revealed in the WHOLE of the Scriptures — they're His revelations as given to the saints down through the ages — they're the mind-blowing majesty of His power and knowledge as revealed to scientists in the amazing universe He has made — and they're the winsome wisdom of the Holy Spirit as whispered into the Spirit-filled human heart.
I believe the way to get away from triumphalist thinking, and from join-the-dots thinking, is to start LISTENING to people — yes to people — and to start listening with both ears. Sadly what Christians do so much of the time is to half-listen while their minds rapidly create a join-the-dots picture, ready to splurge it out when the speaking stops.
When we listen — really listen — to others, we open our heart and mind to the Spirit of God, and when we do that we can become a channel for His Spirit to speak into their hearts and lives, as well as into our own. When we fail to listen, however, we only end up rubbing salt into their wounds. We rub people up the wrong way, and if we do that we deserve to be attacked by them.
God — yes God — often sends setbacks our way to make us stop and take stock. He sends them to try to force us to see where we're going wrong. Unless we become a genuine listener — to God as well as to others — and unless we put our triumphalist thinking, and our join-the-dots thinking, behind us we will always remain immature in our faith.
So let's stop being simplistic, and let's stop being triumphalistic, and let's grow up and become humble and wise and show the love of God to others by hearing them, fully, and by doing something to help them instead of just talking at them. Then maybe — just maybe — people will start to take us and the Church seriously once again.