A friend (someone who isn’t a Christian and doesn’t work in academia) asked why I feel so much stress and anxiety working at an evangelical Christian college, since:
- I grew up an evangelical Christian,
- went to Christian college,
- and have an energetic and unapologetic love for Christ.
Trying to answer her was helpful for me in the clarifying process of putting a lot of jumbled thoughts and feelings into words.
My unease is generated by the question “What is theology for?”
In much of my experience of religious communities and organizations, theology (i.e. “beliefs”) is useful to the group by identifying and enforcing boundaries. Beliefs identify who is within and who is outside the criteria bounds for group membership. Boundaries aren’t crossed only by how someone acts or what someone does. They’re also crossed by what people think, what their opinions are, and what they believe.
For me – and all of my colleagues – Jesus is at the center of my spiritual life. We’re all in the game because of Christ’s love for us, because of the transformational new reality this love creates in us, and because of the love we have for Christ in return.
But there are many other religious beliefs a Christian might have, apart from being saved by Jesus. You know, there’s stuff to believe about the Bible, free will, evil spirits, miracles, economics, etc. Stuff related to Jesus, but not the same as Jesus. That’s why, even after we join the exciting journey of following Christ, there is still plenty of other theological work to do. The universe is a big place and we can ask theological questions of just about any part of it.
I worry that my personal take on these other theological ideas will serve the purpose of limiting my inclusion in the group. (What’s exclusion look like? Being endlessly argued with and judged, blocked in the college promotion process or, worse, eventually refused tenure – i.e. fired.)
One reason this is so frustrating for me is because I work out my theological ideas specifically to help me keep Jesus at the center of my life.
I guess I don’t think theology saves me. I think Jesus saves me. Obviously this is a theological idea, but Jesus isn’t a theology.
And I guess my Christian mission is not to follow some theology. My mission is to follow Christ. This mission is supported by theology, but the mission itself isn’t theology.
That’s why, when people imply I’m not a very good Christian because I have the wrong theology of [whatever], I don’t know how to respond. It’s in those moments I realize we are not even in agreement about what theology is for.