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Thursday, September 28, 2006 

Orthodoxy as Doing Violence
Topic: Theology & The Long War

Reading: lecture requirements
Enjoying: cup o' joe
Listening: soof-yan The Lord God Bird, Chicago

Theologians, NBA stars, and your next door neighbor all alike love justification. We all, with Jesus' interrogator, "seek to justify" ourselves. It doesn't take a ThM to love the doctrine of justification, since we all wish to be right in our eyes, and be seen as without fault before others. Unfortunately, I have lately been discovering the depth of my own insidious desires, and that I often twist beautiful things in an attempt to justify myself. One of the most disturbing instances of this is using theology, specifically my theology, to justify myself against others. How common a human fault this is for so many of us who enjoy theology and pondering the deep things of the Lord. Though it is wisdom "to draw out the deep things," the temptation to hang my justification on this coat hook is great.

Lately, some circles I have been exposed to have triumphantly pointed out their superior theological rigor and precision over and against other groups. The triumphalists are, of course, correct - their unwitting competition is vastly deficient in several areas of doctrine and living blessedly. It is easy to see how one can gloat that their theological doctrine is superior; we are, of course, commanded to keep close watch to our dogma and rejoice in the truth. Nevertheless, the line demarcating thankfulness for biblical worldviews on the one hand, and saying, "I thank you God, that I am not like (insert your favorite theological whipping boy)" on the other hand, is a fine line indeed.

The horror of it all, though, is that I am even more guilty. While theological group A chides group B for its poor theology, I sit back and pride myself on the fact that I wasn't so narrow minded as group A. I justify myself past group A's sins, who had done the same thing to group B. The pharisaical attitude of group A that thanked God for not being like group B is overshadowed by my own self-justifying desires: "I thank you, God, that at least I'm not as bad as group B and I don't have the snobbery of group A." And thus, we condemn ourselves.

In this way, orthodoxy no longer leads to orthopraxy, but becomes a power play, a means to obtaining dominance over the Other. We do violence to the heterodox group and orthodoxy itself by using biblical doctrine to establish our own justification, rather than to justify God. This is Job's sin. Nothing Job said was ever wrong or theologically incorrect. Nevertheless, both Elihu and God-in-the-whirlwind fault Job for seeking to make himself right, and not God.
He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God... Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Job 32:2; 40:6, 8
We, like Job, have attempted a sleight of hand, taking our place in the deity at the pinnacle of being. And what is more, we think, is that we are completely justified in being there. Look at me! Behold my resplendent theology that I wear as a crown! Behold, see how I am not tripped up like those others! We build our pyramids of orthodoxy and glory on the backs and bodies of those we trample, despising their efforts, feeble though they may be.

All of this, it must be said, is not the fault of orthodoxy or justification. For whenever the above happens, it is not truly orthodox or justified, but rather the veneer of both. True Reformed orthodoxy is quick to point out the total depravity/inability of all humanity, including Reformed theologians. They can and do err; indeed, Reformed theology is only the theological system least infected with sin and error. We all long and groan for the resurrection, to know as we are known.

And true justification has never been to establish our own righteousness (perhaps a definition of the antithesis to justification!), but rather to celebrate and trust in the righteousness of Another. Whenever our theology serves as a power play for the sake of elevating ourselves, we have crossed to the other side of the sanctuary, and find ourselves praying with the Pharisees, exchanging a theology of the cross for one of glory, humility and love for pride. May God grant us all, and myself most, grace. May we, with the tax payer, and finally with Job, beat our breasts and cry, "O Lord, have mercy on us, we poor miserable sinners." Finally with Luther's dying words, "We are always and only beggars. This is true."


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[orthdoxy] | [theology]

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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