Voices

Mental filibusters

When obsessing over theology becomes a way to avoid obedience

Issue: "Senate wars over judges," May 14, 2005

Carolyn did Greek boot camp with me at seminary. She was a Carolinian, a people person, and outspoken in her love for Jesus-everything I was not. I chalked it up to Southern culture. I explained to her that I was reticent by natural endowment, and more prone to wait for the right moment. She wasn't impressed: "I've got plenty of faults, but shuttin' up ain't one of them."

I did not like Carolyn.

Twenty-seven-odd years later I'm still waiting for the right moment, and Carolyn's probably blabbed the gospel all over Dixie. She has offended many people, I'm sure. A few have come to faith (law of averages). She has done this though I'll bet dollars to donuts I scored higher in Apologetics. I, on the other hand, continue to be culturally sensitive. No neighbor of mine can fault me for violating boundaries after 18 years on the block. I have tiptoed over with homemade cream puffs, and tomatoes from my garden, without them ever suspecting I did it for Christ.

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Carolyn probably has no idea how many places there are to get waylaid along Professor Clowney's rectangular grid that takes you from the Hebrew data, to the original meaning for the ancient Near Eastern audiences, to the Christological meaning, to contemporary cultural application. She does not lose sleep over whether women should don a head covering in church, or other vexing questions touching on contextualization, continuity versus discontinuity, biblical-historical dispensations (small "d"), and linguistics. She forges ahead.

From my catbird seat at the café I see two kinds of seminary students-the Carolyns and the "yours truly" variety. The latter linger long over coffee and go a few rounds of theology, weighing, nuancing, balancing, finessing, finding the philosophical fly in the ointment, finally leaving with matters unresolved but a good time had by all. They throw up their hands and say that God's commands are uncertain, and subject to interpretation; perhaps we will understand them by and by.

Here's something I would never have done: One of the new students and his family, folks from Peru, arrived on a shoestring and landed in the apartment just over that of my parents. Miguel for a while was in the humbling position of begging rides off my mother (not a Christian) for every little thing. On one such day, as they returned from an errand, Miguel turned to my mom and thanked her for all her help, then added: "But you realize, don't you, that none of it will get you into heaven."

Bravo, Miguel, for not bogging down in "Who is my neighbor?" and other mental filibusters. Bravo, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for paying the supreme price for a life of faith rather than abstraction. "We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not," wrote the German pastor executed by Nazis weeks before war's end. The rich young man "had hoped to avoid committing himself to any definite moral obligations by forcing Jesus to discuss his spiritual problems. . . . Only the devil has an answer for our moral difficulties, and he says, 'Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience'" (The Cost of Discipleship).

It's May, exam time at the seminary. School alert: Consider the insidiousness of slipping away from Christ while you're studying Christ-seeing 10:30 Chapel as optional, research as the lifeline. "There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself . . . as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. . . . It is the subtlest of all the snares" (The Great Divorce).

I am falling in love with Jesus today where I was just half-heartedly dating before. He said, draw near to Me and I will draw near to you (James 4:8), and I have taken note. Sleepers awake! "All that is over now. We are not playing now. . . . I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you will see the face of God" (Ibid.).

And I'm starting to like Carolyn better all the time.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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