late night theology with Tony Jones
After the General Session let out I booked up the third floor to grab a seat for the late-night option I'd been looking forward to the whole convention - "Late Night Theology Discussion" with Tony Jones.
Confession time: I had a bad first-time Tony Jones experience several conventions ago. It was at a late-night forum on the emerging church and he seemed rather, um... "bitey." So I did what any natural person would do... I didn't like him and felt good about it.
But then I realized I'm not a natural person... because of Jesus I'm a supernatural person (cue "hero" music). So I had to ask myself, "Am I so short-sighted that I'm going to let a one-time experience dictate my forever opinion of the guy?" So I went to another seminar of his the next year.
And I still didn't like him. Only... not as much as before.
OKAY! The guy's passion for the Gospel, the Church, and theology wore me down. I began to see that what I mistook for arrogance was really brokenness and passion for the Bride of Christ to "get it together." So over the years I've not only found my heart warming towards the guy but I think he's even gotten a bit "domesticated," too.
Anyway... Tony broke us out of the rows of chairs into a circle of interaction. Somehow I ended up sitting right next to him (which is no big deal - I'm somewhat past the "Christian celebrity" groupie stage... for the most part) and saved a seat for Brian (which... you should know... is not only a friend but is a recent graduate from my last church when I served as his youth pastor... now he's attending YS stuff with me... or maybe that's the other way around... either way, pretty cool). Then Tony talked about how this was going to be less of him talking and more about us interacting while he facilitated. To kick it off, he asked...
"So... what do you want to talk about?"
I had a topic, but I didn't want to take anything away from anyone else. So I gave it ten seconds... 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.
- "I'll go," I said.
"Alright," responded Tony.
"Well... this kind of comes out of my own time with God. In Genesis 3 we read about the fall of Adam and Eve. The serpent deceived Eve, and so she decided to take a bite. Then Adam is encouraged by Eve to eat, and he does. After that the Bible says that 'then the eyes of both of them were opened' and we know the rest of the story from there. Here's my question, though... the consequence isn't mentioned until after Adam eats. So... what happened - or what didn't happen - after Eve ate? Anything?"
"Ah... interesting," smiled Tony. Wiping his hands together, he said, "This opens up a whole bunch of issues... so, what's your thought? You probably have one, right?"
"Actually, I don't... my buddies and I were talking about it on the ride here and I'd love to get some input."
"Okay... any thoughts? This has a lot of implications."
And from there we spent a whole lot of time listening to different thoughts while Tony commented on how we were thinking. By the way - this was the greatest observation I stole away from this - the WAY a person thinks about theology is more important than WHAT they think. The whole idea that the way we approach the Scriptures is how we draw truths for life.
Here were some of the thoughts on the topic (in white) by the rest of the men and women in the room, followed by Tony Jones' insights on theology (in blue) after each was said. A few of my thoughts are in yellow.
- "I always saw this passage as an opportunity for redemption. How Adam and Eve blow it and then God redeems them."
- "So what we need to realize is that there is a LITERAL way to read Scripture. Good."
- "I guess I read this story more as a picture of who we are... 'what is us' versus 'what was'"
- "Okay... so you're more on the EXISTENTIAL side. Great... who else?"
- "Just as another layer... could Adam - being pure and innocent - have sacrificed himself for the woman like Jesus later did for all of us? And does any of this have anything to bear on the importance of woman as a topic?"
- "Hmm... this is the MASONOGISTIC issue - is man more important than the woman? I'd like to hear from a woman in the room on this, by the way."
- "As we get into this there comes up certain understandings of the Atonement that we have to keep in mind..."
- "Hang on a second - you're starting to bring up PAST BIBLICAL THEOLOGY. That's fine... but you need to realize what you're doing."
- "What about the simple question of whether the biblical writers intended for us to focus on God speaking to Adam? Adam was not deceived... Adam knowingly took of the apple."
- "Did you catch what you just did? You are bringing EXTRA BIBLICAL LANGUAGE into your thought. Keep an eye on that... and I'm still waiting to hear from a woman."
- "God didn't intend for them to do this... Eve chose her own way and Adam did the same thing."
- "Now we're talking about FREEWILL versus PREDESTINATION... I wonder what a CALVINIST would say to that statement. Do we have a woman yet? What do you think?" (points to a woman)
- The woman answered: "I think the topic is interesting. To me this passage is about creation and God's plan for us. I like to think that He had a plan from the very beginning."
- Some else countered: "To me this is all about original sin."
- "Okay, first of all the doctrine of original sin came from Augustine and he lived from 354-430 A.D. When people talk about this they talk about how kids are inclined to sin and make a conscious choice to willfully sin against God when they do something self-centered. THAT'S INSANE! There comes a time when common sense trumps 'St. Augustine.'"
- "I want to make the point that there are two separate issues that people often confuse. There's total depravity and original sin. Total depravity deals more how messed up people are and how there is nothing within me without God's intervention that can turn towards Him on my own - original sin is more about how we're all tainted by the wrong doing of Adam and Eve."
- "So... is it your experience as a Christian that there is nothing within you that can turn to Jesus?"
- "When we were first created we were 'inherently good' until Adam & Eve's sin. A hallmark in theology is that we're tainted with Adam and Eve's sin. Now, I have kids... and I don't want to interpret it that way."
- "In Romans, though, it talks about how we're messed up because of one man and saved through Jesus - another."
- "Okay... let's pretend Romans isn't in the Bible. Get rid of it... rip it out for a year. What does that do to your theology? I think we need to stop interpreting things through the lens of Paul... we rely on Paul way too much as the lens to interpret Jesus. Maybe we need to reverse it and go back and reinterpret Paul through the lens of Jesus."
- "I have kids, too, and I don't want to overlook the selfishness of my two-year old."
- "Developmentally human beings have no ability to consider others when they're young. It's like dogs... you can't train a dog to stop, look, and listen before they cross the street. (someone brought up a seeing eye dog as an example) Even a seeing eye dog is trained to look for cues... not to think on his own. So this whole idea of kids choosing sin is something we need to rethink... so many cultures see it differently than we do. The way sin is understood in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is that it's a disease we're all born with - a chronic one we live with and manage. "
- "We just have to look at what Paul says..."
- "Okay, hang on... first of all why would you use a word like 'just' to try to describe something theological like this? The word 'just" has no place in our vocabulary. It's like from that movie Neverland where Johnny Depp's character is playing with some kids and imagines the dog is like a bear... and the skeptical kid says, 'It's just a dog' and he says, 'Just - what a candle snuffing word.' The word 'just' demeans the whole concept of what we're trying to do here. And as a side note, I'm tired of us praying with the word 'just' all the time... 'Dear God, we just thank you for being here and just want to tell You how much we just need you to do this thing just for us.' Come on people.
And then back to Paul - evangelical Christians are in love with Paul and not Jesus. We've become Paulophilics and don't even realize we're reading Romans through a contemporary lens. Like the PENAL SUBSTITUTIONARY THEORY OF THE ATONEMENT - this whole idea that one thing can balance out something else like a transaction - it comes from a guy named Anselm and was developed during the same time the Magna Carta was. The whole concept that someone screwed up so someone must pay for it... laws are very important in our society - we're very litigious and we assume that there's an economy of sin, too... only the rest of the world doesn't see the Bible like we do.
You've probably used the illustration in your youth group of the person who stands before a judge who sentences him to die, then the judge comes down and says, "No! Wait! Let me die for him instead!" First of all, that could never happen in our society so it's a bad illustration... like the other one about the guy who operates a set of train tracks and has to switch the tracks before a train comes by and crashes... only his lever doesn't work so he sends his son down to fix it... and after he does the train comes crashing over the son and no one on the train realizes it... and when I was a kid I used to hear this story and how the people on the train were gambling and drinking and having sex and laughing... it's ridiculous!"
- "So what I'm hearing from you is that this whole dilemma of law-versus-grace versus-justice is a new idea?"
- "The Old Testament didn't see this as transactional but as symbolic. When the Day of Atonement came around and everyone would lay their sins on the scapegoat... that wasn't about a transaction but it was about their relationship with the God of Israel and His relationship with them. Were God's hands tied or weren't they?"
- "If we look at the Old Testament as merely symbolic, though, the cross loses its power. It's not just prepatory to the cross... like when the two guys touched the Ark of the Covenant that contained God's presence and died on the spot... or how Aaron was the only one allowed in the most Holy Place."
- "It may be problematic when you say that God's presence literally dwelled in the Ark. Okay... one last comment from someone on this and then let's move on to a new topic."
- "I'd like to throw out this idea again from Romans... if I can... that maybe Adam was like Jesus because he chose to sin. We're told that he who was a pattern of the One to come... Jesus chooses to enter our sin in order for us to not be alone but instead to redeem us back to Him... maybe Adam was choosing to join Eve because within him was the same kind of desire to not leave someone alone in their sin."
- "Alright - new topic."
- "I want to know why YS is so focused on passion. What does passion hold such an important priority in its operative theology and these conferences."
- "The book Soul Searching by Christian Smith is worth picking up on the topic of passion as it relates to the spiritual lives of American teens. There's this whole thing on how neurological research shows a 50% drop in brain activity around age 12... meaning it takes that much more stimulation to get an adrenaline rush... it's biologically natural for them to seek stimulation... that's why you don't find a lof of 50 year olds joining cults or gangs... teens do."
- "Is there maybe a cultural loss due to the Enlightenment? Are we so cerebral now that we feel like we have to swing back and compensate?"
- "Alright, we need to end this so I get the last word... I have found in the last five years that youth ministry is becoming more theological and I love that. It's a good sign that we would all be willing to meet late and night for something like this. It's a noble endeavor that you want to give them something to grab on to... so let me just encourage you in that. And hey - theology is play... so have fun."
I love Tony's last thought... theology does need to be fun. When we start ripping each other's ideas up I think we miss out on a cool side of God. Like I mentioned at the start - I could have easily written off TJ from a couple of misperceptions on my part... is that true in your life of someone? And if so... what are you missing out on because of it?
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