Friday, August 01, 2008

Bad, Bad Windows

As I've written, Monique and I just returned recently from a fantastic 10-day vacation to the Pacific Northwest. On the trip, we visited Victoria, British Columbia, and its beautiful Parliament building.

Represented in stained glass around the place were the different branches of knowledge. One held the Arts, another Science, and yet another Agriculture. Being me, the one that caught my eye was Divinitas, "divinity."

It's a beautiful window, and I took a minute or two to ponder it. I noticed how Divinity is broken into two, Theology and Piety.

Theology had a Star of David and a lamp on a pedestal.

Piety had an open Bible and a cross.

And then the message of the windows hit me. Theology is the transcendence of Jewish religion by the light of reason (the lamp), while piety is the affectation of Christian religion based on Scripture and the cross. Divinity is thus broken into the theoretical (theology) and the practical (piety), the hard and the soft.

The window deserves some applause for holding theology and piety together. Many lectures and sermons have tried to convince me to value one more highly than the other. Some theologians demonize piety for its lack of rigor and clear headedness. Some preachers demonize theology for separating them from the presence of God's love.

And the windows bear out the divide. Only Piety focuses on Christ. The open Bible is there as well as the cross. Affectation, a feeling of dependence, a sense of being forgiven.

But not in the Theology pane. In Theology, there is the Star of David, a representative of ancient Jewish religion. It is impaled on the stand that holds the clear light of reason on top. Theology is not about Jesus or Scripture, the window proclaims. It is the pure knowledge of God that transcends the narrow and backwards superstitions of the ancient Jewish people (and, by extension, the narrow and backwards superstitions of the pious). I can't tell what sickens me more, the overt arrogance or the covert anti-semitism. Or the fact that these ideas dominated the continental liberal theological establishment that supported a Kaiser's war policies and then refused to stand up to a Fuhrer.

Or that many well-meaning, wonderful, and intelligent theologians and preachers still indulge the insipid divide between theology and piety today.

Oh, for a new starting point in theology.


Micheal said...

Very good observations. However, I'm struck that divinitas, with both theology and piety, is included as an area of knowledge, when it is typically excluded as "knowledge" by the modern academy. I've even seen "theology" defined as "the study of theologians."

I'm thinking about this right now because Dallas Willard spoke on this topic at this year's Faculty Conference, as part of his theme, "Spiritual Formation in the Academy." (Great title, eh?) Shameless plug: I'll be posting mp3s of his talks at in the coming weeks.

Unknown said...

Mike, that's a good point. But I think I'd rather be laughed out of a room than have to do theology on these grounds.

In other words, liberalism is, simply, the desire to be taken seriously by the academy and the willingness to find an apologetic that is relevant to the culture.

Well, those two things sound like most evangelicals, don't they? That's because we're only ever a hair's breadth away from making the same mistake as the continental liberals: wanting more desperately to speak TO our cultured despisers than ABOUT Jesus Christ.

I will have to think more about this and write another post... Thanks for the comment, Mike!

Post a Comment