“Life is God’s novel. Let him write it.”
– Isaac Bashevis Singer
Ever have something break you in life?
Was it a loss of a loved one?
A move to another place?
Yet, many Christians hardly talk about their theology breaking. What I mean here is that learned theology or inner theology we all carry. It is filled with terms, support passages, arguments for this side, and arguments against that side. Some Christians spend years studying theology. They are able to take an issue like salvation, sanctification, eschatology, and other topics and study them in-depth. They know which denominations and authors believe what, and where they stand on the issue.
When we hear of a Christian’s theology breaking, we worry for them. We pray for their soul to get right with God. We may see new things pop up on Facebook, and we pray God would bring them back to walk in light of the truth. We may send them verses, try to counsel them, or do anything to bring them back to our side (I mean God’s side, of course).
But, have you ever been in a situation where a red flag came up regarding your inner theology? Did the flight or fight mentality kick in? Or did you lean into it to see why the flag was raised?
God, You Want Me To Do What?
Recently, I was studying through the book of Acts. It was at this time, I noticed the phrase “the Spirit” appearing over and over. Soon, I saw things like the laying on of hands to receive the Spirit, the speaking in tongues, prophesying, and other things that leaped off the page at me.
Then the weekend came. Our church was holding a Prophetic Presbytery. It is a time of prophetic word, word in season, and allowing the Spirit to speak to us. As any “good conservative theologian,” I was skeptical. I was scared. I was ready for people falling on the floor, convulsing, speaking in gibberish, and chaos to erupt. My heart told me it was time to fight or flee.
That did not happen.
The morning before the event, I was back in Acts. The perceived omen of the evening loomed like a dark cloud. Then a quite whisper said, “Lay aside your training and inner theology. Be still, and watch me work.”
It has been over a week since. I was amazed at the working of God that weekend. He taught me so much.
But, he wasn’t done with me yet.
I finished studying through Acts, and one clear conviction came –
“Stephen, go forward in church. Have someone pray over you to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
God, you want me to do what?!
Don’t you love a good cliff hanger? Or a good, suspenseful story? My favorites are murder mysteries. There is a good build of suspicion towards one character or another. My wife hates to watch murder shows with me, because I will talk out my thoughts all the way through.
Suspicion is key to any good mystery writing. It is defined as, “a feeling or thought that something is possible, likely, or true.” Our thoughts may be true, our evidence may add up, or our theory may fall flat.
Mark 9:38-41 is a story of suspicion. John, the beloved disciple, runs to Christ (probably frantically). “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name. Guess what?! They are not apart of this group. So I told him to stop.”
(Sounds like something a student would say to me out at recess)
John saw someone doing something he felt was not right. He went to report it to stop it. Suspicion of “this isn’t right” drove him to tell Jesus. I doubt John was expecting to hear Jesus’ response – “Don’t stop him! No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
What?! That guy wasn’t apart of the group! Jesus said nothing wrong was happening and to let it go. Jesus does not even stop it.
How often do we see something, and we are quick to judge it? Suspicion turns into prayers to God to stop that person or event.
Sheet of Animals and Changed Theology
Yet, that isn’t the only story of Jesus changing a disciple’s viewpoint. In Acts 10:9-20, Peter gets a wake up call. As he takes a nap, God gives him a dream of a sheet of fabric containing all sorts of animals. Then God tells him to kill and eat. Much to Peter’s horror he refuses, because it would go against the Law. How dare he cross the Mosaic Law. But God speaks softly, “Do not call unclean what I have called clean.”
Peter had his theology changed. God was calling him to see the Gospel would go to the Gentiles, and Peter could enter their homes with fellowship.
How often does God reveal something to us and we almost gasp? It might be a calling or a change in a theological position. God is always bigger than the boxes we try to put him in. He is bigger than the writings of Grudem, Erickson, Enns, or Ryrie (some of the systematic theologians I’ve studied). It is good to study theology, but if our anchor is to a position and not the Word, then we can find ourselves driven by a position rather than the Word.
We would rather remain in our suspicion and comfort-zone regarding other Christians than allowing God to move us. We want to move God to fit our position, our arguments, and our traditions and ways.
But, is that how God works?
I Went Forward
God’s conviction about being baptized in the Holy Spirit was a tough thing for me to swallow. It went against all my training. We would mock people who claimed this. We avoided churches, and sometimes wondered if it was demonic. Yet, I could not escape the small voice inside of me. The verses in Acts swirled in my head like that one song you get stuck in your head. Unless you do something about it, that song will remain stuck.
So I began to pray, to search out Scripture, and to pray (yes, prayer is that important). This conviction was something I had no frame for. It was mysterious. But, I couldn’t shake the fact that many people had hands laid on them to receive the Holy Spirit resulting in tongues and prophecy. A lot of unknowns, controversies, and heated debates are wrapped up in this topic.
Confusion settled in, then peace. I became so scared of the unknown that I forgot who my God is. He gently reminded me that he is with me, gives peace, and would never do anything that crosses his Word. Do I trust him in that?
My fight or flight mentality regarding my inner theology had to turn to surrender. I had to lay down my training, the thing I prided in, in order to experience God in a whole new way. God is bigger than my seminary degree, and he works in more mysterious ways than my training wanted to admit. Just like John and Peter, I gave into God’s Word over what I was trained to believe.
That Sunday, after the service, I found my pastor. I told him I wanted to be baptized in the Spirit. I’ve never seen a pastor smile at me like that. He laid his hands on me, and I experienced something I cannot describe. I let go of my training in order to pick up faith. A faith that tells me God’s promises are true, his Word is true, and that what God prompts me to do is the right path. For we do not walk by our sight, our theological training, or our denomination. We walk by faith.
So often, we fight over our positions and authors. We become like the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 3:1-4. We argue and debate. We tell people if they don’t have verses ready to defend their position, then they can’t. We tell other Christians they are believing an aberrant theology. Paul says that is the way of the world. When our theological training becomes more important than the working of God in our hearts, we become the Pharisees making the Word of God not effective, because we would rather hand down our traditions (Mark 7:13).
“Anything in our lives that is influenced by religious tradition as opposed to Scripture becomes an obstacle to the will of God being accomplished in our lives. Religious tradition comes comes a millstone that weighs us done and keeps us down. It can diminish the potency of God’s promises for us.”
– Lee M. Cummings
When God moves, our inner theology can break. It feels like a priceless vase smashed on the floor. The value is worthless. Yet, the most valuable thing isn’t our training, our systematic theologies we’ve read or those ones we’ve avoided. Instead, it is in Christ. We put aside everything that packages Jesus into our boxes for the sake of knowing him more and more each day (Philippians 3:8). We need to be grateful for our inner theology, but not hold onto it so tight. We always need to be in a position to surrender for the sake of knowing Jesus more and more.
We may have our stacks of books, but Jesus comes before that. The cross must always be before our books. The red flags we experience may not be of the danger outside of us. A red flag may indicate a danger inside of us showing us how our inner theology needs to change.
My inner theology has broken. All those papers I wrote in seminary now seem like garbage. Did I learn a lot? Yes, but I do not count that as everything. Knowing Jesus is more important than holding onto a theological position and debating it. I need to choose faith to follow Jesus on his path filled with twists and turns and bumps rather than on a path that seems paved and systematically mapped out.
It is on his mysterious path I find surrender easier than on a path where I think I know the direction.
We can make this post all about my baptism in the Holy Spirit or we can make it about God changing my inner theology.
God will show himself in ways that breaks our inner theology and the red flags will appear. It is our answer to him which will determine where our heart is…
“My will be done”
“God, your will be done.”