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Theology of Community Essay

In this paper, I am going to share my ideas of theology. I believe that one of the biggest mistakes I made in the past was that I was afraid of being rejected, so I wrote a theology paper and tried to give the previous COM what I thought they wanted to hear instead of what was truly inside of me. Fortunately for me, even though I was not given a green light in order to see the Eccleastical Council, I was licensed to preach and this gave me time to wrestle with my theology and helped me to see where I stood on these very important areas of Christian faith.

I want to briefly mention that although I have a lot of respect for liberation theologians, I disagree with them in one key area. Many liberation theologians start off with their experiences, and then look to the bible and interpret it. I believe that theology must start off with the Bible because it is the best source of information about who God is, who Jesus is, and what the early church was like. I do believe that the Church should speak out when there is injustice. However, it comes from a belief that we should treat others as if we see Jesus in them (see Matt 25:31-46).

I refer to my personal theology as the “Theology of Community”. I reject this modern notion that Jesus is my “personal savior” because it highlights the rampant individualism in America. We are so consumer driven in the United States that if we have to wait more than two minutes in a drive-thru in order to get our food, we get upset. I believe that Jesus saves us from our selfishness, and self-destructive behavior; but that He draws us in to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Overview

I see the entire Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, as a story about how God is constantly reaching out to human beings with the intent of having a relationship with us. Many years ago, in my early twenties, a minister introduced a concept that I still draw upon. He used a diagram of a triangle. At the top of the triangle is God, and at the bottom two points were supposed to be the husband and wife. The idea being that as you draw closer to God, then the married couple would actually be closer to each other. If you are less selfish and willing to serve your spouse in love, then your relationship will (in theory) grow and become stronger.

What I have done is to apply this to all relationships within the church. There is a tendency within churches for people to think that their way of doing things is right, and if you don’t agree then you are somehow bad; or at least you are a nuisance that should be shunned or ignored. We as human beings tend to want to be around people that are like us, who think like us, talk like us, and have the same opinion on virtually everything. Yet, if you look at the makeup of the group of disciples that followed Jesus, this is not the case at all. For the sake of brevity I will point out only two: Judas the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. The zealots hated the Romans so badly that they were willing to take up arms against the Romans, yet the tax collectors were willing to collect money from their fellow Jews and give it to the Romans. Both groups were represented at the table during the Last Supper. It would be a refreshing thing if that kind of diversity was truly experienced today in our modern churches.

I am heavily influenced by the theology of Karl Barth and somewhat by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I would also credit people like Hans Frei and George Lindbeck and the “post-liberal” movement; which some also know as “narrative theology”. In the writings of Frei and Lindbeck they talk about how liberal theology tends to focus on the experience of a believer more than on the scriptures. They also point out that conservatives responded to modernity by holding fast to the Bible and forming a more literal view of the scriptures.

The view that they promote is what Lindbeck calls the “cultural/linguistic” approach. I felt very comfortable with this way of looking at the scriptures because if you rely too much on your own personal experience, then what kind of standard do you have? If you take the Bible literally, then how can you deal with issues like a person being swallowed by a whale, or saying that the earth is only six to seven thousand years old, when science says it is billions of years old? I have found that by avoiding the extremes of either side that the truth is usually in-between the two.

I. God

I don’t believe that we know everything about God. There are many things that we don’t know about the Divine. What we do know is what God has chosen to reveal. This self-revelation is done freely by God, without any coercion by anyone. Karl Barth put it this way:

“God’s being, or truth, is the event of his self-disclosure, his radiance as the Lord of all lords, the hallowing of his name, the coming of his kingdom, the fulfillment of his will in all his work.” [1]

Professor Barth often in his speeches refers to God as the “God of the Gospel”, and our best source of knowledge about God is Jesus Christ. We know that God is loving, kind, and compassionate because we have the written testimony of the Apostles that say that is how Jesus was. As Barth’s theology is very Christocentric, mine is as well.

I would also point out that throughout the Hebrew Bible God used many prophets, judges, and teachers to reach out to humanity; and ultimately sent Jesus to reach out to people. So it is ultimately God who initiates the relationship between God and people.

II. Imago Dei and our gifts

In Genesis 1:26-27 the Bible talks about how we are made in the image of God, or have what is known as the Imago Dei. Some people would say that this means that human beings have a conscious, and live at a level that is more complex than just living on mere instinct. I believe that there is more to it than that. Romans 12:6 says that “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” In other words, as you read the rest of the chapter you can see how each of the different gifts given to people can be used to edify and strengthen other people. We were created to be a blessing to other people, and those other people were created to live in harmony with you.

III. Sin

When we focus on our own needs, and we ignore the plight of the people around us; then we are living in a way that is contrary to the will of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to sin as selfishness, and Karl Barth said that the root of sin is pride.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about how the Pharisees and tax collectors did some things that on the surface appeared to be good, but if you looked at their heart you realize the ulterior motive. Matthew 5:46-47 says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

In other words, if you are helping someone because you are getting something back, in reality it was more of an investment than truly being helpful. It is not as malicious as stealing or killing someone, but it is not what you could call “unconditional love” either.

IV. Christology

Where liberals tend to focus on how we should follow the example of Jesus’ life and ministry, and conservatives tend to focus on the blood atonement, and how you can’t have a relationship with God without the shed blood of Christ; my response is Yes! I agree with both sides on this, and do not think that they contradict one another.

Jesus is our example of how we should live. He was willing to engage with people that disagreed with him (John chapter 3). He treated women with dignity and respect (John chapter 4). Jesus brought healing and wholeness to a crippled man (John 5:1-15). Jesus cared for the crowds of people and wanted to feed them and meet their needs (John 6:1-15). Jesus also was a servant leader, who was willing to wash the feet of his disciples in order to make a point (John 13:1-17), that we should serve one another.

However, Jesus was also known as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). He fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah, notably what was in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 dealing with the suffering servant. There has to be a balance between the two points of view because if you go too far to the left, you can forget what makes Jesus different from other religious teachers; and if you go too far to the right and focus too much on the hereafter, then you ignore the needs of the people around you and are no good to anyone in the here and now. Or as some would say, “They are so heavenly minded that they are not any earthly good.”

I would say that this is not an either/or situation but a “both/and”, which is a phrase that our Lutheran friends use often. If we are to be the United Church of Christ, then in my mind our theology should be Christ centered. Karl Barth stated it in this way, “The object of theology is, in fact, Jesus Christ. This means, however, that it is the history of the fulfillment of the covenant between God and man.”


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