Whence we begin? Non-negotiables and theologizing.

What arguing over non-negotiables looks like.

In one of my seminary classes last week, we were assigned in-class to name our top five non-negotiables when it comes to our faith and theology.  A non-negotiable, for those keeping score at home, is a tenet of belief that we hold on to uncompromisingly. It is something that we find to be so necessarily true that we cannot deviate from it.  It is an axiom from which we build upon all our other assumptions, and several other comparative sentences.

In class I wrote my list fairly quickly, for I have been thinking about these things for quite some time.  They are as follows, and then I will explain them afterwards:

1. The equanimity, balance, and holism of all life.

2. The Love of God.

3. A relationship with God and a relationship with others as an emanation of a relationship with God.

4. The reality and ethic of the resurrection of Christ.

5. The equality of humanity.

After looking at this, I felt that I had immediately pegged myself as the intellectual mystic of the class!  However, you may look at this list and see something different.  Allow me to explain my tenets, albeit briefly:

1. There is a natural balance in life that we all seek to experience.  We all strive for inner and outer peace, or, peace within ourselves and peace within our world and with others.  We recognize the intimate interconnectedness of life and respond to it.

2.  #1 points us in the direction that there is a God who loves and is love.  We recognize that God is for peace, for balance, and for relationship, yet all of this is but a small aspect of what we mean when we say that God is love or when we describe the love of God.  The love of God is more than what we can understand as love, but we can understand God, albeit incompletely, through our human understanding of love.

3. #1 and #2 then point to how God relates to us and how we relate to God.  Our God is a God of love made known through creation, and through creation God enters into relationship with creation (what I call the relational creation principle).  Thus, we are able to know and love God, and along with being commanded to love one another, our love for one another is an emanation of our love for God.  If we love God, we will love others.

4. Now we finally get to something explicitly Christian (winky face)! #1, #2, and #3 all are made fully known in the life of Christ.  We see it in Christ’s life of ministry, in his death, and especially in his resurrection.  Christ’s conquering of death, sin, and evil made the way to eternal communion with God, and established an ethic for living in that reality.  Christ’s resurrection both establishes a real change in human history and inaugurates a new age of living in communion with God and creation.

5. Finally, in light of all the previous points, the work of Christ has recreated and reconstituted humanity around Christ-self.  In this Christ has saved humanity from itself and affirms all as equal not only before God but before one another.  We are all children of God through Christ, and we live in that reality on earth in relationship with one another and in expectancy of its fulfillment of our ultimate union with God.

I could only explain these “non-negotiables” hilariously briefly here, but they set up a train-of-theologizing.  Each tenet picks up on a major area of theology that is necessary in discussion.

1 – Prolegomena, or, First Things.  How do we know what we know.  What do we know. What is the reality at hand?

2 – Theology Proper: The Godhead.  Who is God?  What is God?

3- Theology Proper: The Work of God. What does God do?  How and why?

4- Christology. Who is Christ.  What did Christ do?

5- Ecclesiology. Who and what is the church?  What and what are we as the people of God?

After I gave my non-negotiables I listened to my peers give theirs, and it was fascinating.  There were people who held non-negotiables that I would never hold.  There were people who held explicitly Calvinist beliefs as non-negotiable, others who held explicitly Arminian beliefs.  There were those who listed broad assumptions (like mine) and there were those who listed very specific dogma as non-negotiable (e.g. Scripture as divinely inspired, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity).  Like I said, it was fascinating.

It was fascinating to see what people held to, and even though I agree with most of them, in my theology they were not expressed so specifically or systematically.  Sure, I believe Christ was fully God and fully human; sure, I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and sure, I believe God is Trinity (please don’t get me wrong!). But what I learned from this exercise is that we all come from multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and histories, and these greatly influence the beliefs that each of us believe to be absolutely essential. Not only so, but from our backgrounds and personalities we understand what tenets we emphasize over others.

Next week’s post will look more at this phenomenon of multiple views and voices and the humility we need in encounter others who may disagree with us, or at least, look like they disagree with us.

What are some of your non-negotiables?  I’d be interested to hear!

Published locally at Spyhouse Coffee Shop: Nicollet Avenue.

2 Comments

Filed under The Joy of Theology

2 responses to “Whence we begin? Non-negotiables and theologizing.

  1. Eli

    Hi John. 🙂 Okay. #5…. Your statement makes it seem as though Christ’s life, death and resurrection was all humanity needed to call everyone equal and to love everyone equally and respect everyone equally. Which sounds lovely, but that’s not the reality, is it? That’s not the case at all in fact. And actually, to believe so takes the element of sin out of the picture. Humans are crap and might never find true equality with one another. Is there room for a “Christ as Transformer” non-negotiable? Because the way I see it, that’s the only hope I have for any kind of equality.

    • Hey Eli,

      Emphaszing the equality of humanity is to affirm our creational purpose and identity as well as our redemptive purpose and identity. You are correct in identifying the role of sin here. In fact, if we go back to our Dellenback days, sin is the piece in between creation and redemption (creation, fall, redemption, consummation, in case your forgot!).

      #5 as a nonnegotiable is in part my response to say that human beings are by nature good. They are by nature good because they are made in the image of God and in relation with God. Yes, sin breaks that and twists it and puts humanity against God and against each other. We do not have equality, but we are meant for that, and I seek to view humanity and work towards a humanity that is equal; a humanity that is equal by virtue of the redemptive work of Christ in reconstituting our original purpose.

      How do we get back to and realize equality? Only and literally through Christ. What I mean by that is two fold: one, Christ reconstitutes humanity, and two, in the body of Christ. The Body of Christ is to be the locus of equality, a reflection of God’s original intent and Christ’s reconstituted humanity.

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