Theological Agnosticism

I’m a Theological Agnostic.

This means that when it comes to to judging between Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, the pope and the illustrious head of the Southern Baptist Convention, I can’t decide where the best minds disagree. I don’t think any Christian tradition knows full truth, and I sometimes speculate that everyone is born a certain denomination and has to discover what kind of worship brings them closest to God.

I backslid into Theological Agnosticism from Rabid Calvinism. I was one of the “predestination-obsessed … theology-besotted wagon-fixers” Tony Woodlief describes in Smugness as theology, the kind that speaks in fluid Five Point essays and scrunches Scriptures into tidy Five Point boxes. Then I found that better minds had counter-arguments so obtuse I couldn’t understand them, let alone refute them. Then I became the target of theological missiles and the wounds I sustained turned me into a theological peacenik.

I sometimes wonder if this is wrong and I should try to rouse myself from theological ennui. If I do I hope I hold my dogmas loosely, remembering the laughableness of my brain and the weakness of my flesh. I hope I never debate without honestly wondering if I’m wrong, and I hope I’m always willing — like I imagine Luther was — to set aside tomes for wine and books for song.



~ by stultiloquence on February 12, 2008.

15 Responses to “Theological Agnosticism”

  1. To be fair, at the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas said, “Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears of little value.”

    I guess that when it comes down to it, even the best theologians eventually realize that God is totally beyond our best estimations.

    I don’t know…it’s hard to believe in something without being able to describe it somehow, though.

  2. Bryson – I have heard that about Aquinas and I like it. I think that’s what I’m trying to say – that God is beyond our best estimations and that no one can interpret the Bible infallibly. So why be so strident and dogmatic?

  3. I’m a theological agnostic too. I have been one since I was 16. I vaccilate on whether baptism and communion are sacraments. I go back and forth on pre-destination. I’ve also spent significant chunks of my life judging people for doing things I now do on a regular basis, which has taught me the danger of zeal without maturity, so I’m hesitant to adhere too strongly to any belief.
    But I’m also really annoyed when people say “Having a Religion is against my Relationship!” or “Anti-Religion, Pro-Jesus”, because I do love the tradition of Christianity and the heritage of the christian Church. Not big-C as in Catholic or anything. Ugh, this whole denominational thing is so complex. Maybe we could have have a non-denominational High Church service when you come this spring. ha.

  4. You probably landed in one of a very few places in the universe that theological agnosticism is not only okay, but welcomed. Hurrah!

    Also, I got two review copies of an upcoming book by a certain author who was hotly debated recently, so you can have one if you like.

  5. Glad I bumped into your post. Ex-Bible college and was in the also in the slid-back group.
    “Sanctified Common Sense” is the closest I assume!

  6. Hi, Just surfing through and found and enjoyed your post. Speaking as a first-year seminarian currently studying Systematic Theology (among other things) I have to say I agree with much of what you say. 2 millenia of theologians can make a person’s head hurt!

    I think where I land on this question (for today at least!) is where the early church fathers landed: give me a “Rule of Faith” — a simple creed like the Apostles Creed that sums up what Christians believe — and stick to that. The rest is speculation and details. God is indeed far too big for any of us to comprehend.

  7. Well said. I made the mistake of telling a high school Sunday School class at a Calvinist Baptist church that no body has it all figured out and my feelings are that anyone who thinks they do have it all figured out is incredibly arrogant. Oddly enough, I’m currently attending seminary as well that bears the name “Calvin” on its sign. I’ve always been committed to Calvinism, but I certainly won’t die for it. For me, Calvinism makes the most sense when I read the Bible. I will never be the sort of Calvinist that goes around accusing non-Calvinists of being heretics. God is so much bigger than John Calvin or Martin Luther or Joseph Arminius or John Wesley or any other theologian. Besides, I think the Church would get much more done if we stopped bickering and started working together more…

  8. I’m surprised no one’s said this is wishy-washy hogwash …

  9. Eric Coykendall and were bitching about Hillsdale’s penchant to enshrine human reason as near-divine, and got to chatting about the inscrutability of God, the book of Job, slaughter of kiddos in the Old Testament, and our general distaste for systematic theology. It culminated when Eric said of our mutual emphasis of context being essential to actions, “So it’s not relativism… but is sounds pretty damn close.”

    In any case, I’ve also moved strongly in that direction. It’s not necessarily apathy (though sometimes it is), but it’s absolutely no longer anguish. They mystery is welcome.

    This NT Wright class is challenging my brain cells and my assumptions, but the nice thing is that I don’t feel desperately compelled to figure it out. I’m trying to understand the authors, but if I don’t have the perfect system, I’ll still be sleeping perfectly fine at night.

    I was once a vehement anti-Calvinist, and once a disciple of Piper. I still like much of Piper, I’m attracted to Wright but with reservations, I enjoy Mike Mason, and more than that I like my Bible. I am leaning Anglican, but that’s because it seems like the domain of theological flexibility wrapped in liturgy and tradition. I can deal with that.

  10. Re: Anglicanism. Dawn told me I couldn’t be a faux-Anglican because Anglicans are kind of already both faux-Papist and faux-Protestant. I told her that might be why it’s a good fit for me: I can’t make up my mind and it seems like Anglicans can’t either. Although I guess Sean and Ross might say we’re wrong.

  11. I was just about to ask if I’d stumbled onto a gathering of closet Anglicans! LOL Speaking as a card-carrying one, y’all would fit right in.

    BTW re: ‘faux-Papist’ we prefer “Catholic Lite”. 😉 And we have made up our minds… to be the “middle road”. The only church I’ve ever seen where Calvinists and Arminians worship together peaceably and where it’s OK to drink wine at fellowship dinners. As someone raised Presbyterian and educated Catholic, Anglicanism was a natural for me. Enjoy exploring it!

    — Peg (again)

  12. I’ve been accused of being a “faux-Anglican.” The Postmodern in me prefers focusing on the mystery of God and incorporated sights and sounds and smells into the worship service – things that I’ve been told are common in the Anglican church. But I prefer more of a Mars Hill style of incorporating such things.

    Thanks for your openness and candor on the topic…I wish more Christians would fess up to these same feelings.

  13. Peg: Among Presbyterians – our at least our very bizarre brand in the corner of the PCA – wine is just dandy as well. 😉 But I tend to think many of us would be Anglicans if the PCA in NYC wasn’t so cool.

  14. Stulti —

    “So why be so strident and dogmatic?”

    I don’t know…I think people just need something on which to depend.

    Actually, Annie Dillard, this nature writer, talks about how this famous entomologist studied pine processionaries, which are these weird little caterpillars. Anyway, they follow each other, one after another, without variation. The leader secretes some sort of silken thread thing, and each caterpillar following him does the same, so that everyone sort of stays on this weird little track.

    So, this entomologist (I think his last name was Fabre) has the whole little caravan of caterpillars in his garden, and he decides to try an experiment. He takes the train, adjusts the silken track so that goes into a circle, and watches.

    The caterpillars follow the track the first day without variation, unable to find their “home” (a potted plant not four feet away). That night, it freezes, and the little caterpillars huddle together until morning. They start out the same way, in the small circle, until night, when they huddle together again. They haven’t eaten, drank any sort of water. Occasionally, a caterpillar will lead four or so caterpillars off the track, but they always turn back and join the circle. The entomologist even sets little pine needles (their favorite kind of food) a small distance away from the track, but the caterpillars ignore it.

    It takes the caterpillars seven days before they finally figure out how to get home. All this time, they’ve starved, been frozen, and if they’d been in the wild, would almost certainly have been eaten.

    Anyway, maybe people are a lot like that spiritually or something. They prefer the familiar track, even though they’re starving and cold. It’s pretty easy just to go around and around, isn’t it?

    I don’t know, though…who does, anyway?

  15. Hey…I have a great solution. Why not just be Lutheran? It offers a lot of the Anglican stuff without being either faux-papist or faux-protestant.

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