My Theological Journey: From Certainty to Discovery
I wanted to share a snapshot of my Christian journey over the past 15 years or so because I’ve experienced a number of significant changes along the way. You may be thinking, ‘this could take a while,’ but believe me, it won’t. I’ll reduce the details and highlight only the major shifts in my theological journey that have shaped who I am today.
Before I begin, let me say that I feel and believe that my Christian faith is deeper, stronger and more committed than ever, despite these shifts in my theology and outlook. And, I consider myself to be ‘in process’ as a follower of Christ and wanna-be theologian.
So, let the journey begin!
My undergrad years in Master’s College (formerly known as Eastern Pentecostal Bible College and affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) introduced me to the world of biblical, theological and practical studies. I had the opportunity to enroll in a few distance education courses before that, but nothing quite prepared me for the life and demands of being a full-time student. And, it didn’t take
long before the world of theology began to impress itself upon my mind and life. Major changes began to emerge in the way I read and understood scripture, as well as in the way I applied it theologically to the world around me. College proved to be a foundational and formative time in my journey.
As important as College was in laying a foundation for my faith and practice, seminary took me in places I had never dreamed of. I attended McMaster Divinity College, an Evangelical school in the heart of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Though formally affiliated with the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, the college was well represented by a rich variety of Christian traditions. Though there were differences of opinion and theological emphases spread across the denominational spectrum, I always felt like the differences, though important, played a secondary role. Even though we disagreed on any number of issues, I believed that what we held in common far outweighed the differences, as we were all followers of Christ. In many ways, this was the first significant shift – a deep appreciation and love for the diversity within the body of Christ and the beauty of that diversity.
It was in seminary where I became well acquainted with writers and thinkers who began to challenge many of my cherished beliefs. It was not as though they questioned whether or not they were valid, but they presented me with a host of other possibilities that pushed me to reconsider them. This ‘pushing’, however, didn’t cause any damage (some would disagree), but gave me the tools that enabled me to think on my own, in an environment that allowed me room to grow and discover for myself what faith in Christ meant and what it can look like in the world. This lead me on a number of theological journeys.
The major shift had less to do with a certain theological idea and more to do with a person. And, this person would come to later influence me theologically in many important ways.
The theologian who impacted me the most during this time was the late Dr. Clark Pinnock. I never knew much about him before attending McMaster, but his influence on my life, not only as it relates to changes made to specific theological categories, but also in the way I think and have viewed biblical studies and theology ever since, has been immense. A few years after I graduated, I had the opportunity to work with Clark at McMaster. During this time, we enjoyed many great conversations, co-organized two Pentecostal Forums (along with Dr. Steven Studebaker) that resulted in the publication of two books, and formed a friendship that I will never forget. His theology, as well as his life of discipleship and dedication to Christ, has shaped my own life in many important ways.
From Certainty to Discovery
My theological journey has less to do with changes made to specific theological categories, though many such changes have occurred, and more to do with the posture, mood and style in which I engaged in the theological task. For whatever reason(s), my approach to theology and biblical studies could have been characterized as a strict, letter-of-the-law type attitude, that determined to create the perfect, airtight theological system which sought to ensure every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ dotted. As a result, I became very rigid in the way I approached theology and left little room for viewpoints that seemed to color outside the lines. I was quick to judge theological ideas that did not fit neatly into my system, and defined people as either ‘in’ or ‘out’.
In biblical studies, I came to prefer propositional truth statements over story, Paul over Mark, and didactic passages over poetry. I became fascinated with finding certainty in everything and came to approach theology with a highly defensive posture. Defend and conquer became my themes.
That all changed, however, when I met Clark. Though I later developed a deep appreciation for many of his views, the most valuable lesson I learned from him had to do with the way I actually did theology. My journey was similar to his in that we shared a move from certainty to discovery; an openness to let our guard down and listen to what other voices different from our own could teach us. As a result, the biggest change for me came in my attitude and approach.
The results have been worth the risk. I no longer believe that I’ve arrived, but seek to be constantly aware of what is happening around me. While I feel confident in where I am today theologically, my posture has less to do with certainty, and more about being confident I’m on the right path. The rigidity has given way to openness; the certainty to discovery.
This is what theology should be for all of us. We should be confident of where we are, but open to where we could be; ever learning, growing and searching for truth, wherever it leads us. Our position should change from standing to walking; from immobility to mobility.
Some may criticize you for being a moving target, but so be it. I would rather be engaged in an exciting journey, full of expectation and surprises, than standing still. And besides, this is far more fun.