A Relational Theologian
…My wife thinks I have brain damage.
I played hockey through high school and can remember at least three concussions.
She’s convinced I’ve had more.
It hasn’t affected her love or high opinion of me, but she occasionally sighs when, after 27 years of marriage, I still text to make sure I am buying the correct brand of sharp cheddar. And my whole family tease when I call out from the kitchen to again ask, “Bake or Broil?”
I did pass all my classes in Bible College. The school let me walk but held my diploma until I completed my senior ministry internship. Which I did by becoming a worship leader at a Foursquare church. I just never got around to sending in the paperwork.
Twenty years later, while working as a family pastor, the school sent new paperwork informing me it needed to be filled out and sent back within two weeks or they would no longer hold my diploma. I was thrilled. I had no idea they were still holding my diploma. I told my wife excitedly and gladly filled out the paperwork.
And I truly meant to send it in.
I recently connected with a brilliant friend who was sharing that, due to some medical issues, if a stranger calls while he’s driving, he can’t remember the person’s name long enough to pull his car off at the next exit and write it down. And I thought, “That’s every day of my life.”
Which is why I’m pretty sure I don’t have brain damage. My brain has always been this way. I didn’t retain the order of the months until Bible College. That’s also when I finally learned how to tell time on a clock face. And it was Bible College where I pulled an all-nighter to memorize 20 scriptures only to squeak out a C- on the test and then promptly forget those scriptures within hours. And when I say forget them, I didn’t do it on purpose, I just took a nap.
Though I’ve read scripture daily since I was thirteen, the whole book many times over, I couldn’t give you more than ten addresses from memory. Hell, I’ve lived in my house for eighteen years, could drive you anywhere, but couldn’t give you more than ten street names.
This isn’t a confessional.
Well, maybe it is.
But not of some indiscretion; it’s about how my brain works, and doesn’t.
I am writing about my limitations so you can properly place your expectations.
You see, in this book, I navigate Western Enlightenment and Evangelical tradition, and along the way confront some cruel and punishing systematic thoughts about God with the serious limitations of a fella who couldn’t read a clock face until he was twenty.
I have not written as a systematic theologian with letters in front of his name, it’s just not how I’m wired. I am a relational theologian and have spent my life leaning into my relational limitations; even when those limitations have confronted and offended many a systematic thought.
I’ve written as a son, husband, dad, brother, and friend – I am loved and I love. Family and friendship are the lenses through which I perceive and interpret all things.
This is not a redress of my scholarly brothers and sisters. I am grateful for my friends who study, and provide scriptural, historical, and cultural context; who articulate with knowledge and grace. We are sons and daughters of the same Father and I pull from their faithful study. I am thankful for the way their minds work, for their knowledge, and many of their systematic approaches to our thoughts about God.
But I truly don’t care if creation took place over a literal six days or not. That’s just not the book you’re reading.
Relationship is the only theological lens through which I can communicate authentically and with any effect.
Love is my doctrine.
Kindness my dogma.
The goodness of God my creed.
And Jesus is what love looks like and He described love’s goodness when He said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (See John 15:13) To me, this scripture defines perfect theology and I reference it often. And Jesus didn’t just talk about perfect theology, He lived, died, and rose so we could fully know Him.
Greater Love, that’s what this book is about.
And Jesus is what Greater Love looks like, acts like, sounds, dreams, teaches, grieves, heals, saves, judges, transforms, dies, and raises like… Greater Love is the clearest and truest way to know God.
And Greater Love has pierced my heart with His friendship. He’s the kindness that leads to repentance, that transforms me; the goodness that answers every question of lack that aches within me, the eternal life I am awakening to, and the only road I’m keen on traveling.
This book is an expression of where my friendship with Greater Love has exposed three-foot cement medians in my life; where Jesus has redirected traffic.
Cause I know well the exhaustion of seeking the right destination on the wrong road. I’ve traveled many a Western Enlightenment, evangelically influenced, institutionally endorsed, well-worn what am I still lacking superhighway in an endeavor to arrive at eternal life only to discover you can’t get there from here.
You see, Greater Love is not a destination, it’s a revelation, a friendship, an awakening to the Spirit of God within us. (See Rom 14:17 & Luke 17:21)
Eternal Life is at hand, Jesus described it this way. “For indeed, this Kingdom of God is within you.” (See Matt 3:2 & Luke 17:20)
And so, I have written as a relational theologian about my friendship with Jesus in the hope I might encourage you in your friendship as well.
Brain-damaged or not, I have written with confidence, not in my ability to parse scripture or break down theological terms, neither in what is right or wrong, but in whatever is true, noble, just, pure, and lovely. (See Philippians 4:8)
As a relational theologian, I have also written in the awareness that the greater love of Jesus is always better than our best understanding.
And often offensively so…
Some of this article is excerpted from my forthcoming book, Leaving (& Finding) Jesus
CLICK HERE to Pre-Order