Theological FAQ:

Why do you talk about Jesus so much?

Some of you are wondering why this is an FAQ. You must not belong to one of the many Christian communities that has a tendency to get distracted.

In answering questions and responding to problems, I often try to shift attention to areas where the Christian faith focuses its own attention. And the theology of the Church follows the practice of Christ above the demands of a particular intellectual school. For instance, one of the reasons the problem of free will has been so vexing is that it is more a philosophical problem than a practical one. The practical question is not whether God's goodness can be reconciled with the world's evil; it is how to act in light of God's past and future triumph over sin through Christ. Christians do not concentrate on making sure we pray like John Calvin or John Wesley or not like Pelagius. We concentrate on praying like Jesus — through the Psalms and the Lord's Prayer and the like. Sure, there are Calvinistic and Arminian ways to pray the psalms (though not, I think, truly Pelagian ones); but centering the practice where the Church's worship life centers is better at keeping these schools of thought from distorting themselves than centering it on a particular theologian's vision. The people whose Christian lives are disempowered by fatalism or volitionalism are forgetting that Christian faith is not an intellectual system that is then fitted onto 'reality.' It is the very fabric of reality, effective for all who live it.

My training is in systematic theology, so I'm constantly focusing on questions like predestination, but the Augustinian-Pelagian-Calvinist-Arminian controversy is actually rather marginal to the life of the Church, except insofar as its historical effects have debilitated (and sometimes served) so many traditions for so long. Today many of my students are impatient with those old quarrels, but they obsessed with new and similarly marginal ones, particularly creationism and with eschatology (Left Behind). These are both important issues, but also marginal and distortive whenever they capture the center of our concern.

Where is the heart of this faith? Love of God, neighbor, and self. Jesus said it, showed it, won it for the world, and invites us into it.

There are several reasons I talk about Jesus all the time. Ecclesially I am influenced by churches I have attended since becoming an evangelical. Theologically I am influenced by people like Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, Lesslie Newbigin, and my own teachers. More universally, I make a conscious effort to stay in the heart of this tradition, rather than drifting off into peripheral issues.

Christians are prone to getting obsessed with problematic details. These are all the more obsessive and attention-getting because they are contested and their champions find it hard to prevail, so thinkers shout and write and concentrate there. Fundamentalism and Catholicism (two impressive and robust traditions with great insights) are infamous for this. The squeaky theological wheels get the grease.

Now there is nothing wrong with getting interested in a tradition for marginal reasons. I'm sure people learn to like baseball because of the hot dogs or Star Spangled Banner. Certainly relationships often get started because of surface attractions. My marriage certainly did! That doesn't discredit the interest or the relationship, but centering and deepening over time is the best indicator of health, growth, and maturity, and the best way to frame the details.

Grace and peace, Telford