Do you have a paper theology or a people theology?
I used to have a paper theology.
In many ways, I suppose I still do.
A paper theology is when we have the “right” answers to tough theological questions and issues, but we don’t really know any people that are affected by our “right” answer.
In other words, paper theology is when we approach Scripture and theology from an “ivory tower” perspective. We study for the sake of studying and finding answers, but none of our answers have any real connection to life.
Paper theology is a theology that comes from studying books.
There is nothing exactly wrong with a paper theology. It is just that since paper theology never takes people into consideration, paper theology is often wrong when applied to real life. Paper theology may be right on paper, but wrong in life.
That’s because life requires people theology.
I am working on my people theology
If paper theology comes from studying books, people theology comes from being with people.
It requires coming down out of the ivory tower, leaving the quiet study, closing the dusty books, and entering into the real lives of real people who have real problems. When you do this, you quickly discover that the neat and tidy answers from your paper theology rarely applies or helps anyone in real life.
More often than not, when you get involved in the lives of people, you will find that your paper theology begins to get a bit muddled. Lines start getting erased. Clear-cut answers start to get smudged a bit.
Being with people changes your paper theology.
If you try to hold on to your paper theology when hanging around with people, it will not be long before people stop hanging around you.
The theology that looks good on paper rarely looks good when applied to people.
Jesus had People Theology
One of the biggest battles Jesus faced during His earthly minister was with the religious people of His day. While those who were labeled as “sinners” by the religious people loved to hang out with Jesus, those who were religious often found themselves at odds with Jesus.
Because the people theology of Jesus clashed with the paper theology of the religious.
Almost every single encounter Jesus had with the religious people was because they had theologically “correct” answers to pressing cultural and religious issues, but which Jesus soundly rejected in favor of loving and helping people.
The religious people had laws (easily defended from Scripture) about not working on the Sabbath. Jesus let his disciples break these laws because they were hungry (Luke 6:1-5).
The religious people had laws (easily defended from Scripture) about who could and could not be helped on the Sabbath. It was even a nice three-point answer! But Jesus ignored their neat and tidy theological answer so He could help a person get his hand back (Luke 6:6-11).
The religious people had laws (easily defended from Scripture) about stoning those caught in adultery. But when they brought an adulterous woman to Jesus, He forgave her and let her go.
We could give example after example after example.
But here’s the point: Jesus knew that the point of theology was to help us love people better.
If our theology causes us to bind heavy burdens on people’s backs, while creating rules, restrictions, and regulations for how to live life with God and others, and we stifle people’s joy, censor their love, and chide them for their grace, it is no wonder that people reject us and our theology, and maybe the God we claim to follow as well.
But let us follow the example of Jesus in developing our theology surrounded by people.
If our theology is really “true” it will lead us to look like Jesus and love like Jesus. True theology will be a theology built not on a love for paper, but on a love for people.
What does this mean for our theology?
It means that while we can develop and build our theology by reading and studying, nothing should be really set in stone until we put this theology into practice in the lives of people around us.
Do you believe God is angry about sin? Take a look at what this sort of idea does psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually to those in your life who know they are sinners. Does it lead them toward God, or away from Him? Does it lead toward honesty and openness about our failures, or does it cause us to hide and lie about our mistakes?
Do you believe that LGBTQ people are sex-crazed perverts being used by the devil to lead our country to hell? Well, first, good luck trying to prove this from Scripture, but second, how about you go out and become friends with someone who is gay? Of course, you better not tell them your theology, or you will never become friends. But if you truly become friends, you might discover that your “theology” about LGBTQ people changes. Here are some accounts of people who had this very thing happen to them:
- A pastor who changed his thinking about homosexuality
- 3 Mistakes about the Homosexual conversations and how we can correct these
Do you believe that Muslims are all violent extremists who want to chop your head off? Again, good luck trying to prove this from Scripture, but before you go spouting off about this idea to others, maybe you should go out and become good friends with some Muslims. Not to convert them or “win them to Christ,” but just to be friends with them. I think that if you do, your paper theology about Muslims might change.
We could on and on about various other theological and practical issues, but the end of the matter is this: If you get to know people as part of developing your theology, these people will change your theology more than your theology will change people. And that’s a good thing.
No doubt paper theologians exist, I’ve met several; I don’t have a problem with any one, everyone has a gift and a mission. Study is invaluable, since God, from His kingdom gives us paper, and His Spirit — both invaluable. That gives us the power to go forward and witness His word.
I see two sides of the homosexual debacle. One side is to remind people that they are human beings, whom only God can ultimately judge; and the other side that doesn’t patronize people who demand that I accept their sin as acceptable, and good.
I had a brother who always took the positive side to correcting people, never the negative.
It was a true gift. Instead of telling people what was wrong with them, he told them what was right — what was ideal. Children and adults love him equally. Paper, with the guidance of the Spirit showed me how to show people the ideal. I love Scriptural paper.
Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that right means what IS right and not what one THINKS is right. When you start to truly LOVE people, you will start to understand theology, people theology – what IS right, and not what YOU THINK is right.
I am not in a quandary about what is right and wrong — it’s not a guessing game. Right and wrong is serious business.The Scriptures gives us this information generously. people who are fearful of telling the truth, are often surprised at how much the listeners appreciate honesty.
The question is — Is it always appropriate?
Jesus never told a lie because God has not reason to fear anyone. However, He told us as much truth as we could handle — He didn’t blurt the full truth to everyone, all of the time.
Yet, He never for instant lost sight of what the truth was.
I know of God’s theology; I know He loves us so much He would die even for people who hate the ground on which He walked. That’s the only theology that embraces me. God’s theology is the only theology that is of any interest to me. The years I have spent serving God through giving His love and message to “people,” has taught me more than I could have ever have learned only by reading. But without studying hard, I would have been inadequate for the mission. My experience has showed me that people appreciate love, humility, and honesty. Jesus was always h0nest — yet kind in His deliberations. Nevertheless, some people will not want to hear God’s saving message no matter how carefully you do it — no one could have done it better than the Son of God; no one could have shown more love; yet look at how He died.
When you are truly born from above, spiritually, as in John 3:3; 4:24, you will be able to love as Jesus loves; when you love as Jesus loves us; then and only then, will we understand theology, which is the study of God — It’s not about us. Thus, I disagree with your perspective.
I’m glad you understand God Theology the way I do too. And that’s exactly the point I was making unless you read me wrong. When you truly LOVE, you understand true theology. Otherwise it is paper theology. You really did not have to disagree to something which was not said, did you? I hope you read my post below that too. The summary of what I said is simply L O V E.
Hi Rene — The problem seems to be, “However valiantly one tries to build love around theology.”
I don’t see this as an issue in the scheme of things. I don’t see that point as is a problem in the experience of mankind. The problem I see theologically is man’s inability to acquire Agape love due to a failure to be truly born from above, as in John 3:3.
The point of John 3:3 was made during Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus — he simply could not bring himself to understand what Jesus was talking about specifically because he was not born from heaven; and therefore was not spiritual yet. It was not because he was ignorant of Scripture — he was actually a teacher in Israel. John 3:5 is cross referenced to Ezekiel 36:24-27, which Nicodemus would have done well to understand. Notwithstanding, later on in John we see that Nicodemus still strongly affected by Jesus, for example, John 19:39.
When I mentioned John 4:24, I was connecting Jn. 3:3 with 4:24. To truly worship God one must be “spiritual;” if one is not spiritual he is not worshipping God in the way God wants to be worshipped.
When one worships God spiritually, he can truly be possessed of agape love, in contrast to phileo, eros, storge loves. Agape doesn’t negate the other kinds of love; but it is the Love that gives us the ability to conform to the image of Jesus. So, “paper theology” means just reading and not “acting,” “doing (Luke 8:21),” practicing what one preaches. I don’t see how someone can be born from above and not be moved by the Spirit.
So Rene, I completely agree with your comprehension of Love, for sure
(God bless you); but I see the foundation as faith in Jesus first; and all good things follow. Let me say, obviously we are on the same wave length; and we do agree. Thanks for the fellowship.
Praise God for very rational, clear thinking people like you, Jeremy. The problem with paper theology is that it attempts to build love around theology. Instead, true theology or people theology builds theology around love. No wonder why paper theology fails to draw people to Christ. However valiantly one tries to build love around theology, it will fail because you do not lay the foundation after building the house. Love is the true foundation, and without a foundation, whatever is built above it is bound to crumble. A plant grows when there is water; water doesn’t come when a plant grows. I just don’t understand why people are so obsessed with merely doctrines and theology that they lose sight of the fact that if it were not for love, the very purpose of theology would be defeated. Christ made it so very uncomplicated with His command to simply LOVE one another. We need to teach and preach love, first and foremost, and build on that foundation. If love is the motivation and if given it’s true place, theology too will fall into its right place automatically. Love begets love, so simply L O V E.
Sam Riviera says
Great post! Trying to fit our “paper theology” together with our “people theology” can be tough. Maybe, just maybe, what we’ve been told the Bible says (assuming that informs our “paper theology”) is somewhat askew, which would explain why our “paper theology” in turn is askew at times and needs adjusted by some “people theology.”
Studying the Bible, the original languages, the cultural context, what the writer was trying to say to his original audience and how they would have understood it, and other similar considerations may help us develop a better “paper theology”. However, our “people theology,” which must be forged in the fire of real person-to-person relationships, must also be part of the process of developing our “theology”.
Are people of other religions, Democrats, LGBTQs and everyone else who does not agree with every point of what we suppose our theology (which we feel is completely informed by the Bible) teaches us, consigned to hell as we suppose it to be? Do we really know these people? Or are we like the fellow I know who told me that he knows only one gay person? When I asked him to tell me about this person, all he could tell me is the fellow’s name and job title.
“Paper theology” in and of itself may be right, wrong or largely neutral. However, divorced from loving God with all of ourselves and loving neighbors as we love ourselves, “paper theology” lacks life. Most of us know those who know the Bible frontwards and backwards and can argue whatever brand of theology that you might like to argue. And yet, there is no love for neighbor. Jesus is strangely absent, almost an afterthought. Strangely, others see this about them, but they themselves do not see it. May we consider this when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Do we love God and neighbor, or is all of that somehow lost in our desire, our need to be right, to be correct, in our “paper theology?”
Lutek K. says
Sam, you touched upon a crucial point when you mentioned theology being completely informed by the Bible.
People theology is completely informed just by what is written in red letters in some editions of the Bible – the reported actual words of Jesus. The rest of the Bible is itself paper theology, and only supplements that. What is written in black must be scrutinized in the light of what is written in red.
Benfenny Jin says
“Do you want to see #Jesus? Do you want to live with Jesus? Do you wish to hear the words spoken by Jesus? Then how are you going to welcome Jesus’ coming again? Are you prepared? In what way are you going to welcome Jesus’ return?” https://www.facebook.com/godfootstepsen/videos/vl.698727576899081/879079162181081/?type=1&theater
Watch more: https://youtu.be/MzDB5x58DV8
Absolutely right. Amen.
Mark, you just elaborated on how I view it. Well, definitely, when we say LOVE in the spiritual sense, it IS Agape love. There is no need of a differentiation here, nor is there a need for a definition. Faith in Christ is fundamental, but here is where clarity is essential – faith without love is NOTHING.
(1 Cor 13:2; Gal 5:6)