"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Friday Forum: My discomfort with theological tweeting

Over the last several months, I have been sharing some thoughts on Twitter. Now Twitter being Twitter, often quotes come through I really enjoy as it relates to making a particularly profound theological point in a soundbyte. Some of these have been presented as quotes from famous Christians through the ages, excerpts of prayers, or thoughts of contemporary authors. Recently I found myself looking at quotes from authors like Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, Brian McLaren, and others that I know are well-known, but I really lack familiarity with them.

It’s been intriguing for me to appreciate the similarities of so many soundbytes while at the same time encountering a huge amount of personal uneasiness as I consider the perennial Twitter question of “To retweet or not to retweet?” Much of what I see relates to the centrality of Christ’s Incarnation, but I wonder where the discussion originates. I know firsthand the agonies and horrors of people asserting that “others” cannot possibly be faithful to Christ; but I hesitate to consider the Incarnation as a theological minimum.

The Incarnation as a theological minimum basically operates from a premise that all people are created in the image of God and Christ associated with all people. The premise is profoundly true, yet immediately one should consider the implications of a premise where both verbs are in the past tense. I think it is easier to work with the second: namely that Christ is willing to associate with all people while missing the implications of bringing the first into a sense of the continual present. Indeed, bringing theology towards a continual present marks a challenge, particularly when I reflect on the authors I have read.

I daresay it is common for people to look at Christ’s Incarnation from a lens that Christ came to dwell with a particular people at a particular time. In a word, Christ lived. He lived a real life at a real point in history with real people really around Him. Knowing the history (somewhat embodied in cultural norms and frameworks, relevant geographies, and critical players) of Christ’s unique human life does provide some important context for our theological reflections; yet at the same time, relying exclusively on historical-critical methods to observe the Incarnation of Christ leaves the Incarnation as an event in the past only accessible through strong intellectual capacity for some rather heady inquiry.

Another seemingly common approach is to look at Christ’s Incarnation as a narrative where Christ enters into relationships with people rendered completely powerless by some sense of “the establishment.” In a word, Christ related. He related to real people who realized that they had no real business being able to really relate to the full mercy, grace, compassion and truth of God. Again, this approach has a certain allure because it is easy to read the Gospels and say “oh the Jews didn’t get Christ, oh the Romans didn’t get Christ, oh the disciples really didn’t get Christ.” It seems to be much easier to relate to the woman breaking her alabaster jar at Christ’s feet, the widow giving her only two mites, or the thief on the cross than it is to celebrate the faith of the centurion, the journey of Nicodemus, and the faithful boldness of Joseph of Arimathea. The temptation to assert that some “establishment” does not get it seems to me to actually go against the critical point of all people being made according to the image of God because as soon as people organize themselves in anyway, a sense of “the establishment” overshadows the people working together as best as they know how. Also another temptation seems to be that “the establishment” does not get Christ, but I, in my infinite wisdom (knowledge or experience, take your pick), understand Christ, which seems to be one of the ultimate manifestations of pride.

From my vantage point, the continual present of the first clause means recognizing that we all grow towards the likeness of God when we encounter Christ. I can come alongside of other people as they attempt to pattern their life after the original, appreciating how different people have managed to do that over the last 2000 or so years. We have many examples; we find ourselves surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses.

The question really of moving from a particular soundbyte towards a living action and embrace of that Truth seems to rely on the method. Is it really about assembling all of the right soundbytes? Or do we have a sense that something has been missing in the dominant story we tell ourselves? It seems much easier to launch off into soundbytes than it is to sit in the totality in the narrative. I just looked at the Gospel of Luke in my Bible… it is under 40 pages. Across all four gospels… it is under 130 pages. Why is it so easy to generate mounds of commentary across these 130 pages to the point where we opt to soundbyte the commentary rather than marinate in the original? I think it is markedly difficult to find places where we do not strive to create meaning in the Scriptures but allow the Scriptures to create meaning in us. It is so much easier for me to approach the Scriptures as teacher rather than being a student. Strange things can happen when we try to use our human words in a way that blocks off the dialog with others.

So it’s interesting to me when I see someone saying something that I think I agree with on a theological level when I do not know the context from which the quote comes. I like the chance to dialog, to journey with another, and we will always share our thoughts and impressions along the journey. But I try not to treat my thoughts as the Gospel. And I would do a lot better to fill my eyes and ears with the original source to preserve the needed balance.


4 responses

  1. Thank you for this post. Ironically, I came across it on Twitter! It took quite a while for me to enter into the world that is Twitter, as I didn’t see the point. I agree with you of the great need for Christians to enter into the fullness of our Christian narrative, most especially found in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.

    The disadvantage of Twitter is that it only allows for short messages. When I see short Christian messages I tend to use them as encouragement to live out my faith during the day and sometimes they even lead me to look at the fuller source.

    26 March 2010 at 11:36 am

  2. Insightfully written. My favorite line: “I think it is markedly difficult to find places where we do not strive to create meaning in the Scriptures but allow the Scriptures to create meaning in us.” This is the life I am learning to live. It is marvelously rich and liberating.

    One of the surprising gifts that writing sometimes gives to me is that inability to wrap words around God. The very struggle with the words helps me see anew the vastness and otherness of God that defies description.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    26 March 2010 at 12:42 pm

  3. Fr Christian — I think letting a short message move us towards the source can be a very positive response, particularly as we encounter the fuller source.

    Shelia — Thanks for your comment. So often as we struggle with our words we see the great need for the Spirit to give us our utterances, however limited they may be.

    26 March 2010 at 6:30 pm

  4. Pingback: The Challenges of 140 Characters « A Practicing Human

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