Friday, June 10, 2005

Theological Engineering

I am an engineer.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION: I am a nerd/geek/whatever the current slang is.

Engineers come in all stripes and specialities. Mechanical. Electrical. Traffic. Software. Network. Sociological. We live in the Age of the Engineer. Everything is engineered. We expect that everything can be engineered. With enough elbow grease and midnight oil, we can figure out the natural laws that apply to our problem, formulate a solution based those laws, and just run the application from that point on whenever the problem arises.

The problem is, some things can't be engineered. Some things can't be boiled down to predictable laws and formulaic answers. But there are those who don't recognize this. And there is no greater area where this mistake can be made than in theology.

All this started percolating in my mind when I read the latest iMonk piece - on Christian assurance. An excellent piece as usual. But what caught my attention in the response thread was the battle between those wanting to confront calloused souls who have a "false assurance", and those seeking comfort for troubled souls who see their imperfect sanctification as a sign of hypocrisy and false faith. Several of the responses seem to fall into the category of emphasizing one or the other - but the most militant seemed to be on the side of "uprooting assurance". There are times and places for both. Both sides can marshal biblical support. But what is needed is wisdom - to know which ought to be applied to a given situation. And what is needed for *that* is a personal knowledge of the people involved. And what is needed for *that* is a true worshiping community, with mutual service and accountability.

But alas, it's so much easier for many to constantly advocate either excruciating (pun intended) self-examination - which can lead to the Puritan/Neo-Puritan caricature of "uproot 'em all, let God sort 'em out" - or to advocate preaching only grace and love - which can lead to the easy believism caricature ala Joel Osteen. The neat thing is, with either method you don't need to do the hard work of figuring out where your own church really is. Just pick the right "application", and "run" it whenever the topic comes us. Why not? We've got the formula down. Theological engineering.

I've quoted this article before, but because it's where I got the idea of "theological engineering" to being with, I'll do so again...

Presbyterian/Reformed churches are sometimes not marked by sweetness but harshness, especially in those branches that have not jettisoned their historical theological base. Doctrine is the big thing, approached with the precision of an engineer. Here is what I mean. Let’s say that an engineer is going to build a bridge across the Mississippi River. He cannot afford to care what people think of him or how he comes across. “Hang it all, Man, we must be correct. I don’t care what you think. I’ll not have this bridge collapse because of your idiotic opinion. I have a moral obligation to ignore your ignorance.”

That is the one vital thing when it comes to building bridges of steel and concrete; it is different when it comes to the bridge between a holy God and sinful man. The gospel ministry is not only a science, it is an art(.)

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