You and Me and All of Us

Sunday morning Jud and I woke up early to put the finishing touches begin a lesson we were teaching to the high schoolers that morning. We’d been talking about the lesson for a few days but nothing was on paper yet. I’m very much into having it down on paper, especially when team teaching. There is something about standing in front of a room of people that almost automatically makes every amount of effort I’ve invested slip away into two bullet points. We cracked open our minds and a couple of books and wrote down notes on ‘An Overview of Theology.’

Our target audience was a room of overly tired teenagers who were most likely more concerned with lunch, their own appearance and video games than anything we could ever do in a classroom, including pyrotechnics. But we gave it our best shot. Of course, their responses to our instruction were muted and, I agree that we needed more talking animals and celebrity cameos.

Regardless of their reactions, I appreciated the part where we talked about folk theology the best. What is folk theology you might ask? Oh, let me tell you (and get ready for the fireworks).

Do you know what the word theology means? In it’s most basic form, theology is simply the rational expression of thoughts about God. Except for a very small number of people, frequently featured over on TMZ, pretty much everyone has thoughts about God, even if the sum of those thoughts is to say that the belief in the existence of God is irrational and to land in atheism. The atheist still ‘does theology’ to reach his/her conclusion and as such, everybody is then a theologian. The real question is about to what degree one will do theology. And that is where folk theology comes in.

Folk theology is bumper sticker theology. It is believing in what has always been handed down to you for no other reason than that it was repeated by a person you trusted. It is a theology based in emotion and in general is dismissive of any kind of formal, rational thought. Somehow folk theologians are the ones who seem to garner the greatest amount of attention when they apply the label ‘Christian’ to their terrible belief system. They say things like “God helps those who help themselves” and “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” and all sorts of things that aren’t actually in the Bible. They talk about Jesus being their ‘co-pilot’ and how their dead loved ones are now ‘angels’. They tend to find these kinds of beliefs incredibly comforting and often cannot be swayed from the beliefs to which they cling.

Folk theology is the very thing I’ve been running from since I learned of it’s existence. It’s what makes Christians seem so patently uncool and so intellectually disingenuous. I can’t pinpoint a time when I have ever been ashamed of Jesus or of the Good News about Him, but I can’t say the same about people who are using His name. There are plenty that cause me to cringe and wish they would be quiet. I always sort of attributed that to being an unkind person, but from now on, I’m going to start laying my finger on what the issue really is; lazy theology.

Bust out the concordances, baby. We’re gonna kill off those bumper stickers one by one.

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