Theology that Matters

When I was in high school as part of my participation in the IB program I had to write what was called an “extended essay” – basically an essay of the (then) extremely daunting length of 4,000 words. Since such a task seemed horrifyingly difficult at the time I somewhat snarkily choose to write about hell. More specifically I explored the difference in pre-modern and modern worldviews through a comparison of Dante’s and C.S. Lewis’ portrayals of hell in The Inferno and The Great Divorce. I could probably fill 4,000 words right now in describing all that I didn’t know about history, theology, and literature when I wrote that paper (it was high school), but what it really boiled down to was my inability to embrace an eschatological vision of the already and not yet.


My worldview of the time assumed that my faith was only in something yet to come, some final end and blessing (or punishment) that God would bring about some day. To that end I completely missed the message in both writers that there is a tangible significance to faith in the here and now – that God is already at work in the world and is inviting us to join in on that endeavor. My mistake was understandable as it is the same mistake that continues to be made over and over again in the church today. We as people are always tempted to the extremes and have difficulty grasping paradox and mystery. The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other. 


For some it is denying the supernatural consummation of all things by proclaiming that this world and our mission to do good in it is all that we as Christians are called to. Others of course go to the opposite extreme and are so heavenly (or hellishly) minded that they sometimes even refuse to care for the needs of today. We see this manifest in the recent debates stirred by Rob Bell's- Love Wins. I’ve found it most interesting that often those who are most insistent that God punishes people to everlasting torment after death are also the ones with the least inclination to do anything about the absolute hells on earth people currently experience. When confronted with extreme evils of oppression and injustice – like human trafficking, genocide, mass rapes, racism, and sexism the response (if any) is that one day (in heaven – if they can get in) God will wipe away every tear and then they will receive the release from oppression that Jesus said he came to fulfill. Either extreme denies God’s ability to be God. Either it claims that God isn’t the source of all things to which we will ultimately be reconciled to, or it claims that justice and love are not part of God’s essence. When God exists just for the now or just for the future we lose God.


The problem with extremes is that we start to assume that only the extremes exist. I’ve discovered in speaking to groups that depending on what sort of group I’m speaking to I get accused of being too evangelical if I mention how our acts of faithfulness matter in regards to God one day reconciling all things. Or I get accused of being too liberal if I speak about serving the needs of real people in the here and now because all I should be caring about is what happens when they die or alternately about moving beyond the constraints of the now and reflecting the pure goodness of God rightly. In this view, it has to be already or not yet. Apparently embracing a theology that translates the divine drama and the hope of consummation with God as an act of ongoing mission to the world that demands our self-sacrificial participation isn’t a valid position in the world of extremes. Third ways that promote a both/and approach are a lot messier and harder to navigate and so therefore are not merely rejected but simply ignored. It is easier to promote simple theologies that place how God works into nice and tidy boxes than live in the tension of trying to understand and respond to a paradoxical already and not yet.

The thing is I don’t have the patience to deal with theologies that pretend that God doesn’t have a larger plan of hope or that don’t bother to work for God’s tangible kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Theologies that are so inward focused that all they seem to care to do is draw lines of who gets saved, or who’s a heretic, or who is too modern or liberal or whatever. God is bigger than such pettiness. I appreciate Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s comment that in her view, “the*logy is best understood… not as a system but as a rhetorical practice that does not conceive of language as clear transmission of meaning, but rather as a form of action and power that affects actual people and situation.” Theology is about the already and not yet of God working in the world. It is action and how we live into our understanding of God matters just as much (or actually more) than the words we say about God. We proclaim a deep belief in hope and an eschatological vision not by merely saying words but my enacting that hope in the world. It is that sort of faith that I can put my energy towards; I truly don’t have time for anything else.
by Julie Clawson

52 comments:

  1. The part about extremes definitely spoke to me the most. In our culture there is so much extremism... it's like we can only function if we are fulfilled by extreme happiness, or are trying to solve the problem of extreme sadness. It is the stuff in between that makes it hard to stay in contact with God. It's easy to praise Him in the beautiful moments, and easy to call out to Him in the difficult ones, but it's hard to keep Him at the center when we're somewhere in between. I though that that was an insightful point to make, and it's definitely something I can work on.

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  2. Wow finally I feel like I am reading something that inspires me and gives me hope in this sticky situation of today's society. Saying words no longer works, its enacting the hope in the world that is going to make the differemce. The step by step, do this do that kind of method burns people out and having the freedom to just go and live out hope through Christ somehow refreshes me. This world needs a new type of energy in order to change the way this world is functioning these days otherwise everyone will no longer have the desire to find time for God.

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  3. I can see how some people could find it difficult to accept that God is concerned equally with both the here and now on earth, as well as the kingdom to come... It is a lot easier to embrace one extreme and ignore the other...
    My opinion is that I think that time isn't as big a deal to God as it is for us. To Him, there probably isn't any difference between now and the 'future'. We're trying to box Him in using our terms and limitations, we need to remember that God is not limited by those things.
    And, I think that the present and the future are directly tied together anyway.
    To sum it up, I think that God does have an ultamite purpose in store for the future, but He is also concerned with and working in our present.
    Why can't He do both? I mean, He is God...

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  4. Totally agree. It's so easy to just go with an extreme and say that's the way things are, but it takes someone with courage, strength and perseverance to really take the time to say that nothing about life is black and white. That's one of the biggest reasons that there is so much conflict between believers, who we are supposed to "get along with", we just go with extremes. It's easy to go with one extreme or the other one just because, well, they are both right in many ways, but they are both wrong in many ways too. It's important we don't stop exploring each area of our faith and continue finding the exceptions, the details, the abnormalities of these extremes to arrive at a true understanding of small pieces of our life, theology, etc. Cool post Harbridge! Thanks!

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  5. Great comments!

    Here is from Abby:

    I found this article really interesting, as I wholeheartedly believe that we as humans have a really difficult time dealing with mystery and unknown and so therefore we do create extremes in which we focus our faith and vision on, ultimately effecting our outward actions. I think as people we know that we create these extremes, and perhaps we are even aware that they are inaccurate or won't make a difference (trying to label the way in which people will be judged - either going to heaven or hell), or avoiding this area at all and just focusing on earthly actions, I believe that we know that there is more to this mystery, yet chose to live in the extreme because it creates a feeling of having answers and something firm to hold onto rather than finding a balance and letting God do his job. " It is action and how we live into our understanding of God matters just as much (or actually more) than the words we say about God. We proclaim a deep belief in hope and an eschatological vision not by merely saying words but my enacting that hope in the world. It is that sort of faith that I can put my energy towards; I truly don’t have time for anything else." The perfect balance, the way to live a christian life and demonstrate our theology is through a balance of serving our world through actions and having faith.

    Abby


    And from Larissa:

    I found this inspiring to read. What i really felt connected to while reading was the section on how theology is not just what we say although that is part of it, but the bigger part is our actions. We can say one thing but if we don't live it out what does it really mean? Our lives will begin to become stale.
    The part about the two extremes also spoke to me. It's as if we can only function as long as we are on one side of the spectrum. we get too caught up in one side or the other and forget to keep contact with God in the middle. We need to realize that our time is not the same as God's time. We think we're only working with our time and have so little of it but God's time is limitless and he's God. He can do anything.
    I know that i sometimes focus too much on the extremes and start to become stale in the middle areas and that's something i'm really trying to work on. Thanks for sharing this Harbs!

    Larissa

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  6. I really liked it when you said: "We as people are always tempted to the extremes and have difficulty grasping paradox and mystery. The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other." because it's totally true. Like, the way my mind works is that things go into little "boxes." My feelings/thoughts on different things all fall into the different boxes of my mind. But that doesn't work it God. Our minds are so simple and just can't grasp the reality of not being able to put God in a box because He is so amazing and has no limits.
    And I do believe that "theology is the action of how we live into our understanding of God, which matters just as much (or actually more) than the words we say about God."

    But yeah, I really liked what you wrote here and it gave me a lot to think about :) Thanks Mr. Harbridge!

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  7. The part about extremes really spoke to me. It seems that nowadays you have to either agree with one extreme or the other extreme or else you are seen as someone who doesn't know what they believe in. But I really agree with the part where it said "We as people are always tempted to the extremes and have difficulty grasping paradox and mystery." I think that in the christian faith a lot of people have a hard time grasping the idea that there are some grey areas and not everything is black and white. Thanks for posting this Mr. Harbridge!

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  8. I think the extremes are often a problem that many of us face. The more i learn about God the more i find it is hard to think about him as often we get the wrong ideas of him, we get fustrated as we cant seem to grasp him or get told/judged that our opinion or view of God is anything but correct. For these reasons i feel that the extremes often taek place because of times when picturing God and we cant quite come up with a definite answer or picture of how he works we settle for the extreme as those are easier to decide upon than deciding on specific details. I am guilty of doings these things if i cant find an answer to a hard question for example " Why does God cause suffering." i come to a conclsuion like well he's distant and doest care or he hates suffeirng and it hurts him as much as it hurts us. These extremes are something to be aware of and are what i believe to be yet another product of our sinful nature. Thank you for posting this article and for bringing it to our attention.

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  9. I can honestly say I still don't understand the concept that God's Kingdom has already come and is coming in the future. I can't even begin to visualize it... is it something I can visualize? Or is it more of a state of being? Is it a place the righteous go when they die, or can people experience it during life on earth? Amidst all those questions this post brought up, I was left with one thought resonating in me: the Kingdom of God is in the already and the not yet.
    Initially, I was attracted to this thought just because it has a poetic mystery to it. Then I was struck by its truth.
    I don't know what "The Kingdom of God" really is. I believe each person that refers to it means something different by the term. I do know, however, that it is not strictly a place, nor is it a nebulous, undefined feeling. I think The Kingdom of God must be a marriage of the physical and the spiritual, the broken and the perfect, the past and the future. It's the truth that God came through Jesus (and with him, his Kingdom), that God's here now (working in all of us, building his Kingdom in our hearts), and that Jesus will come again (to build his eternally present Kingdom).
    The Kingdom isn't a personal and non-relational thing, nor is it an end result for the 'holy'.
    It's the outcome of living lives according to God's word. When we live in accordance with him, his Kingdom is built here.

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  10. I really resonate with this message. The most powerful part for me was how you stated that you find it interesting that the people who spend alot of time condemning others, are the ones who (generally) do the least to help the evil in the world. I completely agree with this. It is so important for us to be down to earth and to never forget that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". This verse is used so much in Christianity, and has become somewhat cliché, but we are so desensitized to its meaning. Nobody is perfect, God does not see us in a hierarchy of "best" to "worse". Alongside this statement, I think that it is true that as Christians we can sometimes focus too much on the absolutes of spirituality rather than accepting (to a certain extent) that we are not all knowing. We easily get caught in extremes, and conflicts arise from this. There are a lot of grey areas in the Bible and sometimes we need to accept that we can't turn those grey areas in black/white areas. That's definitely been a struggle for me since generally I'm a very "black/white" person, but when I just accept the unknown areas of the Bible and don't try to over analyze them, or find a concrete answer to them, I find myself way more at peace with them. I wish there were answers to everything in the Bible, but I guess finding things out, and embracing the mystery of God is all a part of this journey. By being aware of extremes in Christianity, we learn so much about how to deal with the Bible, and with others, and those extremes wouldn't exist without all the mystery.

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  11. In the “already and not yet” extremities, I have always been firmly rooted at the “not yet” end. I was only recently introduced to the concept that as Christians, we are to bring heaven to earth, and am still struggling to understand the concept of having heaven on earth because growing up, I was taught that heaven is a perfect place while the earth is full of sin, and because of sin, earth cannot be perfect like heaven. I do possess a love of serving and spreading God’s love, but I always viewed that as a method of evangelizing. I have always looked towards the end goal of bringing more people to God so that they can be with Him in heaven and have never considered that an attempt to bring heaven to earth right now.
    I am definitely one who is “tempted to the extremes and [has] difficulty grasping paradox and mystery”. God is of course too brilliant for us humans to grasp, so I don’t think it is completely wrong for us to try to find ways to deepen our understanding of Him, but we just need to make sure we don’t limit or restrict our beliefs of Him. Like for the kataphatic vs apothatic views of God, I think it’s fine to compare God to things we know of such as a creator or a mother bear, but we must keep our minds to open to the fact that God transcends anything we can imagine.

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  12. I very much agree that "it is easier to promote simple theologies that place how God works into nice and tidy boxes than live in the tension of trying to understand and respond to a paradoxical already and not yet." I think this is because we feel uneasy struggling with something so mysterious and unknown, to deal with the tension, that we refuse to try and get our minds around it as it takes too much time and energy from us. One thing that still makes me wonder is how exactly God views time because in the Bible it says that a thousand years can be like a day and a day, a thousand years for God. Even as I try to play around this puzzle piece, I think that the centre meaning of this is that God transcends and holds time; we can't pin Him down because He's everywhere. I think the reason why when we think that God exists just for the now or just for the future we end up "losing God" is because God is omnipresent. Detaching our minds from that characteristic of God would also have us detach ourselves, to some extent, from Him. The analogy of having God as “x” in math and this universe as “y” reminds me that without God being in the beginning, we would probably been never created, that without an input, there wouldn’t be any output. We all wouldn’t be here without Him.

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  13. The author's experience in high school, intrigued my concern for eschatology. Not many of us in high school consider the afterlife. Every student is in their adolescence age and should not have to think about eschatologically. Personally, I fall into this way of thinking. What dawned on me through this article was the dangers of this way of thinking. It leads to the one of the two extremes the author depicted. I think from the eschatological way of thinking, it has developed me into one of the people who are more concerned about the "world and the mission" rather than focusing more on being "heavenly minded".
    Although I wouldn't say I disregard heaven. For most of us, it does not concern us until later on in life. We all the youthful mindset that we have many things to live for and experience. However through the study of James, the fact is that we are not the ones in control of our lives. From the study of James, and reading this article it resonated with me. It connected the reality with the lessons in James, and made it applicable.

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  14. God will never be constrained by a verb tense. Most "Christians" hear all the time about how God transcends time and space; however, it is easy to understand how most of us, who rely so heavily upon the tactile/physical aspect of life, can fail to comprehend this lack of definition when such illustrious and "educated" scientists struggle to understand metaphysics and cosmology."We... have difficulty grasping paradox and mystery". Continually dissatisfied with the current state, we wait impatiently for the answers to our questions. If what we have already discovered does not corroborate our opinion, we tend to either "fudge" or ignore the facts. It is probably important that one discovers a balance in which one may continue to both think critically, yet continue to accept what remains a mystery. The gift of intellect comes from God; it is He who endowed us with the ability to make choices and enjoy the intrigue of mysteries - how can we dare use this to rationalize and excuse our actions? Though we cannot always put the past behind us, there are things which we must "let go". Likewise, plans for tomorrow must not consume today, nor should we ignore the future altogether. God created the present for us to live in with others. For this very reason, then, should we remember that "yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift". Our lives must simply reflect Christ's precedent. Who cares about your left-wing/right-wing denomination? Surely not those who we choose to ignore because of our theology. God does not take sides; neither should we.

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  15. The thing that really hit me was the first sentence of the second paragraph. I read it wrong the first time I read the article and I know you didn’t mean for it to be interpreted in this way but it was something that really hit me do I am going it anyway. For many areas of life that I still need to mature and grow in I feel like they are going to come some day, like I will just grow into it. It's like when I was little I would think that I would some day just “grow out” of my fear of the dark (which I did by the way). I view my faith like this too. Like my faith is something that I am going to grow into that will come. And when I misread that sentence I stopped for a second and thought about this. I have always wanted my faith to come and I guess I have just been putting it off from coming. It’s as if I have stepped away and will step back in to my faith when I think the time comes or when I want to. This really bothers me and I want to change it. Anyway that was my off topic tangent and so I will say something a little more relevant to the article now.

    We love to understand things and control things and know lots of information. It is this pride that I think sometimes prohibits our ability to just stand back and wonder and feel a sense of there is something bigger than my brain that I can’t comprehend. For me though, and this is a bad thing and I guess sometimes a good thing but very rarely, I am content with no explanation at all. I sometimes find myself just following blindly with no explanation whatsoever. I see this with my studies all the time. I blindly accept a mathematical formula without the proof of where it came; as long as it works I don’t care if there is explanation. I feel like in this case with this paradox of an idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming I just accept it and move on. Really I find myself just accepting the fact that this is the truth and moving on form there. No need for an explanation because like the article said, “The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems.”
    As for extremes we may find ourselves leaning one way or the other but we cannot just neglect the other extreme. Both have some good and that, we have to accept.

    The last thing that came to mind when I was reading about this was what we saw in the animate video about kataphatic extremes and apaphatic extremes. Again to far on one side is not helpful. Take what is good from both and take what helps you understand God. We cannot let our eschatology fully dictate and determine our theology. What we believe about God and Jesus will spill out into our lives. That is what is most important.

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  16. The few times that not having time for a faith that I couldn't put my energy into, really spoke to me. We, as students, are told that because we are young we have all the time in the world, this, of course, is not true. We don't know how much time we have, consequently we don't have time to waste on faith without a strong theological base. Although discovering who God is is a personal life long journey, my theology is part of shapes me to be me and is the base of my faith. It shapes my actions and how I view others. In order to form a theology to base my life on I am required to take a stance on a number of issues including dealing with these extremes.
    The problem, in my mind, with the two different extremes is not so much that the extremes exist but that they require ignoring part of God's character, whether his love and justice or that his is the "source of all things to which we will ultimately be reconciled to". Part of what makes a walk with God so interesting is that all that he is and is to become can't be put in neat boxes, it all runs together and I get to experience little pieces of it. If who I am as person is shaped by a theology that doesn't consider all of who God is, then I am in serious trouble because the truth is I don't have time for a faith that I can't put my energy toward.

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  17. I think that as Christians, especially myself growing up surrounded by Christian influences, we forget that Jesus not only saved us so that we could to heaven, but he also saved us FROM the wrath of God, which is eternity in hell. Really chew on that for a bit, it might hit you how unfathomable it is that we're saved from eternal damnation.

    It's true that "the problem with extremes is that we start to assume that only the extremes exist." We get so caught up in one idea, then we realize we need to swing back, and by then we swing back much to far when we forget to focus on God.

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  18. This was interesting because it talked about the extremes in Christianity. As humans people often see two extremes such as liberals and conservatives or grace and truth. However, often the best option or place you want to be in is somewhere in the middle. So it was interesting to see how even in Christianity we struggle to grasp the concept of the kingdom being here right now and the kingdom that is coming and he's right it doesn't fir our tidy and organized brains so most people do gravitate to one side. However in calculus you learn how to just "accept the fact" it's different for this case you don't want to just accept this faith and and everything the bible tells you to you need to actually truly believe that Jesus with us right now and coming. Jesus is not a fact that you merely accept because your parents or teacher tells you to He is an extreme that you need to understand, learn about, obey and gravitate towards. Gravitate isn't even a strong enough word, you can't just seek Christ in the good time and the bad time you need to seek him and run to him all the time! That means we need to act our our faith and do Gods work by holding the keys to the kingdom of God and continuously strive to have spiritual transformation from the inside out, that is what theology is about. We right our theologies not because it's fun it's so that in the future when we are asked about our faith we will know 100% who our God is and how to act and how to live because we are serving the one and only true God of the universe.

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  19. This article was really interesting to read as it was different in a sense that it had a more “political” view on Christianity with the conservative/liberal teams as the extreme/other. “We as people are always tempted to the extremes and have difficulty grasping paradox and mystery. The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other.” Reading this sentence, I picture a balancing scale where one end always has a heavier portion than the other and where the scales never balance out. Why can’t we balance both ideas that God’s Kingdom has come and that there is more to come as there is Heaven? I find this idea to be less crazy than the fact that God is in a threefold person; Son, Holy Spirit, and Father.
    I do think that the extreme way of thinking is a problem that many of us are dealt with on a daily basis. Questions often come to my head when I’m dealt with obstacles in my life and I do get frustrated and tired on my spiritual journey. Not only do I shut myself out from other people when I’m in a bad mood, I also shut myself out from God because I just can’t wrap myself around the fact that God has allowed that obstacle into my life. Now having studied the book of James, I have learnt to at least try to appreciate the obstacles in my life as it is a trial that is building perseverance.

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  20. I think that because of how most of us were brought up in a christian home it is easy to only think of God and heaven as something that will happen in the future. Like if we live properly we will go to heaven and not hell. It is hard to grasp that God is happening here and now, especially for me who hasn't experienced God in any way and even if I do pray my prayers never seem to get answered. For me I have thought that Gods kingdom will come later and that it is not here yet, so saying that it is here is really hard to grasp.

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  21. What stuck out to me most was Julie Clawson's displeasure for "theologies that are so inward focused that all they seem to care to do is draw lines of who gets saved, or who’s a heretic, or who is too modern or liberal or whatever". Over the course of the Church's history, disagreement and conflict over the most trivial of details has separated the Church into too many denominations to keep track of. Often, we focus too much on the minor details and miss the point completely. Theology should instead centre around the practical and feasible things we can do since our faith is not one of just words but also action. Less thinking, less arguing, and more doing!

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  22. "The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other" (2). This was the line that hooked me. It somehow reminded me of the cup metaphor you used to describe Jesus. This whole idea of 'extremes' in my faith and other aspects of life always seem to trouble me. In my opinion these two extremes are not complete by themselves. The perfect balance lays somewhere between these two sides. What frustrates me is trying to find the right balance. I appreciated the fact that this article talked about how theology can be too focused on ones self. This is something that I constantly need to remind myself. If I wait for my faith to be good enough before I further the kingdom of God, I will waste my whole life without doing anything. There is nothing wrong with comparing God to an object that we can grasp. The problem is raised when we believe that the capability of God is no greater than that object. God is more powerful than anything we can wrap our minds around.

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  23. God's Kingdom is and has come. This fact alone both explores and defies beliefs most churches would deem to be orthadox.
    I love being exposed to theology and opinions and views of others. Christianity is defined in various ways, most times to the extreme, I agree, and reading through some of the comments from my peers gave me deep insight. Often times we try and try to classify and describe and define God; fact is, we cannot. I was scrolling through the comments and stopped on "Faye Skye"'s, because I didn't recognize the name and thought I'd recognize maybe the writing style, but I really do agree with what Beth said: God will never be constrained with a verb tense. He IS the past, the present, AND the future.

    We should embrace the world and live in the relationship and strive to live a life IN Him. We need not only faith but actions that reflect it. The extremes will never fade; everyone is entitled to an opinion and radical views are ones that are constant and will be there. "Theology is about the already and not yet of God working in the world. It is action and how we live into our understanding of God matters just as much (or actually more) than the words we say about God."
    We need less words and less compartmentalizing and more living out and embracing the Kingdom as it is. God isn't to be defined.

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  24. To be completely honest, I do not understand why there is a debate between this issue of the kingdom of God is here now versus the kingdom of God is to come. I see it as a very simple truth: that the kingdom of God being built up now on earth and the kingdom that is to come in the future is the same kingdom, compromised of those who love God and have committed their lives to Him. God’s kingdom should not be limited by time or place, just as God himself is timeless and omnipresent. Whether the past, the present, or the future, we serve the same God, a God of love, justice and grace, and I believe that so long as we serve and believe in the one true God of this universe, we are a part of the past kingdom, present kingdom, and the kingdom that is to come. Knowing that we are part of the kingdom, should that not motivate us to act upon our faith, out of pure joy that we are the kingdom of God, that He has granted us life with Him now and forever by His grace. Perhaps the extremes people have developed might not be simply because they cannot grasp the concept of the present kingdom and the coming kingdom but I think it is more than that; I think people are scared to understand because then they would have no excuses to not act upon their faith, and living out our faith is intimidating, because we will have to step out of our comfort zone. However, this article is so relatable to what James’ conviction of how faith without deeds is dead. We are part of God’s kingdom, and we need reveal to the world right now the kingdom of God through our actions that demonstrate our identity not in the world, but in the kingdom of God that is being built now, and in the future.

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  25. I don't see how the author is debating over theologies between God's kingdom on Earth (the tangible kingdom) and God's kingdom in Heaven. I see the kingdom of God which is our world at the moment as the kingdom corrupted by sin while as the Heavenly kingdom is the waiting room where all the souls go to. And only in the end when Jesus returns will Heaven and Earth reunite to create God's true kingdom on our Earth. Nonetheless, as individuals who have different perspective and opinions of this topic, many different theologies are hypothesized about the coming of Christ and God's kingdom which is to come.

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  26. "Theology is about the already and not yet of God working in the world." To me it seems as if one is limited to choosing between "already" and "not yet". In many Christian lives, including mine, there is the idea that at some point in our lives, we will come to an epiphany or life-changing event that will somehow transform us into these awesome disciples. Although these stories of people who have gone from rock bottom to being saved and people who have made a complete 180 degree turn are true, we can't just rely on the possibility of encountering a sudden moment of realization. Instead of waiting for God, it is better if we participate in the chase after Him. Furthermore, if we realize that God is already around us working in our world, it will be even easier to find Him and understand our own faith.

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  27. "Theologies that are so inward focused that all they seem to care to do is draw lines of who gets saved, or who’s a heretic, or who is too modern or liberal or whatever. God is bigger than such pettiness."

    This was my favorite section out of the entire article. Too many people tunnel in on the imperfection of other people negatively and create man-made lines which in the overall scheme of things are foolish and meaningless. Instead of opening their arms wide open and being a companion to them in their road to salvation, they push them away and place them on the other side of their imposed lines. The Christian community is meant to be a place of acceptance from God but the way its members can act and some of the theologies make people think otherwise. I detest the political issues of the church because instead of loving the sinner, the church is labeling the sinner. Instead of making them feel loved, we're making them feel worse. In colloquial terms, we just gotta chill out, stop judging and just love one another.

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  28. I found the concept of "heaven has already come and is coming" is quite simply explained but so easily overlooked. If we look at the human nature on Earth and the predicted nature of heaven, of course the two can't be compared. But if we look at what God truly intended for us, we can see how this statement is true. If we can outwardly view society free from worldly corruption, it's clear that heaven has come and will be coming in the future.

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  29. Julie here discusses the extremes of Christianity, the different viewpoints and perspectives, and to what extent we fall between them. I'm sure there are articles out there about the many denominations within this one religion, too: within that one faith-- the same faith based upon the belief of salvation given to us by our Creator. But people just have to go out there and point out all the differences, the extremities, sometimes just ignoring the similarities. This discussion is amazing, yes, I think I'd give it a 5.5/6 if I were her English teacher. She touches on a topic that is uncommonly thought of, something that we'd need to sit down and think about it... the article really makes you think, doesn't it?

    But for me, I don't even know what to think... I don't even know what to say here, or how I'm supposed to respond to this... So, (ironically) here is my response, and here is what I think:

    I think it's great that people are sharing their thoughts and the bits of their theology. Clawson makes you think about where you are on her scale of present-or-future-God, and maybe even say, "OH HEY, IM IN THE MIDDLE. HA." Wonderful. But is there really a point to side to any extreme? Why do we do that, anyway? Why do we tend to lean towards one and not the other? Is there a middle at all? Questions, questions, questions: I can't even begin to answer them. So I think... I think I'm just going to stop asking so many questions... Because when I finished reading to the end of the article, I found that I felt the same as she did: I don't have that patience (any patience, really) or the energy to deal with so many diverging theologies. And I agree with her-- those differences, extremities, and the many viewpoints and perspectives: "God is greater than such pettiness", and being made in the image of God, I think we should aim to do that too.

    It's that sort of faith that's worth any energy at all.

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    1. *As she addresses these differences, she touches on a topic that is...

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  30. I find it sad how many people of faith only believe in the extremes; I think it hinders us from really enjoying all that a faith in God can give us. I also believe that having one extreme faith or the other can be detrimental. If we solely believe that our faith in God has an impact on ourselves and others after death, then our lives can become monotonous and forgettable -- everything we do on earth could be viewed as insignificant and/or useless, and so we could be lazy or unmotivated as a result, or we could be so focused on "being good" so we get to Heaven and treat it like a job that we don't enjoy our time and relationship with God and fellow people on earth. If we solely believe that our faith in God only affects us on earth and not after death, then we could become unintentional in our actions -- we might only focus on the now and live without hope for a better life with God after our time on earth has passed, or we disregard that our current actions could affect us negatively in the future as a result. It is important for people to believe that faith is both of the now and of the future so that we can live a life of purpose, discipleship, have hope, be encouraged, enjoy our time on earth and make the most of it, be wise in our actions, and be confident that our faith and God's love is unending.

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  31. "I’ve found it most interesting that often those who are most insistent that God punishes people to everlasting torment after death are also the ones with the least inclination to do anything about the absolute hells on earth people currently experience."

    Something I have always had trouble understanding is how God, if he is love and cares for his children, can punish people to eternal damnation. I mean, we're his children, parents wouldn't condemn their children no matter what they do. I always have trouble reading small sections in the Bible when the 'crushing of enemies' is mentioned. David has many psalms about this. I really just don't understand it and it makes me uncomfortable to read sometimes. It got me thinking that this could be another paradox we don't understand.. one that I can't even explain. Humans burning in hell just doesn't fit with my view of a loving Father.

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  32. This whole concept of " already and not yet" already boggles my mind, which just goes to show how God is so beyond our simple human understanding. We try to place restrictions on him, so that we ourselves can try to understand, but this leads to us believing in only the extremes when God is so much more. We try to place barriers on God to "place how God works into nice and tidy boxes" in a way that we can understand.
    "The thing is I don’t have the patience to deal with theologies that pretend that God doesn’t have a larger plan of hope or that don’t bother to work for God’s tangible kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Theologies that are so inward focused that all they seem to care to do is draw lines of who gets saved, or who’s a heretic, or who is too modern or liberal or whatever." This quote makes me think that we are too busy trying to place God in boxes, in extremes, in ways that we can understand or to separate him into two distinct categories, We get caught up in the thinking inwardly instead of of acting out for God. He cannot be constrained to one side or another he is a mixture of both whether we can comprehend it or not.

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  33. When I think of God's kingdom as something that has come and also has yet to come, I can't even begin to grasp the idea. I agree that the extremes seem to be so much easier to understand since it is packed into a tidy idea that doesn't require us to wrestle with paradoxical thoughts. However, for me personally, I've realized that this mystery actually intrigues me. In the article, Julie Clawson writes that people tend to be turned away from this paradoxical statement since it is just too difficult for us to understand. As humans, we crave answers, especially those that come in neat packages without any hint of controversy. Personally, by struggling to understand that God's kingdom is of the present and the future, it only leaves me in awe of God's magnificence. It is a massive reminder of how small and limited we are in comparison to Him; He inhabits so much depth and immensity that we can never begin to understand.

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  34. I think it is so easy to think of the idea of Hell and think of it as cruel or needlessly harsh. And to my mind perhaps it is. However, this fact is so vitally important: if we have God on our terms, how we think He should be, that is not God at all. That is our own made up God, who is no use to anybody including ourselves. I don't think I could word that strongly enough. If something about God doesn't fit into the box we've constructed to fit God in so that He is a comfortable, manageable, stay out of your business kind of God, we so often cut God down to size. We decide that "a loving God couldn't do that." and so we decide that our view of God just won't include that. That is a grave mistake. God is a God who desires to be known. The human race was created to bring glory to God. And He does not want to be known however we can decide to know Him. He wants to be known in all His unconstrained and terrifying glory, and yet fully loving. God is so far removed from humanity. I think when we think of God on human terms we get into trouble. We cannot see how a fully loving God could send someone to Hell. But God is different from us. He is fully loving, and yet can be fully just at the same time. He can be full of wrath and full of love. For He is never truly full as we would see full. I believe Job came to understand this. Job goes through the most horrific circumstances. And God allows it! Everything he has is gone. And yet God asks him questions, "did you create the world?" God is saying you are human, you don't get to decide who God will be. What a loving God would do or not do. God is not tame, but He is good. I'm just a human, I am nobody to question the motives of a loving God. I simply trust that He who created me, will do what is right.

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  35. I definitely see the problem of "those who are most insistent that God punishes people to everlasting torment after death are also the ones with the least inclination to do anything about the absolute hells on earth people currently experience." in our world today. Personally, I've always blindly accepted the fact that "God has come and is coming". It isn't in my nature to question and dwell on things that I have tried and tried to but can't understand. I realize that sometimes I need to just simply accept things and not drain myself trying to figure out things that are above me. I agree with the part where you say that people drift off to two extremes. It is entirely possible that this is because we can't comprehend God. I think we all need to remember that living in the now and helping God expand his kingdom, now, is the most important and significant thing we can do.

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  36. "I’ve found it most interesting that often those who are most insistent that God punishes people to everlasting torment after death are also the ones with the least inclination to do anything about the absolute hells on earth people currently experience."

    I want to talk about this in my comment. While reading this paragraph I remember that you asked this question in class one time, "would you still be a Christian if there was no heaven?" and the contrary, "would you still be a Christian if there was no hell?" These questions are very interesting to me because it reveals the motives behind why a person wants to be a Christian. Are they a Christian to escape hell and the punishment of eternal burning? Or are they a Christian to enter into a paradise known as heaven? In reality I believe that most people are Christians simply because of the benefits that are associated with it. But do you truly love God? Or do you only love God because of what He gives you? Love should definitely not be defined by what a person gives you. The type of people that believes that God punishes you to everlasting torment in hell are also the people that do the least about hells on earth because they are only Christians to escape torture. In a way it's almost as if God is threatening people to follow him. This is because if you don't follow him you'll be burned alive for the rest of eternity. It's easy to follow a God who delivers you from eternal damnation and rewards you with eternal life but it's sometimes hard to love Him. It's hard to love a person who threatens you but at the same time rewards you. Does the reward make up for the threat? Logically it makes sense to accept the free ticket out of hell and into paradise. But it just seems so hard to love God with all your heart, soul and mind when at that back of your mind you're thinking to yourself, "I only love God for the benefits he brings."

    I'm sorry Mr. Harbridge if these ideas come across as blasphemous, they're just ideas that have been on my mind.

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  37. Like the author, I agree with the statement that "theology is best understood… not as a system but as a rhetorical practice that does not conceive of language as clear transmission of meaning, but rather as a form of action and power that affects actual people and situation." I think it's extremely important to remember and keep in mind that God is not limited by human expectations and a spectrum of extremes. To me, God is not either or; He is not confined by the meaning a sentence carries, packed neatly by words, ending wherever the period is. Since God is not ruled by verb tenses or man's concept of time, perhaps this is not merely a question of beliefs, or just an issue of whether or not the Kingdom of God is here and now or is coming and in the future, but whether or not I am willing to admit and accept that I don't quite get everything about God. That, to be honest, scares me because it means I cannot control Him or ensure what will happen where He is concerned, but still, I want to be with and know more about this God, who reveals Himself as good and kind and strong.

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  38. In the most recent "Animate" video clip, I was reminded of two traditions of visualizing God. There is the kataphatic or the idea that we can conceptualize and talk about God using concrete images, and the apophatic in which our best words can not descirbe God. I tend to gravitate towards the kataphatic, as it seems to be much easier to liken God, the mysterious and mystical force with an animal or human figure such as a shepherd with which I am familiar. Similarily, my walk with God can feel rather divided at times; at the fork in the road, questions of choice arise in life, I lean toward the path whose destination I am certain of. Although I have been told many times that "God has a plan for me", it is still difficult to understand " the already and not yet of God working in the world" when He has already predestined my life and existence. There are moments where I wish I could be given a "sneak peak" of the end result, of what the journey will look like upon docking on the shore. Until I get there, it is frightening to know that every ship essentially sails unchartered waters, that the waves which carry us are not and can not be controlled by our efforts to steer. However, even though I can never have complete control over a situation, I am still eager to be with this God who does not exist just for the present or the future because there seems to be comfort in the silence and unknown of God. There is a peace that keeps the ship on course when anxiety is thrown overboard, a reassurance that no matter which direction I am travelling in, He is always journeying with me in certainty of the waves of the ocean, the breath of the wind, and in the silent wonder and reverance of the vastness and scope of His reach.

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  39. "We as people are always tempted to the extremes and have difficulty grasping paradox and mystery. The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other."

    I find this line so true as I find that in my thinking, I often put faith as merely an endpoint as it does not seem to fit into this physical world that we exist in at this moment. It seems so intangible that our minds refuse to process and translate the immense mysteries that make up who God is. However, that way of thinking limits the ability for our present lives to be influenced by God, and for our faith to translate into actions. In James, it mentions that the completion of our faiths is created by the actions that our love and obedience for God causes us to perform, and our treatment towards others is the proof of the faith we have in Him. However, the mysteries of God still exist; we cannot claim to comprehend the entirety of who God is. Christians so often fall into the extremes, but a balance between the two is truly needed. It is necessary to lie in the murky grey area, and we, has human beings, need to realize that nothing is merely black or white.

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  40. "Denying the supernatural consummation of all things by proclaiming that this world and our mission to do good in it is all that we as Christians are called to. Others of course go to the opposite extreme and are so heavenly (or hellishly) minded that they sometimes even refuse to care for the needs of today."
    this results in the outcome of people burning in hell done by God which I disagree on because no one can completely determine what is the way of God. Personally, I don't think that's not the way of God, since God loves us so much, it doesn't make sense for someone who loves us so much would burn us in hell.

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  41. After reading this, I am now more aware of the dangers that are caused by living in a world of extremes. Not only is it damaging, it is a lie we deceive ourselves with because we are unable to comprehend the idea of God’s kingdom being here and also coming. Personally, I’m caught in a place where I feel like the argument between theologies is misdirecting our efforts away from actually working in the world. It is very eye-opening when Julie comments: The thing is I don’t have the patience to deal with theologies that pretend that God doesn’t have a larger plan of hope or that don’t bother to work for God’s tangible kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We need our lives to have action and we need to live our “understanding of God” alongside what we speak as well. Thank you for sharing this Mr. Harbridge.

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  42. I think often we limit God and we think that we can keep in categorized and put off in one of the compartments in our brains like everything else in the world. I think Michael Gungor's song "Cannot Keep You" really resonates with me in that aspect, how our human brains and intellect will never be able to fully uncover the full mystery of God.
    And to be honest I don't see hell as a burning, fiery pit of torture. I don't know if that's theologically sound, but that's just how I view it. In the Great Divorce, C.S Lewis says "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened."
    If God professes to be a God of free will, I can only assume that He would not take away that free will when it comes to one of the possibly most life-changing (or do you call is after-life changing?) decisions in the world. I think that Hell is what you make of it. And one might ask why anyone in this world would want to spend eternity apart from an all loving God, and I think it's the same answer to why anyone would want to live this life without an all loving God. They just don't. Or maybe they don't see Him as all loving. Or maybe they just don't find Him sufficient.

    But this I believe in with all my heart: God will never reject someone who loves what He loves.

    Does that mean that I think those who choose to reject God will burn in a lake of fire for eternity? No. I don't think so. But I do believe that in rejecting God they are rejecting their potential for happiness, spiritual fulfillment, intellectual fulfillment, so forth and so forth in the afterlife. I mean, who else would be better to turn to for guidance than someone who's existed since like...forever?

    I see it like this. I love books. And I have many favourite authors that change periodically. But as of now, my favourite author of all time is Lucy Montgomery. No. It's Charlotte Bronte. No. It's John Green. No. It's Lucy. Ok. It's Lucy. Now I can read her books from cover to cover (which I have), I can reenact my favourite scenes (which I have), I can memorize my favourite parts (which I have), but there's only so much I can understand as a reader versus how much she knows as a writer (and there ARE things I will never understand, such as, why did she kill off Walter?). But these things I'll never understand because she's dead. Now if I was given the opportunity to travel back into time, meet her, immerse myself within the world she lived in, breathed the same air, experienced the same settings, talked with her, lived with her, I would understand so much more! Now granted there are people who think they can figure it out themselves, but frankly, I'd trust the author over the readers.

    But God? He's the 'author' of the universe if you will. He knows all the stars by their names! And He gives us the choice of spending the rest of eternity with Him. Now I don't know about you, but I'd choose Him, because I believe He has my best interests in mind, and who wouldn't love hanging out with the Creator of the Universe and asking him about the mysteries of life...in particular one question that I'd actually been wondering about for quite some time: what DOES the fox say?

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  43. Quite honestly guys, these are some of the most insightful, honest and well crafted responses. I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading your thoughts and musings. Wow!! So stimulating and interesting. What is with you guys being such a great group of deep thinkers....I love it!!

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  44. As i keep on thinking about this, and how important our theology is, i always float to this image of shield (that is our theology) and the rest of our armor (the rest of our faith and beliefs). It continues to make me wonder, how important it is that our theology must be sound.

    for me personally, i have always kept social media, and other stuff separate from my ideas of God. Primarily for this reason only. that if my ideas of God, were clouded imperfect examples or inaccurate details, soon anything would come to mush and mix with everything and screw up everything. Not to mention, the whirlwind of confusion and change that is life. Theology not only is theology a defense, but also an anchor to help find constancy in life. Without it, i would be the worst train wreck waiting to happen.

    i would like to just leave off with a quote from a man who believed that God did not play dice with the universe.
    "the most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms, this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness."

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  45. Both ideas presented in the article, that faith is to be lived now, and that the purpose of faith is the world to come, are essential to each other. We are enabled to commit self-sacrificial acts in the name of social justice by the knowledge that this world is temporary and that because of heaven the loss of money, position, intellectual prestige, even life, is a small price to pay for the comforting of others; social justice cannot be properly pursued without the view of the afterlife as ultimate because a person’s acceptance or rejection of God has an impact on their lives far more significant and eternal than any earthly tribulation. I would venture to say that it would be difficult to enjoy heaven with the knowledge that you lived your life on earth obsessed with the paradise which you now possess, and consequently share it with less people, and did nothing to aid those who rejected God when you had the opportunity, even if it would not have reconciled them with Christ.
    The idea that even if we cannot make people go to heaven, we do have the power to make their lives on earth better for the short time that we are all here is one which should be pursued more often by Christians. If we truly cared about others, we would strive to help them in any way we can, rather than simply being obsessed with where people are going in their future.

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  46. I found this extremely enlightening to read and I especially liked how the writer said, "The idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn’t fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other. " I struggle with this mistake myself, as it is confusing and paradoxical. But this piece has given me some understanding as to how I should correct my perspectives. There is a balance to be achieved; we must take action and LIVE out understanding of God, which is far more significant than what we SAY about Him. We can still do good on earth, we aren't supposed to turn a blind eye, excusing ourselves from helping with the idea that God will clean it up. I like the theology "that translates the divine drama and the hope of consummation with God as an act of ongoing mission to the world that demands our self-sacrificial participation".

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  47. Two things really stuck out to me in this excerpt:
    "It is easier to promote simple theologies that place how God works into nice and tidy boxes than live in the tension of trying to understand and respond to a paradoxical already and not yet."
    "Theologies that are so inward focused that all they seem to care to do is draw lines of who gets saved, or who’s a heretic, or who is too modern or liberal or whatever. God is bigger than such pettiness."

    Maybe it's just me, but often, I fall victim to these two warnings. Growing up in Sunday school and being taught structural stories over and over again, one comes to believe that they can define and quantify God's greatness. It doesn't help how society puts "knowledge-driven people" on pedestals. Often, we get so caught up in studying every small detail in the Bible and debating over minor facts in a measly attempt to either sound like you're intelligent or to make sense of God. It's almost as if we're trying to prove to someone (or ourselves) our intelligence by packing God into a tiny box. Jokes on us, the human mind cannot even imagine the face of God, let alone pack all of his characteristics into a box. And we sometimes resort to easy, black and white theologies as well, just because we don't want to fight or bother comprehending this paradoxical tension the human mind can never derive a conclusion out of.
    We need to take a step back and realize that we can never comprehend God's goodness. So instead of fighting over the small details, we need to place more focus on how we live our lives and how we can exemplify Christ's characterisitcs.

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  48. I have always been a person of extremes. It has been very positive and very negative thing for me. Now when it comes to theology and my actions i try to be as balanced as possible. But i am a perfectionist which makes me always want an answer. i always want an answer NOW. But i have had to learn that with God there isnt always answers..which has been so hard to grasp. For example, Gods kingdom has already come and it will come in the future..? how does that work? I love how this talks about extremes. It is something i ALWAYS think about. Especially in the church. So many people hold to their extreme and fight/argue/put down the people with the other. Extremes can ruin friendships and turn people away from God which i have seen in the past. This is one of those articles where to i honestly don't have like a big "OH THATS IT." There are always gonna be questions left in the air and people will always have extremes. So this gets me thinking..how do you evangelize without using extremes. and how do you help people get out of their "extreme" without pissing them off? this is a lot to think about!

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  49. This post is a great reminder for me as it is human nature to easily judge and correct others based on their behaviour, choices, and words while the people themselves aren't "doing" much to help those they judge. I guess it's always easier to tell people what they should do (or shouldn't do) rather than helping them by "being" there in their walk of life. People don't need to be told what to (or not to) do; unfortunately, Christians often do just that. The phrase that strikes me the most is "Theology is about the already and not yet of God working in the world. It is action and how we live into our understanding of God matters just as much (or actually more) than the words we say about God." The purpose of studying about God is not so that one will have sufficient "head knowledge", but to transform the knowledge into actions that are practical and meaningful in a way that those who don't know God will be able to see God through the love and character displayed. This is what I believe it means to bring heaven on earth. Extremities do not draw people to each other and to God, love, through action, does.

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  50. I think what you mentioned about the extremes are often a problem that many of us face. This is something I always think about, I personally think that there isn't an extreme to everything, not everything has to be black and white. There are rhetorical questions where there isn't a right answer to it. We as Christians often struggle with this problem, we can't really comprehend "the idea that God’s Kingdom has come and is coming doesn't fit into our nice and tidy systems, so we gravitate to one extreme or the other." It's these extremes that are something we have to be aware of and that we can't really grasp every detail about God's kingdom and his reasons behind the punishment of Hell.

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