Metagames and Independence
I have never been one for dogma, nor specific denominational allegiance. I feel, in some sense, that there are many, many things that I simply haven’t yet learned, and may never learn. Many divine mysteries still exist, and they may be revealed to us, but how can we know? Donald Rumsfeld said once of national security:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones
Much the same applies to the general idea of theological study: there are simply many known unknowns and unknown unknowns that humanity may never come close to reaching. To apply an external framework surely helps us live our lives, but to so rigidly set nearly every aspect of Christianity like bricks in a wall? That wall won’t stand for long, especially for those who don’t actually read their Scriptures or understand how much they don’t know. That wall crumbles mighty quick without anything to hold the bricks together.
People always wanted to play a competitive game in this regard, always looking for the primacy of their own interpretation and understanding of Christianity. I think I see this differently because I felt 1. manipulated by conservative churches and 2. then manipulated by liberal theology departments. A set tradition, or system of beliefs, already came into play; submit, or become the pariah. In either case, it wasn’t the kind of place where independence was respected, except a very narrow sort that fit into someone’s preconceived ideas about things.
Let’s take an example. In the Theology Gaming University group, someone posts something about Rob Bell. Some people agree with him, some liked his contents, others detest his heretical theology, while others want to defend the man personally, while other treat him as a symbol of a belief system, and on it goes. The hermeneutical lens turns this discussions into a game of hegemonic Biblical interpretation where One Interpretation Will Rule Them All. The rest of you, of course, are inconsiderate, and certainly need to understand things from *my* perspective. Get the picture? Assumptions are made, people don’t reveal their base beliefs, and then we get into arguments about many ideas without truly getting to the basis of those ideas. We appeal to external authorities, wherever they might lay, and then end up in an argument. Eisegesis or exegesis, either can turn into a weapon, not a tool for discovery. Everyone likes to say one detail or the other is the best one, so the entire concept is distorted by virtue of their experience, tradition, reasoning, and whatever else. We turn a subjective feelings into an objective reality, and that’s certainly no good!
Theology has its own metagame; that one just turns truth into the vehicle for a game, and that can’t turn out well.
Abolishing the Metagame
So it is that, in both contexts, the metagame applies external ideas and thoughts onto something that already exists. In effect, it seeks to claim that thing for its own and use it to dominate others. You see this time and again when people say “you can’t play that lol”, or “you can’t say that because it is offensive”. There are, shall we say, unwritten rules and lines you cannot cross, all determined by an external authority which everyone cites. Ultimately, though, that authority remains completely subjective, often being able to be turned around at a whim. Here is “the right way to play”, they say, but that really depends on the context!
The solution, therefore, is to realize that we’ve created arbitrary walls between ourselves. It takes a lot of courage and humility to admit that you may become wrong about something of great theological import. But, as I like to say, mistakes are (for the current moment, anyway) human. Christianity and theology are not games we play, but real things that apply to daily life; the Gospel effects real change on people, whether via the vehicle of sudden conversion or simply a gradual assent to Jesus’ authority and declaration of his sovereignty.
Does the method via which people obtain that level of experience or understanding so relevant? Yes, it can be. We can focus too much on experience and view Christianity via that lens in exclusion (evangelical culture has done this to the point where “rededications” are a necessity, just for example). We can also turn Christianity into a long train of heady knowledge which excludes the common man/woman from a grassroots movement of the Spirit. In either sense, we need to evaluate the assumptions that make up our worldview, and actual analyze them in a critical way. Dogmas are dogmas only when they hold absolute power over your thoughts and actions; be wary of things told to you by external authorities, and not by God (I assume most of us can tell the difference, of course).
Jesus is the ultimate authority; the rest is window dressing.
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
That might seem trite and simple, but I find it a far better solution to learn from other denominations, ideas, and concepts than simply to denounce everyone with whom I disagree outright. Become all things to all people, and you’ll end up learning a lot, maybe even things that will change your outlook and understanding forever. Don’t play games with Christianity.