Jon Swartz Answered

Posted: March 27, 2007 in Theology

Jon: Have the new things you’ve learned caused the “good news” to be even better than you previously thought?

Tim: No and Yes. Understanding Jesus in light of 2nd Temple Judaism (for example) puts the purpose of his life and work and present ministry in a way better light than the brilliant light I already had, so yes—but not at first. At first it’s like a two year old crying over having to give up the ball so that daddy can teach him that playing catch is actually way more enjoyable—but there is that “you-can’t-take-that-from-me-my-whole-world-is-based-on-that!” feeling. When I read James Barr’s aforementioned book, I really did feel like I was falling away. Other teachers laid the charges, but he lit em’. Now I thank God for it (Alelluia!) and think fondly of it as the time when my fundamentalism died, but my evangelical ecumenical orthodoxy came out the other side smilin’ and swingin’.

I don’t believe we choose beliefs, I believe we can choose what evidence we inspect, but beliefs are realized and confessed, not chosen—and I was confessing that my faith had been altered. I felt as if I were falling into a black abyss (to those who think I’m exaggerating for effect, I refer you to Tim Miller at three in the morning on his knees at 306 Shun Pike (the old house) weeping while the wife slept. I thought the truth was making me fall away, but really, I was falling into the arms of Jesus (I’ve learned he seems to have a monopoly on truth).

My senior year of college a fellow student commented that “If one verse of the Bible falls, the whole of the Bible falls; you may as well not trust any of it.” On the contrary, I say that if the whole Bible falls, but the resurrection of Jesus stands, Christianity stands.

Jon: If so, as a seminary student and soon graduate do you not have the responsibility to “make it preach”?

Tim: I think so. And as I said before quoting Victor P. Hamilton, the eighty percent we don’t include greatly enhances the twenty percent we do include. I would stress the resurrection of Jesus as crucial to redemption a whole lot more now than I would have before. I use the creeds now, and wouldn’t have before. I would pray and preach in explicit Trinitarian terminology now, and wouldn’t have understood what the big deal is before. As I said to my pastor, people can derive a great deal of benefit from our preaching and liturgy without needing to know our methodological convictions. There is a lot of theological intentionality in how I organize a worship service, and how much Scripture I want to put in it, but people don’t need to know any of my reasons to benefit from the Scriptural saturation that happens. You don’t have to believe in oxygen to breathe it—if it’s in the room, it’ll be in your lungs.

Jon: If you can’t tell anyone, was it worth learning?

Tim: There are some things that I won’t be able to tell most people directly, but that doesn’t mean it won’t benefit them. They may benefit from my knowledge of Church history and from insights gleaned from seeing how Paul used Wisdom of Solomon to inform his argument in Romans 1, for example, or how 1 Enoch’s apocalyptic eschatology made its way into Jude. That’s all stuff that can open up those Scriptures for me in a way that people benefit without needing to do all the spade work themselves—and just maybe if they’re interested in reading that literature I can point them to it without raising more questions than I answer.

The shorter answer is, some knowledge isn’t for telling, but for the formation of the teller. Carrie didn’t take pharmacology to better explain anesthetics and blood thinners to patients (though she does discharge them with clear and simple instructions about what to do and not do), but in order to safely administer drugs to patients.

Jon: And how do you keep the elitist tendency out of it (i.e. “They just aren’t ready for it…meaning they don’t have the mental capacity or the faith to sort it out like we have.”)

Tim: My wife accuses me of this all the time. I’ll say, “I don’t think so-and-so is ready for that information yet, that’s moving too fast,” and Carrie will say, “Tim, you think everybody is going to be so shocked. People aren’t as dumb as you think.” And I have an answer to my wife: Carrie has a Bachelor’s of Bible and Theology as well as an M. Div., because her husband is an out-loud-processor. I work out ideas by talking them out, and if they don’t make sense out loud, then I know they don’t make sense. I don’t even know what I think until I hear you disagree with me. So I think my wife can forget that she has had EIGHT YEARS of theological education, while most people have not. I talk theology in the tub, after church, first thing in the morning, after a violent movie, during the Simpsons…

In Carrie’s defense, when I have tried out my crack-pot theories on people, most of the time thoughtful Christians have found my version of the facts to be kind of interesting and maybe even helpful. They’ve even helped me to work some of my ideas out a little better, because if it doesn’t pass the gas station test, you’re just using big words to put lipstick on a pig. Lots of theologies are just pigs with lipstick and a dress—dumb ideas espoused by smart people.


Jon: I love what you just wrote about speaking the truth in a way that builds up people’s theological foundations so that they don’t crash. I hope you can find ways to speak that truth in a way that people can embrace. BUT… don’t be afraid to push the limits a bit. Jesus often didn’t seem too concerned with being misunderstood by the people around Him, in fact sometimes it seems that he almost provokes people to misunderstand.

Tim: Well said Jon. We can fall into the trap of preaching/teaching/talking to the lowest common denominator, and Jesus didn’t really do that. To use Ravi Zacharias’ way of saying it, Jesus put some cookies on the bottom shelf where anybody could reach them, but some cookies he put way high up where everybody had to stretch to get them, and some of us are still scratching our heads trying to figure out how we can get some of that sweet, luscious, chocolate chip goodness that’s just out of reach…swirlck.jpg
Thanks for posting Jon!

  1. Sam says:

    This might be your new longest post. I speak only for myself, but I enjoy hearing your theological musings. It’s certainly informed some of the ways I live my life. Nice pig.

  2. jeremy says:

    i admire the clarity with which you produce what you are thinking. Too often I know somthing is queer but i can’t put a finger on it. I have information tucked away, but i dont have the ability to recall it at my pleasure. The interesting thing is that i am fully aware that it is “there” and affecting my thoughts and behavior. anyway. i enjoy your post.(that might have been the first time i have ever written the word “queer”) I wish this thing had a spell check

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