Reading through Colossians, yet again, I couldn’t help but fixate on Colossians 2:8:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
What does this mean for us today? Well, for starters, theology is nothing more than philosophy with a God-spin on it. Does this emphasis on God mean that we no longer need to worry about it being or becoming the tradition of men? Or does it mean that we can stop working out our theology to try and answer the questions arising in society today?
If we go back to Acts, we see that for the first 10 years or so, the people of ‘the Way’ were Jewish. If an outsider wanted to follow the Way, they needed to convert. Jesus and Christianity were for the Jews! Then, in Acts 15 we see where everything changed.
Some people came out of Jerusalem and started teaching the gentile believers in Antioch that they needed to convert – “Unless you are circumcised.” The context and questions in Antioch were different from the context and questions in Jerusalem. The body of believers in Antioch then rose up and sent representatives back the Jerusalem to settle the issue once and for all. The first Council.
James summed it up: “we do not want to trouble [harass/ make it hard for] those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” Thus started the first contextualization of the Gospel. We are taught by this example that theology needs to be worked out in a specific culture and context.
For nearly 300 years these the two streams existed side by side and was being worked out with fear and trembling – the Greek church and the Hebrew church. Obviously the Greek version grew much larger with the influx of thousands of new Gentile believers being added.
Both these groups had their own ideas about God. The Hebrews believed in a God who dwelt in their midst. He dwelt in the Temple but ever since the first exile they realized that their God also dwelt with them without the Temple. The Greeks on the other hand believed in gods that lived apart from humanity in a state of divine purity. Theology needs to be an out-working in a specific culture and context.
The philosophers like Aristotle, Plato and Socrates have influenced our modern Christianity just as much or more than the Hebrew’s views. “The theology that guides the present-day church is in many ways a version of faith customized for the fifth-century Greco-Romans. And when that view was set in stone as the inarguable, unchanging, only way to explain faith, it created all kinds of trouble for those of us living today.”*
This is not to say that we need to go back to first century Judaism. After all, Acts 15 shows us that the Way is not for the Hebrews alone, nor is it to be purely Hebraic. But, we DO need to recognize that what we have today has been built upon Greek understanding and philosophy. A stale Greek understanding at that, one for a different age and a different time.
Our first step needs to be to recognize that when we read the bible we ARE reading it through a Greek philosophical vantage point and through the ancient traditions of men. There are many today that are trying to work out their/our salvation with fear and trembling for the context we are in today. In this process, very little is sacred. Our view of the atonement is a contextualized theology for a Greek concept of a God in heaven that needed to be appeased.
My conviction is that much of what we believe and do today is the result of being in captivity of Greek philosophy and traditions of men rather than according to Christ.
What is you conviction?
*. Doug Pagitt, A Christianity Worth Believing, Jossey-Bass 2008