Monday, January 11, 2010

What the Beatles Say About Theology

The Beatles launched their career in the United Sates on this date in 1964 with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Had they known how our generation would have lived, they might have just called the song, “I Wanna!”

I remember where I was when I first heard the song. I was listening to my little transistor radio. What a marvel it was! Technology was going places. It was wicked, listening to devil music like that but I couldn’t help myself. I was eleven and was just beginning to wander what it meant: “and when I touch you I feel happy inside.”

I felt happy inside listening to the little transistor radio, before going out into the cold to walk to school through ice and snow.

I walked ten miles to school, trudging through the forest everyday to get my education.

That’s actually a lie. It just sounded so good to me that I had to write it down.

The radio and the Beatles are not lies though. That really happened.

It’s so much more fun to write about the Beatles than about Plato and Aquinas. I mean, the Beatles actually existed. The other guys seem so removed from our everyday lives.

If Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas had had neat haircuts or sang with guitars, they would have made a better impression.

Why should anyone care about people like that or what they wrote?

If anyone has a hope that we will pay attention, then they must convince us that a study about God – or theology – has a real purpose.

When I was listening to the Beatles on the radio, I had no idea that the world was going to change as it has in my lifetime. It had already changed really; we were just about to deal with the implications.

Hitler was dead then for twenty-five years but he had so rearranged the world with his madness that we were still reeling. Millions of Jews were dead. Also, the discoveries in physics that had occurred in the early part of the century now had to be faced.

How were Christians to think “Christianly” about such things as quantum mechanics theory, genetic engineering, management science, or any other “secular” information we were about to face?

A Christian wants to understand his chosen life’s work in the light of his spiritual journey. If his spirituality is to be anything more than an escape into his own imagination, then what we learn from the spiritual journey must have serious and usable applications in other areas of life. Conversely, whatever we learn in other areas of life, if it is really truth, ought to shed light upon our spiritual path.

Spirituality is not; after all, a diversion from life; if it is true, then it is life.

However, changing our view of spirituality from a weekend diversion into the core of our existence takes work. We have to apply ourselves. We have to actually learn about our faith. Prayerfully learning about the ideas of faith is a way of forming our inner being, of expanding our capacity to reflect the glory of God. It is the way we connect our adult lives (and our chosen field of work) with God’s Word so we and our work may reflect God to the world.

After all of my talk about cookbooks and dinner, giraffes and Jell-O, we now return to our original question: why should we ever bother ourselves about obscure and ponderous Christian doctrines?

Perhaps we are now ready for the answer.

Thinking about a difficult concept like the Godhead is sometimes nothing more than an exercise in pride. It can be an egghead’s escape into an inner world of hopeless abstraction. If the egghead cannot face up to the challenges of a real life with real people, abstractions are the smokescreen behind which he hides from real life.

Theology can even be a religious intellectual’s way of avoiding God. He can waste everyone’s time spinning endless words about God.

These are often the charges laid against theology. They are often well-founded and are thus warnings about the dangers of intellectualizing our faith.

On the other hand, contemplating Christian doctrine can also be a way of humbling the intellect under the hand of God. It can be a way of letting God in-form us, re- form us, and, in the end, completely “trans-form” us.

The Bible tells us (in Philippians 2:5-11 & Colossians 2,3) that Christ Jesus came “in the form of God.” In other words, Jesus came to reveal the fullness of God to human beings.

God had already revealed Himself through nature. He had also revealed Himself through the Bible. However, God has most fully revealed Himself through the person and teachings of Christ.

God first informed through the scriptures and the hearing of the gospel. Then He became a man and revealed himself through the flesh of Christ. He has revealed Himself to us through the Holy Spirit as well, who came to not only live with us, but to live inside of us.

We are called to worship and meditate upon the One and Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As we do, His grace and glory bursts through one after another of our intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and finally even our physical limitations. His aim is to make us into creatures that will shine like the stars.

That is why contemplation is important; it is about loving God with our minds. It brings the intellect under the influence of glory.

On that day in 1964, in Marmet, West Virginia, as I was getting ready for school, my world was suddenly interrupted by a new sound. Coming out of a piece of technology that would soon reconfigure the way human beings communicate and store information, the sound hit the ears and the brain of an eleven year old boy. It was from London, far, far away. It was in an accent that was different than mine. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. It promised experiences that I could hardly imagine.

The world has been reeling since.

The Beatles have come and gone.

Transistors have become dinosaurs.

Men have walked on the moon.

Under the swirling eddies, the foundations hold the world secure.

He who is wise takes the time to acquaint himself with all that is eternal, and with all those through history who think about those things.

That’s what I wanna.

The Beatles didn’t have a thing to say about that.

That’s why they weren’t all that important after all.

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