The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 1, 2013

Craig Tally: Having beliefs requires ownership of them

By Craig Tally
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some years ago, Christian author Tony Campolo suggested the idea that we Christians consider rewriting our theology every so often.

Quite a stir was generated by this. You would have thought that he was suggesting that we rewrite God.

We humans are adept at reacting rather than responding to that which is new. We do not like change.

And yet, I dare say we all have made some changes in our theology over the years.

So, why the controversy? It seems to me that Campolo is merely suggesting that we be more intentional and less haphazard in the changes we make over our lifetime.

Can it be that we have made changes in our theological understanding but don't quite know what it means to have done so? I struggle with those sermons I once delivered but would not deliver now, having changed my thinking about some beliefs I once held.

We must understand that beliefs are for our own benefit.

They help us face life with all its complexity and unknowns. They are not what make us whole.

God does that.

So when we are confronted with a belief that cannot meet the challenge of relating God to a life issue, something must be done.

Scripture is not foreign to this idea.

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk is just one example. Habakkuk believed that the righteous will prosper and the wicked will suffer.

This was a common theological understanding of his time.  

As his life moved along, that belief was seriously challenged. He looked at his world and was struck by the reality that the wicked were prospering and the righteous were suffering!

How can this be? This is backward.

He began to realize that his theology was not working. Where is God in this backward, upside-down world?

The Book of Habakkuk opens with two questions: "O Lord why?" and "How long, O Lord?" These questions reveal Habakkuk's struggle with his belief about how and when God blesses.

What Habakkuk believed about "blessings" told him one thing; what was happening showed him another. He found himself in the very difficult place of seeing his belief failing him.

Perhaps Habakkuk was in the process of questioning what mom and dad or the rabbis had taught him.

Some of us still believe what our parents taught us without ever making it our own understanding.

Some of us simply accept what the ministers tell us. Some of us believe what our professors told us not to believe.

But what we need are our own beliefs.

Life's experiences can and often do challenge our beliefs.

It is therefore important that we own our beliefs for ourselves.

As we move from childhood into adulthood, an important task is taking ownership of our beliefs.

This may or may not mean that we differ from our parents.

But it will mean that what we believe, we believe for ourselves.

Then, when challenged, we deal with whether or not to rewrite our own beliefs.  

When we reach the end of his book, his struggle, we find a beautiful poem expressing Habakkuk's new insight:

"Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vine; though the produce of the olive fails and the field yields no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 4:17-18)

Habakkuk would no longer need "prosperity" to recognize the blessing of God.