ORT & Me 2: Theology that Impedes vs. Theology that Empowers

As my parents’ generation often stated, “The proof is in the pudding.” Since, according to the New Testament, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), then if that understanding, for me, truly defines who God is and how God works in this world (and in my life), that should inspire, motivate and empower me to live a love (Ephesians 5:1–2) and to do so even more and more (1 Thess 4:9–12). According to the Gospel accounts, isn’t that what those authors understood (or claimed) that Jesus taught as well? He even challenged those who did not trust his teaching fully to put it into practice and they would find out whether or not his teaching about God and God’s will was his own or whether it came from God (John 7:17, etc). In other words, “the proof” of the correctness/morality of our theology is found in the kind of life that results when we truly embrace our theology.

One of the main reasons why I found ORT to be more on point than my previous theological underpinnings, is that it works better in my life.[1] I read recently on some FB friend’s post (sorry, I forget whose), that “if your theology doesn’t result in you being a more loving person, then bag your theology” (or something close to that). Bad theology doesn’t inspire, motivate or empower us to be more loving, but good theology (if God is Love) will. Choosing to believe that love is God’s essence, and that love is not controlling, coercive or manipulative, but that it is unconditional, persevering, enduring and all encompassing, creates within me a greater desire to love as God loves by striving to learn from and imitate the love of God I see displayed in the life and teachings of Jesus. I have the hope that God’s love will not fail and therefore I have become a very hopeful universalist (to be discussed in a future blog), trusting that God does not stop reaching out in love however our lives on this realm were lived and end.

ORT has led me out of the hopelessness of evangelistic programs that are based primarily on communicating the “right” information (i.e., so-called “sound doctrine”), giving up on people who aren’t “open” and turning to seek out only those who are “open” right now. ORT has taken the pressure off me to “grow the church” and has instead inspired me to partner with God in sharing love through word and deed regardless of how people respond right now. ORT has helped me to show respect for my fellow human beings regardless of whether or not I agree with the choices they make or the theology they believe. And with those who are making choices that are hurtful to themselves and others, I try to show them and share with them “the most excellent way” (1 Cor 13). Even in these COVID days, where I am unable to physically interact with others (as I have significant underlying health issues), I’m trying to connect and to reach out using what options are available to me, even though I’m not particularly tech-savvy, not as a religious program, but as a way of life.

And as a biblical/religious studies grad and life-long student, ORT has enabled me to see all things biblical through the lens of God’s love. And this has allowed me to see certain biblical passages, which I avoided for more than four decades as a Christian and more than three decades as a teaching pastor, in a new light (for example, most of Joshua and Judges). I read them now as the writings of humans who struggled to know God and who often, like me, got it so wrong. They thought their actions were what God wanted, but that couldn’t be true if God is love. Yet, I cannot pass judgement on those ancient people when I, myself, am striving and, at times, struggling, to better understand God’s nature and God’s work in this world. These are the main impacts of ORT on me when it comes to how I read the Bible: (1) An ORT lens has renewed my desire to seek out and apply the Bible’s wisdom to my life; and (2) In my study of “all things biblical” it is OK for me to admit that I am a skeptical believer and that I don’t have to hide or deny my concerns, questions and doubts.

I truly believe that good theology leads to living a better life, one where love of God, others and self predominates and helps determine the choices I make, the words I choose to speak or write and the interactions I have with all or any of my fellow humans. For me, ORT, is that good theology. It doesn’t answer every question or erase every doubt or quiet every concern. I’m still trying to better understand who God is and how God works in the world and in my life and, I’m sure, I always will be doing so.

[1] In this post I explain my main reason for embracing much of what is taught under the title, “Open and Relational Theology.” For a brief explanation of the main reasons many choose ORT over traditional theologies, please see: http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/why-we-embrace-open-and-relational-theology.

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