View from the Pew
Theologian says to think outside Bible
TO paraphrase that goal of creative commercialism "thinking outside the box," theologian Douglas John Hall believes that to know about God and understand Christianity, a person has to think outside the book.
"The Bible does not say, 'Believe me.' It says, 'Believe what I am pointing to,'" said Hall, the author of 30 books on theology and the development of Christianity. "The Bible knows it cannot contain God, define God. It wants us to look beyond itself."
Hall, an emeritus professor of theology at McGill University in Montreal, is here to present a series of lectures on "What Christianity Is Not." He will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Church of the Crossroads, 1212 University Ave.
"There are a lot of misrepresentations of Christianity out there today; most are the fault of Christians themselves. I want to identify these misrepresentations."
Douglas John Hall
Visiting theologian who will give lectures here
"There are a lot of misrepresentations of Christianity out there today; most are the fault of Christians themselves," said Hall. "I want to identify these misrepresentations."
The well-regarded theologian has been on the lecture circuit of colleges and seminars for 25 years. This will be his third speaking appearance in Hawaii. Among his writings is a three-volume series on systematic theology, a comprehensive survey of Christianity that has been used as a resource by colleges and seminaries. Systematic theology encompasses the whole, compared with the modern trend of writing about a slice of the whole, such as a feminist theology.
Hall will slice up the subject of Christianity in a different way, taking his audience through a process of elimination of what doesn't fit. "Not a culture religion" is the Monday premise, which might wave a red flag at those who equate the religion with Western civilization and the United States' very foundation.
"Not a religion of the book" will be the Tuesday topic, and "Not a system of morality" Wednesday seems to fly in the face of those who think their religious beliefs must be imprinted on the law of the land.
Arguing from the negative, or "via negativa," was used by medieval mystics, and it is actually a positive approach, said Hall in an interview. "When you try to explain a living thing such as God, you run the risk of idolatry." By peeling away the ideas that don't fit, "you define a region within which it can be examined without defining the thing entirely. You want to preserve the mystery, such as God," whose greatness and complexity is more than people can define.
Hall recalled the image of a famous televangelist who would wave the Bible and claim, "I've got it." He didn't, to Hall's way of thinking.
"There is a lot of obvious biblical literalism around. When you do this, you do an injustice to the Bible and to Christianity, too. There is much more to it than quoting the Bible and using it for proof texting," selecting a passage to prove a point. "The Bible is too important a book to be used in a literalistic way."
Hall quoted 20th-century theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, who said that when the Protestant Reformation rejected much about Catholic Christianity and early theology, "We turned the Bible into a pope."
On the subject of Christianity, "There is a lot of misunderstanding by the secular world and by the Christian world, too. I believe theology has a critical role, to be watchful. The purpose of theology in the church is to be the critical examiner of things. We don't take things at face value. Some things are wrong, and it is necessary to say that."