Should I be I surprised when good Christians argue over theology — over who God is and how he relates to humans? Jesus said that unity should characterize his followers. But we Protestants have long been divided, and continue to divide more.
A history of dividing, not of unity, is built into the label “Protestant”. European Christianity, already divided from other Christianities, became divided itself when Protestants split the Roman Catholic Church.
Preferring text over tradition, Protestants look to the Bible as an objective basis for faith. Starting from an inspired text, Protestants expect theologies to have authority and legitimacy. They unite around the foundational text, but divide over the theologies that they derive from it.
The problem is the Bible itself. Its text includes multiple interpreted historie in diverse genres — story, history, poetry and preaching. One genre that is not in the Bible is the one we would call a “theology textbook”. The Bible is history of a past that involved Israel and Israel’s troubled relation with their God. At the same time, the story claims to be relevant for the present and have global implications for the future.
Protestants insist that the Bible be a theology sourcebook. To make it work that way, they transform a historically and geographically grounded story into a timeless text. Since they expect it to reveal knowledge about the true nature of God and man, they look “behind the text” to find deeper meanings.
Those deeper meanings are organized into theological constructs and the rest of us are left with questions about which of those theologies is actually authorized by the stories. Actually, these are arguments about who understands the Bible better. They have proven to be endless.
Are such arguments worth the trouble? Is the Kingdom of God really about deciding which theology, or which theologian is right?
Is right theology unifying?