(I promised this post a few days ago…)

Ordinary Spouse and I enjoy road trips. Well – maybe “enjoy” is not really correct for Ordinary Spouse. She puts up with travel and is happy to get to the destination. But at least we value those times for the chance to talk (especially those times after dark when the Ordinary Daughters fall asleep).

I was thinking about this after our recent vacation trip to visit my parents in West Virginia. On the trip east, the topic du jour seemed to be theology. (Well – I suppose that I probably drive many of our conversations in that direction, since I seem to find theology interesting right now. So maybe it’s the conversation of the week. Or month. Or year…) And I found our conversations that day fascinating, as well. Check out what we covered:

How do we understand the Bible? If we see differences between the beginning and the end of the Bible, do we (to use mathematical concepts) take an average? Or maybe we think that the changes represent an unfolding understanding by God’s people, so we construct a vector (or trajectory) pointing to an ultimate ending. Or maybe we deny any changes at all.

Should we begin our theological conversations by stating our assumptions? Sometimes, when the Church starts discussing our controversial issues, it feels like we’re talking right past each other. Both sides wonder how the other side could come to its conclusions – they just don’t seem logical. But if, instead of arguing the controversies, we stepped back and discussed the basics (like “how do we understand the Bible?”), we might have a more productive conversation.

Is God non-violent? (You may notice that my questions are building on each other.) If we see Christ as non-violent and if we also view Christ as the fullest revelation of God, do we see God as non-violent? And based on this…

Do we need to rethink our concept of the atonement? I think (from my limited experience) that evangelical Christianity generally embraces a penal substitutionary atonement. Personally, I think that I absorbed this without really questioning it when I was younger. There is something nicely formulaic about this view: an accounting system for the debt of sin. On the other hand, it raises the problem of divine child abuse. Now, I am enjoying the exploration of non-violent theology with the help of writings from Denny Weaver* and Ted Grimsrud. Weaver and Darrin Snyder Belousek also take on the topic in a recent issue of The Mennonite.

Darrin also raises an interesting question about the Trinity…

Is God fully revealed in the story of Jesus Christ? Could we conceive that the first person of God (commonly “God the Father” – sorry for the patriarchal language) might occasionally be violent, while the second person of God (commonly “God the Son”) is non-violent? Or even, is the God the Son fully revealed in Jesus Christ? And what about now – does God the Son still retain aspects of humanity after the ascension?

To what extent is the Trinity “truth”? To be clear, our car conversation wasn’t questioning the existence of the three persons of God. But we wonder if God presents God’s self to humans in this way in order for us to understand something that is essentially unknowable. Sort of like trying to see a 16-dimensional object in a 3-dimensional world – maybe all we get is a projection.

What is non-violence? What is peace? This was Ordinary Spouse’s insightful and original question.** We talk about working for peace, but we really don’t know what that will look like. We can only speak in the negative: peace is the absence of violence and conflict. Unfortunately, we know violence and conflict intimately.

If you embrace a non-violent theology, what do you do with the abundance of worship resources that no longer seem worshipful? And, in addition, how do you raise children who share your values?

Well – that’s how we burned up the miles between Indiana and Pennsylvania during our July vacation. I guess it didn’t hurt that the CD player in the van was broken.

* This is a pretty old link. I should probably look for more recent writings, such as the link to the article in The Mennonite. Certainly, his book (The Nonviolent Atonement) has now been published, and I’m in the middle of reading that. However, I haven’t searched for other resources.

** With an emphasis on the ‘original’ part. I’ve heard our other questions posed in various other places. But I hadn’t considered this before.