The canon of theology

What is the rule, primary lens, canon of theology? Indonesians are very accustomed to look for God as a kind of generic maker or creator, but I guess it is inadequate and ultimately falls short of speaking of God of who he truly is. A Christian might answer more specifically: God is the creator God who reveals himself in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Fine enough. Well, but that’s not the only way to do it. Another way to look at it is to emphasize the redemptive character of God.

The creatorship of God is of course assumed in the Christian Scriptures, but it is always covenantal in nature. Creation is not a generic and universal notion; it is always ideological. And Christian understanding of creation manifests itself in the covenant between God and his people. A covenant which acknowledges the presently broken nature of created order, but nonetheless hopes for its redemption from futility in the future. A covenant, which the Christians understood has reached its climax in Jesus of Nazareth.

The implication of this kind of understanding is many. For example, about marriage. I (and the majority of readers here) come from a culture which assumes that everyone is going to marry sooner or later, the sooner the better. Indeed, according to Qur’an, humankind is created in pairs (cf. QS 42.11). And this is the kind of problem that we will face if we adopt an assumed theology of creation held by our society (which are predominantly Moslem) without scrutinizing it according to our belief. Adam was created with Eve, indeed, but it was not the end of the story. I guess it underscores what I said earlier: creation is not generic; it is ideological.

How should a Christian look at this issue, then? Well, I guess I would just hand out a few pointers. First, the end of the story is the resurrection, and “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Mat 22.30 — note that ‘in heaven’ modifies ‘they’ not, but ‘the angels’). So indeed you have got yourself into tension, then. In the beginning you have Adam and Eve, but in the end people will neither marry nor be given in marriage.

Next, as have been noted many times before, Jesus and Paul (it might be possible that Paul was a widower, but here we will take the traditional understanding of Paul that he was single) were single themselves. Indeed, life-long celibacy is actually a virtue and revered in some Christian traditions.

So perhaps the quest of more noble status, single or married, misses the point. The question should be what kind of life one should live according to his or her state. Indeed, one must justify the state which one is in right now. A toxic marriage is as bad and pointless as wasted singleness. To put it back to my own culture, it is not only the singles who need to justify why they are so (as exhibited by the not too uncommon question: have you found a girlfriend/boyfriend?), but it is also the duty of the husbands and wives among all of us.

Next, on nature itself. We also tend to say ‘how great Thou art’ when we behold an outrageously good landscape. Again, it is influenced by our creator-centric account of God. God is primarily a creator and hence we identify more easily with him when we sense beauty in nature. Again, it is not entirely false, but it also falls short of describing the ‘other’ phenomena of nature: earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, etc. How, then, do we account for these?

Hence I would propose (pun not intended) for the primacy of a covenantal nature of theology. That is, the rule, canon of (Christian) theology is located in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Our understanding about everything under the sun must be always criticized by the cross of Christ. Our anchor is not the pristine nature of Eden, but the ugly reality of Golgotha.

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