Friday, September 29, 2006

Of Dogs and Theology

I perused Andrew Perriman's Open Source Theology site today. I don't understand half of what Andrew talks about but I like him. He's a lovely guy. But that's not what I've set out to comment about. I want to comment on his opening sentence in which he compares emerging church theology to reformed theology by catagorizing them as certain types of dogs.

"The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement remains a major bone of contention between the yapping, excitable Jack Russell of the emerging church and the snarling pit bull of reformed theology."

We are a family that loves dogs. We've had MANY. Why many? Because shocking numbers of nice dogs met untimely deaths during their adventurous lives in Africa. Those stories are for some other time.

I like this comparison between the emerging church (Jack Russell) and reformed theology (the pit bull.) I like it because I understand it really, really well. We had two Jack Russells and a pit bull in Portugal. OK, the pit bull was technically owned by my landlady's family, but he shared our garden and believed that he was a part of our family.

The Jack Russells we've had through the years share these traits: very intelligent, very fast, very sensitive, very brave. The pit bull, as well as the numerous Ridgebacks and other big, strong dogs we've had through the years, share these traits: very strong, very loyal, very dependable, and (believe it or not) very safe.

However, the Jack Russells were also frequently braver than they should be, charging leopards and cobras and baboons without back-up. They were often so obsessed by what they were onto, be it a mouse under the sofa or a monkey in a tree, that they could not stop and listen to anyone around them. Calling them off something they had set their mind to was tough going, nigh on impossible.

The big dogs had some problems too. They were (comparativelyly) slow to notice what was going on and slow to respond to the clues. They could miss early danger signs. They were slow to reach the site where their strength was needed.

The Jack Russells had incredibly powerful senses and they picked up on what was going on around them before anyone else had a clue. This was an invaluable asset. We depended on their keen senses and courage to investigate. But sometimes this meant they went charging off without support to face that which was threatening our safety. How many times has Byron come around a corner to find his Jack Russell firmly attached to the wrist of a baboon?

Baboons aren't a personal threat to adult humans, but they regularly raid the precious family gardens of struggling African farmers who are desperately trying to raise food. The baboons feast on the maze as if it was planted for them and they are bold and haughty to small children who try to guard it. They are strong and fierce and not to be messed with. So a Jack Russell, flying through the air, attached by jaws to the flailing wrist of a big male baboon is not a good thing. Baboons kill dogs regularly.

But with Byron, as he rounded that corner, arrived The Big Dogs. The big dogs, now fully attuneded to what was going on, tore into the situation with awesome strength and determination. Now that they were aware of the danger at hand and had caught up to the site that the Jack Russells had been screaming from, they were fully engaged. With the early warning signs of the Jack Russell and her courage to go after what's out there, the strength matched with experience that the big dogs possessed came into full use.

Together, the Jack Russells and The Big Dogs were the most amazing team. But only together. Without each other, they were lacking in serious ways.

One was quick to recognize what was going on in the world around her and brave enough to go there. But she couldn't last there alone. The other was slow to respond to the environment and slow to reach the place where she was needed. But once there, she was strong and experienced in a doggy-wisdom kind of way. She had power to compliment the speed and courage of the Jack Russell.

Hhhhhmmmm. As I said, I like Andrew's metaphor. In his one sentence, I've learned a lot.


jenelle said...

Having known both Scott the Pit Bull and Charlotte the Russell makes this metaphor all the more clear to me.

There is SO much here! You need to write more and query this as an article somewhere. (At least at!) "Please and thank you," as my Mama would say.

spain dad said...

My theology teacher, Syd Hielema, used to often say, "Theology needs to be practical."

I agree, Lisa, I like the analogy (particularly as someone who is a part of an emerging church AND who values his reformed roots). Even more, I like your story. I think it challenges me to think practically about how all this theology stuff really affects my everyday decisions.

I'm learning from what you're learning. Thanks :)

Andrew said...

Very nice story, Lisa. Thank you. I wonder if the half you don't understand is the same as the half I don't understand.

samlcarr said...

I'm from OST and Andrew gave us the link.

Wonderful insight and very much what a lot of us would like to see happen. Only problem right now is that those big dogs are really angry and are on strike - so how do we get them to come out of the kennel and get on with work and play?


lisa said...

Thanks, all. Andrew, I was really hoping you understood both halves! And Sam, dogs often fight so ferociously that it really seems they are bent on killing each other. But then they calm down and even become friends. Here's hoping!

P.B. said...

Don't worry.
Once you latch onto the wristof the enemy and are threatened by mortal danger there is something more immportant than our anger...
you are my brother.
Who endangers you endangers himself by me.