For me, the love of what God created and the love of righteousness have to be the motivating factors for, and primary ways of knowing, God. This, of course, may not be true for everyone. I will use my process to illustrate how a theology is formulated.
God created the universe – ex nihilo or from pre-existence matter, I could care less – in six days or billions of years, what matter. God created and saw it was good. God created more, and saw it was good. God did not envision a finished creation that God deemed “good”, but created in the time and space in which God had influence and judged each step as good. God created in the present and in sequence – one thing upon another after reflecting on what had come into being.
Things happened in God’s creation, not all of which were good, as a result of previous actions and events that set certain things in motion. Creation, then, isn’t controlled but developing. This is the story of a God who develops along with creation – a God who learns from it, is affected and changed by it. This is also the story of a God who hopes for a better future – for a future in which creation itself learns and changes and moves towards the very things in which God finds hope – justice, mercy and right relations.
As creation, or more specifically, the human part of creation sins by turning away from righteous behavior, God calls out to it to turn it back around. Repentance is the reversal of sin – not forgiveness. Forgiveness is an aspect of righteousness. We cannot live in mercy, justice and right relations without being forgiving – forgiveness is one of the ways in which God is an exemplar of righteous behavior. Understanding sin as the effect of an outside power, Satan or the world itself, negates the need to respond to God’s call for righteousness – it excuses behavior that is outside of our control and exempts us from acting to right wrongs. Excusing is not an aspect of forgiveness since it misplaces responsibility; it removes the need for repentance.
Repentance, from the meaning of the Hebrew word, means “turning away from”. In essence we can repent in one of two ways. We can either repent of God, turn away from that which God wants towards sin, or away from sin towards righteousness – towards God. It is not an option to turn partway, to turn sideways so we don’t see the sin or so we can claim no complicity. To repent towards righteousness – towards God – requires that we first face the sin head on, recognize it for what it is, and consciously turn away from doing that which causes it. The ability to repent is the loving, kind, undying gift of God, and forgiveness is part and parcel of the right relations we turn towards.
Salvation, in the traditional Christian sense of the word, remains problematic for me. One aspect of my Reformed tradition acknowledges that salvation is given undeservedly at God’s initiative. I understand “undeserved” to mean unmerited or unearned in that salvation is granted by God as an expression of God’s righteousness, not as a reward for our particular deeds.
Another Reformed notion, however, is that God has pre-determined, or at least has foreknowledge of, those who will and will not receive salvation. No matter how I slice it, this tenet of faith seems rotten in the core. I don’t contest God’s right to determine those saved and those not but, since I reject foreknowledge as an absolute characteristic of God, and a God who would meter out salvation in some type of lottery not based on merit would be callous and indiscriminate, I must reject this second notion entirely. A God whose hope for creation is righteousness would either offer salvation to all, or base salvation on acting righteously. The last, however, makes God’s righteous behavior, forgiveness in particular, contingent on our own – it would be conditional righteousness.
While the idea stands in tension, I believe that God has offered salvation for all unconditionally. Beliefs I expressed above, however, lead me to think that God would force nothing on humanity – even salvation. The question of whether the offer has to be accepted or rejected remains something of an enigma. If the offer of salvation has to be accepted, it remains conditional on our response. I must, at this point in my theological development, accept that God’s offer to all stands, but that each has the option to reject it. The default is salvation. As yet, I have obviously not resolved the concept of salvation, or rather how and to whom it is provided and accepted/rejected, in a way that is comfortable to me, never mind in a way that is explicable to someone else. It simply remains a source of tension – of contradiction that is constantly present.
Since salvation is, as yet, unresolved in my theology, the nature or role of Christ is bound to be something of a conundrum as well. I accept that, following a series of prophets whose messages did not have lasting impressions, God came incarnate in the form of Jesus. I believe all aspects of the person of Jesus had significance – life, death and resurrection. I also agree with Richard Rohr’s observation that “the most clever way to avoid the message is to worship the messenger.”
While a contentious observation, I believe the message of Christ is, perhaps, the most overlooked aspect of Jesus’ existence, especially by the church. The polar ends of Jesus’ life receive the most significant treatment. His birth, Christmas, and his death and resurrection, Easter, are the high “holy” days of protestant Christianity. Between these, the most significant is Jesus’ baptism – an act in which Jesus was passive. The church’s sacraments emphasize the baptism of Jesus and the last meal on the night before he died. Through these holidays and sacraments the church seems to worship Jesus, as opposed to worshipping God through believing in what Jesus taught and did.
What I hoped to show is that developing theology is based on a process – a continuous process, at that – in which we actually have to contend with what we believe, and consider how the consequences play out in our reality (“our” meaning human reality, as opposed to God’s reality). Un unexamined theology risks becoming an idolatry, with that which is idolized being our own rigid dogma.
 Richard Rohr, quotation from a private electronic mail correspondence, 22 May 2003.