Obsessing over theology but avoiding obedience

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, April 2nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last month, we asked Andrée Seu Peterson to record some of her classic commentaries. We chose them from among three books collecting some of her most popular columns in WORLD Magazine.

This essay originally ran in 2005 and was compiled with others into a book titled “Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me.”

So Andrée Seu Peterson now on simple discipleship.

ANDREE SEU PETERSON: Carolyn did Greek boot camp with me at seminary. She was a Carolinian, a people person, and outspoken in her love for Jesus, everything that I was not. I chalked it up to Southern culture. I explained that I was reserved by natural endowment, and more prone to wait for the right moment. She wasn’t impressed: “I’ve got plenty of faults, but shutting up ain’t one of them.”

I did not like Carolyn.

Forty years later I’m still waiting for the right moment, and Carolyn’s probably blabbed the gospel all over Dixie. She has offended many people, I’m sure, and won a few to faith. After all, the law of averages.

But I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that I scored higher in Apologetics.

Carolyn probably has no idea how many places there are to get waylaid along Professor Edmund Clowney’s rectangular grid that takes you from the Hebrew data, to the original meaning for the Near Eastern audiences, to the Christological meaning, to the contemporary application. She does not lose sleep over issues touching on contexualization, continuity versus discontinuity, or infralapsarianism.

In my years managing the seminary café I saw two kinds of seminarians — the Carolyns and the yours-truly variety. The latter linger long over coffee and go a few rounds of theology, talking about the word of God as if it were a problem to be discussed; finding the fly in the ointment of opposing positions. Some seem as if they would have no theology if it weren’t for critiquing other people’s theology.

A student from Peru named Miguel had a different spirit. Arriving on a shoestring he lodged in the apartment over my parents’ and befriended them.

For a while Miguel was in the humbling position of begging rides off my mother. On one such errand, as they were returning from errand, he turned to my mother—who was not a safe person, if you know what I mean—and he said to her, “I want to thank you for all your help, Paulette. But you realize, don’t you, that none of it will get you into heaven.”

Bravo Miguel! Bravo the Carolyns of the world. “Who is my neighbor,” asks the man hoping to excuse himself from action. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not.”

Bonhoeffer also cites the example of the rich young man Jesus spoke to: he “had hoped to avoid committing himself to any definite moral obligations by forcing Jesus to discuss his spiritual problems….Only the devil has an answer for our moral difficulties, and he says, ‘Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience.’”

The time is late. “Sleepers awake!” says Paul. We are not playing now. And I am liking Carolyn more all the time.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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