Gospel-Theorizing

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The apostle John wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)

The word here for “looked upon” in verse one literally means to perceive with the physical eye. The disciples really and actually saw Jesus with their own eyes. This word also carries the meaning “to visit” and it is the word from which we get our word theater “denoting a place where scenes from human life are enacted to be seen (and to promote greater vision about life).”[1] It is also the word from which we get the word theory. Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio Journal, quotes Patrick Deneen’s blog saying:

[T]he word "theory" came over time to designate a particular kind of seeing in the Greek world. "Certain designated city officials—theoroi—were charged with the task of visiting other cities, to 'see' events such as religious or theatrical or athletic festivals, and to return to their home city, where they would then give an account of what they had seen. To 'theorize' was to take part in a sacred journey, an encounter with the 'other' in which the theorist would attempt to comprehend, assess, compare, and then, in [the] idiom of his own city, explain what had been seen to his fellow citizens." Theorists in the best tradition are people who enable us to become "other-wise," encouraging us to realize that the way we live life isn't the only way it could be lived, and may not be the best way we could live…[2]

When Socrates theorized about the “Virtuous City” or his design for the best of all possible political regimes, the men of Athens perceived the design as a threat to their power, positions, and pagan religion. So the powers-that-were, had him executed.

Interestingly the OT prophets were at one time called “seers” (see 1 Samuel 9:9).  They encountered God who put a word in their heart. Figuratively speaking, the prophets got a vision from God of what God was doing and they spoke it forth helping others to see what God required. If you’ve ever used Oswald Chambers’ daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest, you’ll remember that Chambers spoke much about obtaining a fresh “vision of Jesus” that would transform everything for a believer…he was a true theorist. John Stott was talking about being a true theorist when he described the work of preaching as standing “Between two Worlds” meaning that the preacher’s work is a bit like this work of the ancient theoroi. They go in depth into the world of the Bible and work hard to see what the word of God said then and then they return to their congregations and “give an account of what they’ve seen.” They take people on a “sacred journey” of faith – toward an encounter with the living Christ through His word.

Isn’t this related to what the Apostle John was doing in this letter to the churches? He was a “theorist” in the best sense of the word. He had encountered Jesus in the flesh and the resurrected Jesus in the new flesh for the new world. Then he came to those who hadn’t seen Jesus and cast a vision of Jesus that they might encounter him too. John put the gospel message (theory?) about Jesus before the eyes of others to help them to see Jesus. 

I believe we are called to do a kind of “gospel theorizing” too.  What does it look like to do Gospel theorizing? Gospel theorizing like what John and the Apostles were doing was very different than the theorizing that the ancient philosophers were doing. Although Socrates’ political philosophy was carried on in the writings of Plato and Aristotle (not to mention Al-Farābī and Ibn Rushd in Medieval Islamic philosophy and Maimonides in Medieval European philosophy), his vision never actually materialized. Gospel theorizing must be more than simply constructing a succinct theological system or positing a particular church polity. When John and Peter and Paul theorized – when they told people what they saw – what they heard – what they touched with their hands – how they encountered the living Christ – something real happened: Churches were planted all over the Greco-Roman world.  Why? Because when Jesus was crucified by the men of Jerusalem for Kingdom theorizing – for painting a picture of where He had come from – the eternal and glorious presence of the Father in the heavenly Kingdom of God – he didn’t stay dead like Socrates. Jesus rose from the dead and then Jesus himself embodied the theorizing (or preaching) of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself empowered the message of the gospel and turned the theory into reality everywhere the Gospel theory (message) was cast. It wasn’t mere talk. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit the apostles lived out what they preached. And living out together what they preached was the manifestation of church. May we go and theorize likewise. - jts

[1] Ken Myers, “Liberalism and Limits,” Mars Hill Audio Journal, (quoting from Patrick Deneen’s blog) posted 10/07/08, Accessed on June 5, 2013 at http://www.marshillaudio.org/Resources/Article.aspx?id=174 (italics mine)

[2] Myers, “Liberalism and Limits,”