This quote and our discussion on it sparked a great analogy from Thom McClusky, one of the members of the group. "It's kinda like designing a house", he said. "There are certain physical and architectural realities that you can't ignore in your design, but at the same time you have to always keep in mind that the purpose for your design is so that someone can actually live comfortably there."
As I thought about this analogy, I realized that it really is a great way to think about the task of Christian theology. As we answer questions about our faith and create theological systems to help us understand it better, we can't ever lose sight of the fact that the purpose of all our theology is to aid us in our primary missional purpose of transforming people who can transform the world for the sake of the kingdom. There are all kinds of theological systems that are more or less coherent and "biblical" (according to each one's own method of interpretation) - e.g. Calvinism, Arminianism, dispensationalism, evangelicalism, liberalism, Catholicism, etc. - but the question we have to always ask ourselves is whether our systems are helping or hindering this first priority of mission. Do they drive us to make disciples of all nations? Do they encourage us to love God and love others? Do they lead to more peace, reconciliation, justice, grace, healing, liberation, abundant and joyful life for all, etc. or less?
So, just like an architect designing a house, we can't ever get so wrapped up in our own clever designs that we forget their purpose. Architects can often come up with some pretty wild and interesting designs that aren't actually very livable (just go visit Frank Lloyd Wright's House on the Rock up in WI for proof of that), and so can theologians. But, at the same time, like an architect, our design purpose (whether it's to create a livable house or a missional theology) has to obey certain unchangeable realities - e.g. the existence of One Triune God, Jesus Christ as God's perfect Incarnation, the physical and historical reality of Christ's death and resurrection, the Kingdom of God as Christ's central message and the church's primary concern, the balance of both God's justice and God's mercy, etc. There are certain doctrinal realities that, if you yank them out of your theological system, will cause the whole thing to come crashing down on top of you, just as if an architect leaves out key support beams the whole house will be unsound, regardless of how "livable" it is.
This is one of those analogies that I'm going to be mulling on for a long time, and that I think has implications that I haven't even fully realized yet. Thanks Thom!