When I was growing up, a couple pastors said the church they grew up in might as well have had a sign on the back that said “No,” because it was the answer to every question.
Can I go dancing?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
But it wasn’t just the churches they grew up in. It was also the churches they led. In fact, as I’ve been learning in my Church History 2 class, much of Protestant reflects this sort of Theology of Nope.
Jan Huss saw the moral feelings of the church leadership and said, “Nope.”
Martin Luther saw John Tetzel walk into town peddling indulgences. “Nope.”
Ulrich Zwingli looked over a whole mess of things the church was doing that he didn’t read in the Bible, and declared quite firmly, even to Martin Luther, “Nope.”
The Anabaptists (some of whose centuries-later followers tended toward Protestantism) saw Christians engaging in violence and said, “Nope.”
Michael Servetus didn’t see the Trinity in the Bible and said, “Nope.”
John Calvin saw Michael Servetus denying the trinity, and the whole council of Geneva “Nope’d” him at stake.
The Puritans in England saw the Church of England looking rather Roman Catholic and “Nope’d” their way to the Netherlands.
When that wasn’t far enough from the corruption of the worldly, they “Nope’d” to the Americas.
Darwin said we all evolved and shared a common ancestor with apes, and a good many Protestants declared, “Nope!”
Northerners said “Nope!” to slavery, and southerners rebutted with a firm “Nope!” of their own.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the sexual revolution arrived, and many good Christians declared, “Nope!”
…This is not an exhaustive history.
Then I came on the scene, trained in the theology of 1990s fundamentalism.
Women in pants? Nope.
Rock music? Nope.
In worship? ARE YOU SERIOUS?
Women as pastors? Nope.
Evolution? What a terrible lie. NOPE!
Universalism? We don’t talk about doctrines of the devil.
Movies with more than three bad words? Nope.
Gays and Lesbians? Nope.
Abortion under any circumstances? Nope.
And then I grew up and got out and realized I liked music with a syncopated rhythm, whatever that is, even if the devil apparently hand-delivered it to the Beatles or something. I made friends with lesbians. My sisters hated skirts. I heard great pastors who were women. I took film classes and now I don’t even notice bad words unless I’m around my family.
In short, I took all of fundamentalism – or as much of it as I could – and “Nope’d” it.
Which brings me to Tuesday in class when Dr. Vacek said something about a later generation of Protestants realizing they had to build systematic theology instead of just Noping Catholicism.
Which led me to think about my need to build some kind of positive theology instead of just Noping fundamentalism and the stuff my dad did.
I’ve seen the memes, “Don’t bash what you hate; promote what you love.”
But sometimes things are so bad you have to try to push back against them.
But also, as many people are saying about candidates they don’t like in this election cycle, “‘Nope’ isn’t a plan.” “Nope” isn’t a theology.
I can’t live my life on “Nope.”
While I think it’s very important and informative for me to think about the God I don’t believe in, I also need to think about What I can believe about God. While opposing Walmart’s low pay and avoiding shopping there when possible, I also bought a share of Costco. While opposing pollution and climate change, I also bought a share of SolarCity. (Which has lost half its value since I bought it, but principles).
And while I think long and hard about what I don’t believe about God, I’m starting a systematic theology class in about six weeks.
David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.
2 thoughts on “Beyond a Theology of “Nope””
I think it says something that you’ve come to the point you need to construct a theology. A positive theology. That sounds great and we’ll be starting Sys Theo in about four weeks. It should be a fun time.
I went ahead and retired my brief FB existence. If a website requires police, I just don’t have time for it, LOL. I will return to my boring WordPress reader existence. I very much appreciate your blog, and just wanted to make it known.