Volume 18, Issue 4: Meander
A Parable, A Dark Saying
Modernity, Inc. owns a big box store that is half the size of Rhode Island. The metal shelving disappears
upwards toward the steel rafters, and the polished concrete floor allows the customers to push around their flat bed carts
In the electronics section, I come across a salesman who is a modernist conservative Christian. He has a Jesus
stereo that he says is perfect, not like those other ones. Nothing wrong with it and there can never be anything wrong with
it. Endless warranty. The owner's manual is verbally inspired, jots and tittles included, and it only plays the right kind
of CD. Haven of Rest Gospel Quartet, I think it was.
"In fact," he tells me sternly, "if you pass this deal up you will burn in Hell eternally."
"I promise to think about it," I said, and continued to wend my two-acre cart through the aisles. The
polished concrete floor slid beneath my feet in a dreamlike way, the way I always feel when around huge mounds of
Suddenly I come to a soft postmodern Christian salesman. Pointing to his product, he grins at me.
"This is a stereo that works really well with what I want to play on it," he says cheerfully. "But I understand the
faith journey that others may be on, and perhaps after listening to their stereos for a time, they might want to join me
in listening to mine. But perhaps not, and I really want to respect that." I listened to a few tunes on his, but I never
really did care for the Captain and Tennille.
Two aisles over, I come across a hard, bitter man, standing next to a crappy-looking pile of junk, with wires
running everywhere. But I have to admit, the punkthrash that was coming out of it was pretty crisp. I think. He didn't appear
to want to sell me his product all that much.
"Somedays I think the Buddhists make a better product than we do. Maybe most days. And the gays . . ."
But he only talked about all that for a few minutes. He was far more interested in the first salesman, the one with
the perfect Jesus stereo, than in anyone or anything else. In fact, he had grumped at me when I first came up
"So, I seen you've been by aisle 38." He clearly saw the shiny brochure that was lying there on my cart. It
really stood out, and looked more like a tract than a stereo brochure. I felt ashamed, but I was not sure why. He saw this,
and followed up quickly.
"You have been pushing your cart through the store," he said. "Where are you now?"
I looked up. "Aisle 46." This seemed uncontroversial enough, but he pounced on my words like a duck on a
"Ah," he said. "Some people think of it that way, but I prefer to think of this part of the store as post-38. See?"
He pulled back his sleeve and showed me his tattoo. "This is a new aisle completely. We Christians have to adapt to
the ways of this aisleit has a post-38 number, and that's what really mattersif we want to keep market share."
After talking with him some more, I finally disentangled myself and pushed off again. I soon found myself
among the mattresses and pillows, and my mind wandered up to the ceiling again.
"I wonder who owns this store," I thought.
Theological Cliff's Notes
Remember that a systematic understanding of any given text is really synonymous with a formal understanding of
the text. Understanding of a work is impossible unless there is an ability to summarize it, and summary is nothing but
a systematic distillation. The real enemy is systematic misunderstanding of the text (not to mention systematic
Another danger would be a correct systematic understanding of the text which is divorced from any living
knowledge of the text. Imagine a student who had read the
Cliff's Notes, and Barnes Notes for a work of literature multiple
times, but had never read the work itself. His knowledge would be accurate, but still barren.
In our study of systematic theology, we are not striving for originality. We want to add our voices to those of
the historic Church, and so in this study we are going to follow (albeit not at every point) the Westminster Confession
Ran Across This Wonderful Quote
"Besides, men like that are afflicted by an almost incurable disease. For although it makes them feel ashamed not
to know something, yet they cannot bear to learn anything" (John Calvin,