Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Theology of Bacon

bacon, delicious, yum, sizzling
by Ben Howard

A lot of ink has been spilled over the years about how to form good theology. Tomes have been written on missional theology, a theology of love, a theology of hope, liberation theology, feminist theology, and the list goes on. Luther had his Solas, Calvin had his Institutes, and Wesley had his quadrilateral.

But when I think about it, and I mean really, really think about the basic building block of good theology, one word comes to mind: Bacon.

Bacon is delicious. It can top hamburgers and salads. It can be wrapped around steak and shrimp. It can be eaten on its own as part of a decadently delicious breakfast (or for that matter, brinner). To misappropriate a phrase, bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. It makes me weep for vegetarians.

But like Cookie Monster teaches us about cookies, bacon is a sometimes food.

That duality, between bacon's wonderful glorious goodness and it's penchant for leading to heart attacks, obesity and other associated nastiness, serves as the crux in the formation of good theology.

Bacon is good, personally I think that's as close as we can get to objective truth, but if you ate it everyday, if you based your meal choices around it, if it became the center of your diet, bad things would start to happen.

First, it would stop being satisfying. You would become numb to the greatness of bacon.

kevin bacon, actor, not bacon
Wrong Bacon
This happens with theology too. We focus so much on one central aspect (the Bible, salvation, love, etc.) and we consume it non-stop. A brand of theology, a facet of God, begins to flavor everything we do, everything we see, and we lose the uniqueness and flavor of something helpful and important.

The most obvious example of this is the reformed obsession with human depravity. Sin and the brokenness of man is a useful theological tool, but it does not explain everything, it is not the key to understanding God. In fact, the more it is used, the more it becomes a desensitized cliche which no longer registers. 

It is hard to understand the fragile beauty of broken humanity being saved and redeemed by God when it is the only thing being discussed. It is hard to render the enormity and vitality of this story, of this relationship between God and man, when we make it ordinary.

The same thing happens when we talk about love. We drown the delicate subtleties of the world we live in and the nature of the God we worship when we drown them out with constant saccharine-sweet references to love.

Too often we take the extraordinary nature of God and life and everything, and hammer it into the accessible and ordinary. We eat bacon everyday and don't understand why it doesn't taste as good as it used to.

However, not only would bacon stop being as delicious and satisfying, it would also make you sick. Theology does exactly the same thing.

It's good to point out the brokenness of humanity, it's a helpful reminder to us to be humble and to try harder to understand and help each other. But if you keep going back to that well, if that forms the basis for your theology and your understanding of how people operate, you will eventually begin to treat people as if they are depraved. You will begin to hate them.

Similarly, if you constantly talk about how great love is, it will become harder and harder to access the part of your soul that can show solidarity with those in pain, that can share that pain with them.

42, answer to life the universe and everything, apartment number
The answer to life, the universe
and everything
I only offer these as examples because they are so easy to highlight, and for me at least, to view critically. But any understanding of theology which is shaped by one perspective, one doorway, one underlying premise that shapes the rest will ultimately both dull the beauty of that perspective and bring out its most negative aspects.

Theology is multi-faceted and each part is valuable. Each part helps explain and understand the other parts. Humanity is deeply broken, but there is also love and hope. The Bible is vitally important, but it is also written by people and shaped by time. Understanding God, the universe and everything is not a quest to answer the ultimate question correctly (42), but a communal quest to simply be what we are created to be.

Enjoy the bacon, and eat wisely.


Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post! I appreciate what you guys do here. I've only now just stumbled upon the blog. The allusion to Total Depravity is a great example, nice work.