I spent most of last evening screaming obscenities at a middle-aged man for doing an unimportant thing poorly.
That's a pretty average night for me during the NBA Playoffs.
The middle-aged man in question is Oklahoma City Thunder point guard/old guy Derek Fisher and the unimportant thing he was doing poorly was "play basketball." In my defense, he is paid handsomely to do just that, so we're both kind of in the wrong here.
Let me try and provide a little context. I went to school in Oklahoma and subsequently became a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Currently, the Thunder are playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs. The Thunder were one of the best teams all season until one of their best players hurt his knee a few weeks back.
Enter Derek Fisher.
It's important to note that Derek Fisher was not always bad at playing basketball. No, once upon a time he was actually quite good. While he was never a superstar, Fisher was the starting point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers when they won five championships from 2000 to 2010. He was never great, but he was a solid role player and hit the occasional big three pointer. Good things.
Unfortunately, Derek Fisher is now 38 years old. While in the real world this would be considered the cusp of "middle-aged," in basketball terms it's over the hill and then some.
So why, you might ask, is Derek Fisher playing so much if he's no longer good at basketball?
Ah, this is the important question. Derek Fisher is playing because he has experience, he has been tested and he has done good things before. Of course, none of these things mean he will play well now or in the future, but they are comforting traits.
As I sat there last night, dejected, hurling insults at an aging basketball player who had never done me any personal ill, I realized something important. Derek Fisher is like substitutionary atonement.
Now you probably weren't expecting that. You may very well be wondering how an over-the-hill point guard is at all similar to the theology that Jesus had to die in order for our sins to be erased and God's wrath to be satisfied. It's a valid question.
Derek Fisher is like substitutionary atonement because, while he may have served his purpose in another place at another time, he is outdated and incapable of responding to the needs of this time and this place. In fact, Derek Fisher is like a lot of outdated theories and theologies. Derek Fisher is also like creationism, and he's like supersessionism (the belief that the New Covenant replaces and supersedes the Mosaic covenant).
As time passes and society evolves, so must our theology; our interpretation of what is true and how the world works. This is not to say that traditional theologies or views are necessarily "bad" or "useless"; many traditional theologies continue to hold strong, but some, like those mentioned above, have served the purpose of their times and need to be discarded so that God can continue to work and speak in the world today.
This is not a dismissal of these theologies for the good they may have done in the past, just a realization that they are no longer responding to the questions that formed them. Like Derek Fisher, they are hurting and no longer helping.
It's difficult to move away from experience and tradition, especially when the next easy answer is not readily available. It's hard to move on from a known quantity out into the vast unknown, but sometimes it's useful and sometimes it's vitally necessary.
Derek Fisher isn't as bad as he was last night, but he'll never be as consistently good as he once was, and soon that good side will be more memory than reality. Substitutionary atonement, or creationism, or whatever outdated theology comes to mind were probably useful in their times. Some of them may still be useful on occasion today, but they are not consistently useful, they are not consistently good, and soon the good they did will be a memory drowned out by the pain they cause when used improperly.
I know it's a weird analogy, but sometimes we have to let go of tradition and abandon the things that worked in the past in order to truly embrace the best of our future.
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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