Musings on Irish Theology


Today was Saint Patrick’s day. On this day of celebrating and focusing on the Irish spent some time thinking about the influence and impact of the Irish Christians.  A brief examination of church history in Ireland consists of things that challenge any Christian today and things to be careful of as believers.  I want to share three brief thoughts on each.

The three things in looking at the Irish Christians that at some levels lacks in the modern day church are creativity, community, and pilgrimage.  The Irish church was known for its creativity. There was no shying away from use of the imagination and using creativity to point to God.  The Irish church also was very relational, open, and vulnerable to other brothers and sisters.  The Irish church also focused on following God where ever He leads and treating life as a journey and pilgrimage.  Time was spent learning and remembering the significant parts of your walk with  God and looking for where God moves next.  Each of us would benefit from growing in these areas of being creative in pointing to Jesus, connecting beyond superficial with others, and treating life here as a journey looking to meet God’s purposes as He leads. These principles played a role in the Irish church impacting those around them with the Gospel, even to the point of spreading the good news across knowledge to the point of Ireland being known as the land of saints and scholars. 

There are also aspects of the Irish church that are concerning.  Three areas that find most concerning were the compromise, aesthetics, and elevation of individual mystical experience seen in some Irish theology. Examining the Irish church there is evidence of syncretism of old practices into Christianity. This was done with an attitude that anything can be transformed or redeem but some of that compromised polluted the faith and growth.  There also was a focus on being welcoming to the point where there may have been acceptance at the expense of the Gospel.  The Irish church was also known for aesthetics and engaging in self-wounding and harsh fasts in terms of pleasing God and reducing the sinful, selfish part of self.  The Irish church also emphasized experience of the individuals. The individual relationship and experience took pre-eminence and those observed to have unique and special experiences were elevated to “Saint” status, of which many were claimed. Personally, the question comes in these areas is about finding balance.  There is need to reach others in ways they understand, but needs to happen without compromise.  There is need for discipline, growth, and works of surrender to God, but it is not done by self-inflicted suffering or external means of chastising self.  Individual experience can be mystical If God show chooses, but when God does chose to give such experiences it does not make that person special or unique to God, but rather someone God chose to use and communicate with in that manner.

Sadly, the path of the church today is moving farther away from the positive aspects of Irish theology and embracing out of balance elements of Irish faith.  Acceptance is done at cost of truth, experience is used to shape biblical understanding and the adaptation and assimilation of culture is frequent.  There are people who in the name of loving others fail to include communication of truth.  It would be of great value of each of us developed a mindset of being actively engaged in relationship with God and others that it impacts our walk and choices in new and creative ways.  The Irish church was not passive, but engaged and many were brought into the Kingdom of God.   So we need to examine self. Are we active, are we compromising, are we presenting both truth and love?  Truth without love is rigid and cruel.  Love without the sound truth is empty and can lead for people remaining on paths to destruction.

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