After spending the better part of last week pouring over books and old passages in an effort to wrap my head around the Synoptic problem, I came away with a few related, and maybe unrelated reflections. Barring the discovery of the elusive Q document, I doubt we’ll have a solution to the Synoptic problem until we’re in the sweet by and by. I can live with that. Not well, at times, but I can find some sort of peace. I like my theology neat. And theology isn’t always neat. It doesn’t always fit into a neat little box, and the Synoptic problem is my most recent encounter with that truth. I don’t have all the answers.
Another truth I came to realize, thanks to studying the Synoptic problem, is that some of what we obsess over in seminaries and Bible colleges doesn’t always translate well into the “real world.” I can’t claim much experience in the way of local church ministry, but I have enough to know that I’ve never been grilled on the specifics of Matthean priority or the two/four-source hypothesis, and I doubt I will be any time soon. In fact, the oldest and most widely held solution (by the average evangelical parishioner, not scholars) to the Synoptic problem, the Independence View, was barely more than a footnote in my research. Somehow, that doesn’t seem balanced to me.
I could go on, but let me summarize and clarify. First, theology isn’t always neat and isn’t always complete. We don’t always have the answers. Some of it we have to take on faith. Second, it’s sometimes hard to take theology out of the classroom and into the real world. Maybe you’ve concentrated your studies so much on obscure views Biblical scholars hold that you’ve completely neglected to notice what the majority of laity believe. Or maybe the lonely hurting soul doesn’t need your opinion on Markan priority as much as they need your love. The love our Bible keeps telling us to share with our fellow man sometimes feels more like a curse we’ve been afflicted with when we encounter unlovely people that we know, deep down, we are called to care for. Theology can be neat and systematized in the classroom, but sometimes it’s a messy business to apply it to our lives and make it practical. Sometimes it’s incomplete. But, it’s useless if it’s not taken out into the real world and displayed in our daily lives. If our systematic theology doesn’t naturally compliment our practical theology, we’re doing something wrong.