Life explodes with color—the blazing orange of sunrise, the dusty brown of a potato, the quiet black of midnight. You open your eyes, you get out of bed, and each day is a new show. Today you will see a color you didn’t know existed—perhaps it’s a new shade of yellow or some concoction of navy and pine-needle green. If you’re paying attention, life is a streaming revelation of color.
And with such variety at our fingertips, it would be a shame to only dabble and primary colors—and yet we do. There is blue and there is red. There is liberal and there is conservative. Deep down, we know better, but the allure of primary colors is irresistible. Paint the world in primary colors and it all gets simple and certain. Most of us will nail honesty to a cross for a little peace of mind. And ours is a time when a little peace of mind is a precious commodity. I suppose life has always been complex, but it feels peculiarly so right now. So assaulting the world with blue and red spray-paint feels sooo good.
It’s little wonder these primary colors have also tagged the walls of evangelical Christianity. Don’t hear that the wrong way—I don’t much care about doom and gloom pronouncements and I don’t know that now is any worse than then. But I know primary colors when I see them, and in my tribe they are everywhere. And I find that unacceptable because the church tells the truth. And the truth is that blue and red spray-paint will not do because we believe God is God and humans are humans. And when that belief becomes operative and active, everything gets purple.
Purple happens when you mix blue and red. Purple theology happens when we try to tell the truth about God instead of trying to make ourselves feel safe and certain. It happens when we surrender to the comedy of theology: we are humans talking about God. If you don’t get the joke, try a little harder.
Purple theology handles life and faith with nuance instead of bludgeoning them until they bruise blue or bleed red. All that to say, purple theology believes that humility is more than good manners—it’s good theology. Its ultimate goal is not to get along but to do good, honest theology. And yet if we do good theology we will get along (or at least get along better!) because good theology will always carry the purple banner of humility—a banner that signals our surrender to the high and holy joke of theology.
A Purple Proposal
So here’s my purple proposal. The church is a community of little people bumping up against a big God—let’s act like it! Let’s splatter primary colors against the wall, make a mess, and see what happens when they mix. Let’s be bold in our beliefs and passionate in our discipleship but ruthlessly honest about our finitude and uncertainty.
We’ll still disagree on plenty of things—some of them important and, perhaps, worth fighting over. Our primary colors will differ. There will be lots of shades of purple—Calvinist, Arminian, Open Theist, New Pauline, Old Pauline, inerrant, infallible, inspired, inspiring, pre-mill, post-mill, who-gives-a-mill—and not all will be equal. But I can deal with that, because it tells the honest to God, purple truth of the matter.
I’m busy experimenting with my own shade of purple. Its primary colors are God’s searing generosity and our tragic/comic littleness. I’ve changed shades before and might change again, but this one feels good on me. Feel free to try it on.