“According to Wes Seeliger in his book Western Theology, there are two kinds of people, two visions of life. The first sees life as a possession to be carefully guarded. They are called Settlers. The second sees life as a wild, fantastic gift. They are called Pioneers.
These two types give rise to two kinds of theology: Settler Theology and Pioneer Theology. Settler Theology is an attempt to answer all the questions, define and housebreak some sort of Supreme Being, establish the status quo on golden tablets in cinemascope. Pioneer Theology is an attempt to talk about what it means to receive the strange gift of life. The Wild, Wild West is the setting for both theologies.
In Settler Theology, the Church convenes at the Courthouse. It is the center of town life. The old stone structure dominates the town square. Its windows are small, and this makes things dark inside. Within the courthouse walls, records are kept, taxes collected, and trials are held for the bad guys. The courthouse is the symbol of law, order, stability, and most importantly, security.
In Pioneer Theology, the Church moves in a Covered Wagon. It’s a house on wheels, always on the move. The Covered Wagon is where the pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love, live and die. It bears the marks of life and movement—it creaks, it’s scarred with arrows and bandaged with bailing wire. The Covered Wagon is where the action is. It moves toward the future, trying not to get bogged down in old ruts. The old Wagon isn’t comfortable, but the pioneers don’t seem to mind. They are more into adventure than comfort.
In Settler Theology, God is the Mayor. He is slick and fancy like a dude from back East. His office is on the top floor of the Courthouse. He looks out over the whole town, as his eagle eye ferrets out the smallest details of town life. No one actually sees him or gets close to him. He keeps his blinds drawn. But since there is order in the town, who can deny that he is really there? The Mayor is predictable and always on schedule. The Settlers fear the Mayor, but look to him to clear the payroll and keep things running. Peace and quiet are the Mayor’s main concerns, so he sends the Sheriff to check out any Pioneers who might ride into town.
In Pioneer Theology, God is the Trail Boss. He is rough and rugged, full of life. He chews tobacco, drinks straight whiskey. The Trail Boss lives, eats, sleeps, and fights with his people. Their well‑being is his concern. Without him, the Wagon wouldn’t move and living free would be impossible. The Trail Boss will get down in the mud with the Pioneers to help push the Wagon, which often gets stuck. He prods the Pioneers when they get soft and want to turn back. His fist is an expression of his concern.
In Settler Theology, Jesus is the Sheriff. He’s the guy who is sent by the Mayor to enforce the rules. He wears a white hat, drinks milk, outdraws the bad guys. The Sheriff decides who gets thrown in jail. There is a saying in town that goes: those who follow the rules and believe that the Sheriff is sent by the Mayor, they won’t stay in Boothill when it comes their time.
In Pioneer Theology, Jesus is the Scout. He rides out ahead of the Wagon to find out which way the Pioneers should go. The Scout faces all the dangers of the Trail and suffers every hardship. He is even attacked by the Indians. Through his words and actions he reveals the true intentions of the Trail Boss. By following the Scout, those on the Trail learn what it means to be a true Pioneer.
In Settler Theology, the Holy Spirit is the Saloon Girl. Her job is to comfort the Settlers. They come to her when they feel lonely or when life gets dull or dangerous. She tickles them under the chin and makes everything okay again. The Saloon Girls also squeals to the Sheriff whenever someone starts disturbing the peace.
In Pioneer Theology, the Holy Spirit is the Buffalo Hunter. He rides along with the Covered Wagon and furnishes fresh meat for the Pioneers. They would die without it (and him). The Buffalo Hunter is a strange character—sort of a wild man. The Pioneers never can tell what he’ll do next. He scares the hell out of the Settlers. He has a big, black gun that goes off like a cannon. He rides into town on Sunday morning to shake up the Settlers. You see, every Sunday morning, the Settlers have a little ice cream party in the Courthouse. With his gun in hand, the Buffalo Hunter sneaks up to one of the Courthouse windows. Then he fires a tremendous blast that rattles the whole Courthouse. Men jump out of their skin, women scream, dogs bark. Chuckling to himself, the Buffalo Hunter rides back to the Wagon Train shooting up the town as he goes.
In Settler Theology, the Pastor (the clergyman) is the Banker. Within his vault are locked the values of the town. He is a highly respected man. He has a gun, but keeps it hidden in his desk. He feels that he and the Sheriff have a lot in common. After all, they both protect the Bank.
In Pioneer Theology, the Pastor is the Cook! He doesn’t furnish the meat. He just dishes up what the Buffalo Hunter provides. This is how he supports the movement of the wagon. He sees himself as just another Pioneer who has learned to cook. The Cook’s job is to help the Pioneers pioneer. He doesn’t confuse his job with that of the Trail Boss, the Scout, or the Buffalo Hunter.
In Settler Theology, the Christian is the Settler. He fears the open, unknown frontier. His concern is to stay on good terms with the Mayor and keep out of the Sheriff’s Way. “Safety First” is his motto and the Courthouse is his symbol of security, peace, order, and happiness. He keeps his money in the bank. The Banker is his best friend. The Settler never misses an ice cream party.
In Pioneer Theology, Christians are Pioneers. They are persons of daring, hungry for new life. They ride hard, and know how to use a gun when necessary. The Pioneer feels sad for the Settlers and tries to tell them of the joy and fulfillment of life on the Trail. They die with their boots on.
In Settler Theology, Faith is trusting in the safety of the town; obeying the Law and keeping their noses clean; and believing the Mayor is up there in the Courthouse.
In Pioneer Theology, Faith is the spirit of adventure; the readiness to move out; the willingness to risk everything on the Trail. Faith is obedience to the restless voice of the Trail Boss.
In Settler Theology, Sin is breaking one of the Town’s ordinances.
In Pioneer Theology, Sin is wanting to turn back.
In Settler Theology, Salvation lies in living close to home and going to the Courthouse.
In Pioneer Theology, Salvation rests in being more afraid of a sterile life in Town, than of death on the Trail. Pioneers find joy in the thought of another day to push on into the unknown Wilderness. They realize their Salvation by trusting the Trail Boss and following his Scout, while living on the meat provided by the Buffalo Hunter.
The Settlers and the Pioneers portray in cowboy-movie language the People of the Law and the People of the Spirit. In the time of the historical Jesus, the guardians of the ecclesiastical setup, the scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees, had hunkered down in the Courthouse and enslaved themselves to the Law. This not only enhanced their prestige in society, it also gave them a sense of Security. Man fears the responsibility of being free. It is often easier to let others make the decisions or to rely up the letter of the Law. Some men want to be slaves.
[excerpted from The Lamb and The Lion by Brennan Manning, 1988, pgs. 23-27]