Is Theology Like Boxing?
I recall a discussion with a younger theologian I respect a lot. We were talking about theological method and theological discussions (in particular, seminars and debates). He made the point that theology is a lot like boxing. I was stunned. Theology is like boxing? No, it isn’t. Well, actually yes, it often is, but I […]
I recall a discussion with a younger theologian I respect a lot. We were talking about theological method and theological discussions (in particular, seminars and debates). He made the point that theology is a lot like boxing. I was stunned. Theology is like boxing?
No, it isn’t.
Well, actually yes, it often is, but I don‚Äôt accept that it should be. In fact I find the metaphor horrible and repulsive. Sure boxing can involve skill, fitness and mental toughness, but is also always violent and not infrequently brutal.
But, let‚Äôs unpack the metaphor some more. It involves two people (OK, typically two men), going head-to-head, risking permanent injury – only one winner can emerge, with the crowd cheering and hoping for a knock-out punch.
Is that the way to do theology? No. Is that the way theology is often done, especially popular, D.A. Carson-style theology? Yes.
Let me take another pass at the metaphor. It is two combatents, just two, fighting in a contest, in a fixed moment. ‚ÄúTonight at 8, fighting for the newly consolidated heavyweight crown, in a 15 round winner takes all bout, in the red corner weighing in at a professorship, numerous commentaries and a devout conservative following is D.A. ‚ÄúDr Death‚Äù Carson, in the blue corner, weighing in at lots of cool conferences, a trendily named movement and the adulation of countless bloggers is Brian ‚ÄúQuiet Avenger McLaren‚Äù
Yep, it sounds stupid, doesn‚Äôt it?
I think there are two things wrong with that picture; maybe more than two, OK a lot more than two. First, what if theology really isn‚Äôt about individuals? What if we think of theology as being what churches do? Or, what if theology is about the spaces between people, or between the activities of a group of believers? What if theology is the discussions we have bringing the mission to life? If a minister podcasts his sermon, or thoughts for the week, we might call that theology. But, why not podcast the planning meeting for the sunday school picnic? Would you call that theology? Maybe not, but I would.
The second problem with our boxing metaphor is that it is a contest ‚Äúin a moment.‚Äù But, is theology about that one knock-out blow? If the life of faith is not like that, why should the words about that life be so? If we were being truly Christian about it, the only measure for the two in the ring would be their character, their standing, their status as redeemed persons, their mission and the quality of their relationships. That is a picture that is stretched over time, not confined to an instant.
The life of faith is not about success, it is about obedience. But sporting contests are not always won by the one who trains the most faithfully, who is the most devoted to the truth of their craft. Sometimes, it just comes down to one lucky moment, one lucky punch.
Of course, there is one other problem with the metaphor; it assumes a crowd that wants to watch the two boxers slug it out. All to often theology, of the slugfest kind, is a spectator sport. Maybe if we dealt with our bloodlust, be it for conservative-baiting, liberal-bashing or whatever, we might go a long way towards dis-encouraging the theology-as-boxing mindset.
[tags] Theological Method [/tags]