Theology Or What To Do About It
I have a confession to make – I hate reading theology. Perhaps that statement needs some qualification, but for now let’s leave it as it stands; I hate reading theology. It wasn’t always this way. I used to love the stuff and like any hardcore junky I would get my fix wherever I could, train […]
I have a confession to make – I hate reading theology. Perhaps that statement needs some qualification, but for now let’s leave it as it stands; I hate reading theology.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to love the stuff and like any hardcore junky I would get my fix wherever I could, train trips, park benches, on the beach, over lunch. The more obscure, obtuse and overwrought the work the better. From Luther to Panneberg to Barth the habit just got more and more intense.
But then, about 5 years ago, something happened. Theology started to bore me, no, it started to irritate me – well actually it started to nauseate me. I became disenchanted, not so much with the past masters, but with the current practicioners. It was disenchantment and I can remember the exact date, not when it started to happen, but when it started to become clear what was happening. That date was September 11, 2001.
I was at a theology conference that day and, to be fair, bored out of my mind. I recall, having just heard about what was happening in the US, attending a talk by a young and upcoming theolog. It was witty (sort of), erudite (in a bland way) and safe, just so safe. I remember thinking “this could be WWWIII and this guy is playing to the gallery for cheap laughs.”
I felt sick.
To be fair it was an extreme counterpoint, but it showed up the conference (which was purportedly on theology and culture) and drove the point home for me. If this is theology, this is not the game for me.
Of course, the problem was not the topic, but the discipline, the practice, the mode of writing theology in a detached, static and ultimately disembodied voice. Initially what I had heard as hubris and arrogance was now clear to me as the sound of desperation. It was an unpleasant cry.
Some theologians want to speak from outside context, from a timeless perspective. To me that always comes across as, well lets not be kind for a change, as BS! One of the cornerstones of my theology is that God speaks to us through interaction with his people. We learn through the example of the obedience of others. The revelatory power of scripture is not confirmed through some carefully worded speculation about the created order, it is proved to us through the fact that God speaks in scripture, that interpretations are experiemented with, confirmed, lived, discussed.
That is Theology.
Back in 2001 I was struggling to understand if theology was really sociology, or ethnography, having already settled on the understanding that theology was at its core a hermeneutic endeavour. Now I see it as a little simpler than that. Theology, meaningful theology, postmodern theology, contextualised and missional theology is biography. This is part of what separates Paul, John and James from so many of today’s spokepersons for the faith.
The most powerful and compelling things we have to say are not our rhetorical arguments, they are our lived experiences. This makes me wonder what would happen if we just stopped writing theology, stopped writing dogmatics, treatises and statements of faith and just wrote biographies. Not just any sort of biogrpahy, but theological biography attuned to the voice of God and informed by Scripture, Culture, History, Philosophy and Faith. In many way blogs, the best blogs are an example of doing this, but we need to extend it further, to be more intentional about it and to question the writers who avoid it with abstraction.