"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
July 20, 2006

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.

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Responses
frank rees 16 years ago

Well said, Fernando.
I’m with you , all the way.

There is a lot of theology that I have enjoyed reading. And, as you know, I am employed to teach it.
But for me the big question is: what is it that we are trying to teach, or to do?
As I put it to my students, what is the kind of knowledge that we are seeking?

Theology might be thought of as ‘knowledge of God’, not just talk about God.
What kind of knowledge would it be, to have knowledge of God? Surely, as you suggest, it has to have the nature of a life – story. That is, a story of life, and thus also a story of my life.
But of course it cannot only be talk about me. That would be at least as boring. But if it was the story of my encounter with that word you describe from the scripture, the God who meets us through the text, —but not just as a relic of the past; it is the text which in some wonderful way live, it become a living encounter, a living word—that would be a LIFE story.

Incidentally, James McClendon tried to follow this line, with his book ‘Biography as theology: how life stories are changing today’s theology’.
I don’t know that he really pulled it off, but it has shown the way.
My favourite course, which I am in fact thinking of doing again next year, is ‘Theology as biography’.
It would be great to hear what others have to say about this.

But one last thought. You and I have both read those big names and big books. We can pass over them now. Do you think others can do without them, or their counterparts today, completely?

George Shollenberger 16 years ago

Open your eyes to the truth about theology by buying ‘The First Scientific Proof of God. It is a shame that theology began to degenerate in the 14th century separated from science. This book shows that Science and Theology are naturally unified while simultaneously other people (see Science and Theology News)are still trying to learn how to unified them.

The field of theology is highly confused when going beyond their scriptures. But, mostsciences are also confused.

Steven White 16 years ago

Yes and yes. By the way I need to take the time you do in your blog. You write so well.

John 16 years ago

Hi Im from Kyneton.
Please check out these related essays etc re Real God and the relation between science and conventional (reductionist) exoteric religion.
http://www.realgod.org

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Steven, thanks for your comments!

John, interesting links. Not really where I am coming from, but thanks for sharing.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

George, thanks for your comments. I have found my way back to your blog and am reading it with some interest. It is always worth examining and re-examining the divorce of theology and science through history.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Frank thans for your comments and as I would expect, you have really cut to the core of the issue. I will follow this up with a further blogpost very soon.

John 16 years ago

Fernando, Hi its John again.

The fundamental reason that theology is so boring is because it is not about Real God.
It is all done by egos which by self definition and self action (in every moment) are fundamentally godless. It is an inevitable extension of the doubt mind that is characteristic of every ego–including the “religious” ego. See for instance the essay I referred to in my original posting.

[link removed, no longer available]

Meanwhile my original post introduced you to the most extraordinary Divine Revelation ever given in any time and place.

A Revelation given in a time and place when all the Sacred Scriptures of the entire Great Tradition of Humankind are freely available on the internet.
And given in a time and place when the archaic traditions are quite literally bringing on WW3 through their absurd only one “truth” claims.
How does one make sense of them all. The truth is that the conventional mind in and of itself cannot do so because it is quite literally trapped in the net/web of its own culturally produced provincial delsusions.
These 2 essays provide clues re the necessary exercise in de-provincialising our minds

[link removed, no longer available]

A Revelation that has been accompanied by a 34 year long “consideration” of quite literally every aspect of human possibility and endeavour. All conducted in the non-mythological reality langage of the times.
A Teaching Revelation that has produced over 80 published books which covers everything from how to consciously prepare yourself to become a parent and serve the Spiritual growth of your child from the moment of conception onwards. See

[link removed, no longer available]

Right through to how to consciously participate in the death & dying process. See.

[link removed, no longer available]

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

I think the problem with theology is largely the process and the way that shapes the message, not the content.

DavidD 16 years ago

“Some theologians want to speak from outside context, from a timeless perspective.”

I think this is exactly right. I much prefer a functional perspective, not being timeless myself. Except for the fact that no one will play me if I do this, my favorite definition of God would be that God is the one who answers when I pray, “God help me!” Forget the metaphysics. Let’s talk about real experience. I’m not sure why people don’t want to do that. I know it’s messy, but I find much better evidence that God loves me that way than through philosophy.

Actually God says to me He likes that definition, so I can play with Him, but it’s hard to do that all the time. So in the spirit of being open to real things, I’m going to see if John above is talking about the same God I am. I wonder what the odds are. God gave me His odds. He’ll probably be right again. He usually is, though interestingly not always.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

David, thanks for your comments!

Jan McKenzie 16 years ago

I began reading theology in 1975 and I take what your saying. Neither of us will be the last to bemoan this awful truth: it is safer to talk about God than to talk with him. And few things are safer than blogging about theology 🙂

However, I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that Luther didn’t speak to his times or that our personal boredom with academic theology should be laid at his door. While not a Lutheran, for me, he is the epitome of what it means to be a theologian of the cross, the apostle Paul excepted.

If I’m not mistaken, I think this is what you had in mind:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, hat your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
~I Corinthians 2.1-5

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Jan, thanks for your comments. I’m not sure how safe blogging about theology is. Surely the safest thing is not blog about theology, or not do any theology at all. The moment we make the content of our faith and thought public in any media we open ourselves up to be misunderstood, criticised, or worse.

I’m not sure I get your allusion to Luther, but I do agree fully that all meaningful Christian thought, in whatever medium, takes us back to Christ and the to the Cross.

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