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Blog // Thoughts
August 23, 2006

What Do I Mean By Theology And Why Do I Bother To Blog About It

I’ve just been considering a comment from Jan McKenzie in response to my review of A Heretic’s Guide To Eternity. In part Jan said, “I‚Äôve been looking at your blog for about an hour. I don‚Äôt mean to be rude, but I don‚Äôt understand how what your doing here is that much different than what […]

I’ve just been considering a comment from Jan McKenzie in response to my review of A Heretic’s Guide To Eternity. In part Jan said,

“I‚Äôve been looking at your blog for about an hour. I don‚Äôt mean to be rude, but I don‚Äôt understand how what your doing here is that much different than what your criticizing. I‚Äôm not saying the discussion has no place, but how is it different than say a site that is devoted to something other than ecclesiology or culture? Several of your posts take the church or its theologians to task for doing what your doing here, except they are doing it in some other ‚Äúology‚Äù, textual criticism, or Biblical studies.”

Part of the benefit of comments on a blog is that they give people the opportunity to record their disagreement with what you write. This is an important thing for a throughtful blogger or writer, because you need to hear when people are making valid criticisms of your work or not understanding your emphasis.

This blog is approaching its two year anniversary in the current format. Lately, I’ve been re-reading a lot of posts and I’m pretty unhappy about how disjointed, ad hoc and reactionary a lot of the posts are. I guess that’s the nature of blogging. Truth be told, the blogs that most read like books tend to bore me (I’m still happy to read books for that). The blogs I have on my must-read list are often fluid and fragmentary.

Also, when I re-read this blog I see a struggle in my own journey that may not be obvious to some readers, or comforting to others. I started this blog at a real low-point in my spiritual journey. I was recovering from several months of rest after a very severe food-born illness, I was struggling with expat life in a harsh city, I’d had to take the painful step of putting my PhD on hold, along with that I had let go of a chance to publish a book, and for the first time in my life I had really needed the local church to come through with the promise of community and support and that was not forthcoming. I could revise those struggles of the story, make the posts sunnier and less critical, but I won’t. That’s the nature of the blogged faith. Those negatives shaped my faith, presented a great many challenges and lead me to drop a lot of beliefs and ideas. They made me more patient on some fronts and less patient on others. To not aknowledge that at times over the past two years that process made me cynical, negative and harsh is to be less than truthful, to be inauthentic.

That said, I think I have focussed too much now on problems and not enough on solutions; too much on criticism and not enough on constructive proposals. Moreover, for someone who blogs as often as I do about theology, I’m pretty poor at explaining what I mean. So here are some brief definitions –

Theology – what results when we place doctrine in dialogue with the problems of faithful life and mission in our contemporary (globalised) world.

Doctrine – what results from engagement with Biblical study, reading of Church historical writings and the experience of worshipping God.

Academic Theology – the sociological study of the practices, habits, and discourses of what is variously called “theological studies” in academic settings with special reference to systemtatic and philosophical theology.

My definitions intentionally problematise Systematics; a project about which I am deeply suspicious and skeptical. When I’m negative about theology, or particularly academic theology, it is nearly always about Systematics. The definitions also tend to “sociologise” theology; for me changing actions shapes faith far more readily than changing beliefs. Moreover, I see a lot of the current debates about church and mission as debates about the disjunctions between what we claim to believe and how we act.

I have a friend who on several occasions has asked;” …why don’t you just call yourself a practical theologian?” Well, I don’t like the term, because it feels like an oxymoron to me. Moreover, it cedes too much to the systematicians and dogmaticists. Non-practical theology is sub-Christian theology.

What my definitions do not do is devalue Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology or Hermeneutics, on the contrary, I want to raise them above Systematics in their importance. In fact, one sense in which I find this blog very dissapointing, is that it does not have anywhere near enough content on these topics, it does not reflect my own work in these areas. I’m thankful for Jan’s comments because they highlight for me the need to move to write a few more constructive blogposts on this; maybe make public some old papers and essays.

All this comes back to why I bother to blog in the first place. In my response to Jan I wrote the following words,

“Part of what inspired this blog in its current form is a significant pile of papers and notes precisely on the problem of how academic theology has abstracted from God’s mission in the world, from understanding the cultural realities within which that mission unravels and how that theology is often deaf to the practical challenges Christians face in being agents of that mission. Many of those papers spoke of the disjunction between what I was dealing with in Academia and what I was facing at the coalface of church leadership, creative ministry and outreach. The two should have connected more meaningfully, but they didn’t. The explanatory stories for how they could just seemed like wishlists. That was my drive in restarting this blog, sorting through that material and coming up with something more useful for myself and for others in a similar situation. I don’t claim to be good at what I do – I probably fail more often than I suceed, but that is what I am trying to write about. That’s what motivates me.”

[tags] Theology, Theological Method [/tags]

Jan McKenzie 18 years ago

I think this is a very fair and balanced reply. I’m encouraged by how much I share your concerns, even surprised by how well you give a voice to my own misgivings, meanderings, and frustrations with academic theology.

I am also an ex-pat, an American, born as a Yankee, yet living in the South most of my adult life. I’ve have been in the UK for the past six years, England then Wales. My wife is English. There are few Americans in Wales and everyday my accented, coloured from my years in Kentucky and Tennessee, mark my as the foreigner. Not a single day goes by without me being asked where I am from. For some odd reason, I’m often marked “Canadian”. Add all of this to a history of divorce, drug addiction, and poverty. Then consider I have abandon myself to a theology of the cross, in which I embrace Luther’s doctrine of revelation, the doctirne of a God who hides himself in suffering so that he might reveal himself in glory to a proud human being who resists the very thought of humility.

Then there is my local church. I pastor a congregation, about 60 members, that come from Africa, the Carribean, Philipines, Eastern Europe, Wales, and England. I am the only American. I belong to a denomination, Seventh-day Adventist, with a world-wide membershisp of fourteen-miilion, eighty percent of which is non-white.

I have also recently given up, for now, my Ph.d proposal.

The title of Bonhoeffer’s poem, “Who am I”? comes to mind.

You would think after all of this, along with my obvious pomo sociology, I would openly embrace the Emerging church, yet I am equally frustrated with what I see as their mere exchange of one type of formalism for another.

I could write much more about these things, more particularly, the solution I find offered in the gospel, however, that is what I try to do on my blog. Perhaps it is the best reflection of how I find reconciliation with God, others, my world, and my self. To say it in theologize: I am intentionally returning to a Christocentric meta-narrative contexualized within an eschatological framework, rooted in what I call a hermeneutic of testimony. To say it otherwise: I want to see Jesus and tell others about him.

Thanks again for such a thoughtful reply.

Rod 18 years ago

I appreciate this discourse. This is a model for how Christians can begin at a point of seeming disagreement and realize that through Christ, we have much more in common than we previously thought. May God continue to bless both of you.

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