Thursday, September 3, 2009

Theology Thursday~ Why Theology? Part IIIA: Theology Should Be Both Knowledgeable and Charitable

In order to be able to bless the world, our understanding of God (our theology) has to be on the mark, so to speak. We rightly take our theology very seriously, for as theologian Karl Barth articulated:

"If we get God wrong, we get everything wrong."
Good theology has to be accurate, but it has to be charitable, relevant, meaningful, and attractive as well. That is what it means to be “the aroma of Christ”- our understanding of the Triune God should be such that it is irresistibly compelling. We need to be able to speak the language of those around us, and we need to have eyes that see the world through their eyes. We need to know that they scrutinize our behavior and are well aware of when we are little more than “pew potatoes,” sitting around and ruminating about our theologies and doctrines. We need to be able to move ourselves from our sanctuaries into the world and theologize with our actions. Christian theology is most compelling when it acts out its understanding of God in palpable ways that actually flesh out our oftentimes ambiguous and otherworldly conceptualizations.

It has been said that, too often: “Theology among conservative Evangelicals tends to be about right and wrong propositions.” And also that: “The overriding challenge for the church, for those who wish to identify themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, is to speak coherently and compellingly to those on the outside. We are not interested, therefore, in promoting further theological in-fighting and polemic. The approach must be respectful and constructive and must be focused primarily on issues relevant to the general goals of the project -in this case, the task of communicating the truth of the gospel in a postmodern environment." partii/

The problem seems to lie in communicating in a coherent manner with a voice that is compelling, rather than repellent; in a manner that is constructive, rather than destructive. This is no easy feat.

We are called to be studious with regard to our faith and practices which reflect upon our righteousness (2 Timothy 2:15; KJV; Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.) Education appears to be the key tool in this area. The Bible tells us that the key to equipping ourselves to do the work that God has for us is to shore ourselves up with The Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ;NIV; All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.)

Understanding what we believe as Christians about God is paramount. But is being a Bible scholar a pre-requisite to being able to engage the world? Do we have to know everything and have an answer for everything? Perhaps not, but we do know that we are expected to be able to give an answer for the reason why we have hope (I Peter 3:15) and most importantly, we are called to do this with gentleness and respect. And so it becomes quite apparent that while theology is a key tool to be used in the transmission of the gospel, there are other tools that must be used in conjunction with this “knowledge of God” for the missio Dei to be received effectively.

Theology is only one of those tools. Having a thorough knowledge of scripture, church history and a broad understanding of theology, (including having an understanding of other theologies) are helpful and essential tools that assist us in practicing the art and craft of ministry. But several very important other tools are also essential, in fact a “thorough knowledge of scripture” cannot be gained without these tools. They are silence, contemplation, receptivity, serenity, and clarity. These are the utilities that authenticate theology. Charity, hospitality, and presence are also tools that cannot be done without. These are the tools that invigorate theology.

I am reminded of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis. One of the primary themes of the work is stated this way in chapter one: “Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.” He further makes clear, however, that studying the life of Christ has as much to do with patterning one’s whole life after Christ, as it has to do with understanding fully his words. “Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just,” á Kempis posits, “but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God.” He follows this with an example:

“I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.”
Excerpts such as:
“If I knew all things in the world and had not charity,
what would it profit me before God who will judge me by my deeds?
Shun too great a desire for knowledge,
for in it there is much fretting and delusion.
Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise.
Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. Many words do not satisfy the soul;
but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.”

One can see the influence this passage had on John Wesley, who said:

“Beware you be not swallowed up in books!
An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.”
more to follow...

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