Thinking Theologically

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It’s fitting at the start of a new year to start a new blog, don’t you think? I hope to offer here, for others’ amusement, reflection, and (hopefully) encouragement insights, noticings, and, of course, my favorite: questions about faith, issues and the world.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means to “think theologically”, or to be a “theologically minded person.” A classic book that looks at the fundamentals of thinking theologically is How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke (1996)–a short book about the basics of “doing” theology.

Theology is about God (thus the literal meaning, talking about God). But I believe it is also about our relationship with God, our relationship with other people (God’s children), and our relationship with the entire mystery of God’s creation. Most people believe that theology is more about discovering truths or answers. I’m starting to believe that theology is less about answers, and more about the kinds of questions we ask about God, ourselves, and our relationship to God. In the Christian context (my context), theology focuses on questions surrounding God’s unique revelation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. What does that mean, for instance, that Jesus is God’s unique revelation? What does it mean in the Gospels when Jesus is quoted as saying, “Follow me!”? Is there an historical context to his invitation? Do we understand that question in the same way his first century hearers understood it? A question raised by many non- or former-Christians (or Christians who feel burned by the institutional Christian Church), is this: What did the writers intend when they quoted Jesus saying, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6)? That phrase has caused more suffering and pain, not to mention heated arguments! Many Christians have claimed that phrase to mean that Christianity is the only true religion. Was that the intent? I wonder.

Healthy inquisitiveness is a healthy and necessary part of theology. Again, I believe it is more about the questions we ask than about the answers we discover. In fact, my experience has led me to discover many answers that have resulted in an exponential number of questions! For some, this can be frustrating. But, it is part of the journey to discovering the truth in God.

Oddly enough, thinking theologically is not hard. Anyone (which includes most everyone at one time or another) has thought theologically–that is, most people have thought about God at one time or another. One does not have to have a graduate degree in order to think or share ideas about God. Even atheists think theologically, even if it is about the absence or non-existence of God, it’s still about God.

So, we might surmise from the idea that everyone has thought theologically at one time or another in their lives, that anyone who has any interest in religion generally or in a particular religion specifically, is, by definition, a theologian (pat yourself on the back for joining the ranks of some of the greatest minds in history!). We can then further surmise, as Stone and Duke do in the very first sentence of their book, that all Christians are theologians, because all Christians have thought about what it is they are worshiping, how they are doing it, and why they are doing it (maybe not all the time, but at one time or another, thoughts creep in). This is the basis of theology–talking and asking questions about God: who God is, what God is, and why God might or might not be important.

Many discover quickly that the challenge of theology is not just thinking theologically, but acting and living theologically (aware of and ever discerning God in daily life so our actions grow inline with God’s hopes and desires for us). Our challenge is to think, speak, and act theologically.

A good place to start is to simply write down answers to some simple questions:

1. What do I believe about God? Who or what is God? What does God do?
2. What do I believe about God’s relationship to creation? How does Jesus fit into the story? How do other God-fearing people fit into the story (like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, or even Jim Wallis, for a contemporary figure)?
3. How does what I believe shape my life? Are my actions and daily decisions reflect these beliefs?

Ok, maybe not so simple questions. But a good place to start, none-the-less. You might even want to read other statements of faith and see how your beliefs are in line with or are challenged by them (see the Presbyterian Church (USA)‘s Book of Confessions).

Shalom!

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