Why bother with theology?


Something I hear regularly from pragmatic church planters, and something I thought myself for quite some time. If the christian faith is about living lives around shared convictions, and values, why draw back and focus with reflection on those beliefs? Surely the best way to deal with the questions about those convictions is as the arise in everyday life, and pastoral care? This can sounds reasonable, but can lead to an anti intellectualism, the kind of practice that sees theology as dangerous and something to be avoided, and a non-thinking spirituality.

Unfortunately much theological study and method, is devoid from connection to real life, and is unhelpful. So what kind of understanding of theology, as method and practice, leads to value reflection, a thinking aspect to our spirituality, that has integration into our everyday life and faith?

I'll use the outline from James Wm McClednon Jr., in 'Ethics', page 34-39, for this.

1. Contextual:Christian theology is about real people in community, wrestling with how to incarnate the Gospel in a particular place and time, and theology is the very means by which we reflect on how to do that in those contexts. Theology is not about finding pure thought and truths, that get closer and closer to some 'true theology' known only by God that fits every context regardless of that context.

Given how our world is changing so rapidly, the change in our emerging context, is reason for us to look at how our beliefs might have been embedded in a context that no longer exists and to find ways to express the gospel in our new contexts. And this theological enterprise is thoroughly pragmatic and missional. What does the Gospel mean and how do I explain/communicate it in this new context?

2. Narrative:The bible as something to read, study and base my beliefs on whilst engaging in my experience of God in the world, were something that went together well until the enlightenment, and suddenly they became polarising. If I focused on the bible taking it apart to find the 'truths of it' I did so as the cost of spiritual experience, or if I focused on spiritual experience I gave up something of the bible for my authority.

Today we're exploring a narrative approach to the bible, that allows for experience and the bible to be related to each other. The story of the bible, of God, of the mission of God with his people, is a story we discover and find ourselves in. To know the bible is to be part of an ongoing story, located in the bible story.

3. Rational: Theology is rational, in other words it is connected to and informed by other disciplines, i.e social science, humanities, philosophy etc. To do theology is ask, what philosophy do I have, what understanding of what it means to be a person and community do I have. We can easily assume that our theology is pure, and these other subjects are separate from theology, but we know theology is contextual, so theology has to be informed by other disciplines.

4. Self-Involving:Theology is a subject that people can study separate from living in christian community, but this is a contradiction of the nature of theology itself. My story and experience, have to be a part of the theology I study, and reflect on. My way of life confirms my real theology.

So in summary, theology is something that arises out my community experience of trying to bring others into God's story and mission, it is informed by my experience and the story of scripture, it allows me to see and find God in other disciplines, and involves the drive for application into my way of life. Theology is about a way of life.