May 17, 2009

Thinking About Theology

Here's what I'm thinking about, and from many different angles:

In Brad H. Young's book Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Marvin Wilson writes in the forward (p xviii),

"What emerges, however, is not "Jesus the Jewish Theologian" in any Western, systematic sense. Rather, in Jesus, Dr. Young presents an Eastern, or Semitic, theologian, one who employs a living, vibrant theology distinguished by such features as action, metaphor, mystery, quest for holiness in life, and the experience of the presence and power of God (not mere thinking about God) in the life of the individual."

I read those words and thought of my own struggles and insights along my journey as a theologian, specifically what it means to do theology, and more specifically what it means to be a theologian. In ministry, particularly through Thirst -- a discipling community in the postmodern vibe -- I find myself wrapped in a world of action, reasoned in metaphor, cloaked in mystery, and experiencing God's presence in the midst of the quest for passionate and authentic life devoted to following Jesus through my many stumblings and falls. And that is when my theologizing is most vibrant.

I've been frustrated in trying to translate that mode of theologizing into my world of academic theology, and it just doesn't seem to fit. The academy has trained me to think systemically, which equips me for the kind of theology I do through Thirst. But once a particular theological system is all thought through, the limits of any system, when attempting to articulate one's faith in the living God, are the pink elephant in the classroom. A theological system, despite appearances, can never be whole. There remains a necessity within each system for metaphor and mystery. And while theological systems are judged rationally by how well they maintain internal consistency and articulate the faith reasonably to an external audience, still these measures prove untrustworthy apart from a theological system's role in making people aware of God's presence and moving them to action in pursuing a life of holiness.

I think that, for which ever theologian a person admires -- Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Barth, Bathasar, Moltmann, et. al. -- the appeal to that particular theology is precisely its ability to make that person more aware of God's presence and move that person to act accordingly. This is where I see the two modes of theology intersecting. The irony is that, for most people of Western culture, such a measure is subjective, and therefore unreliable, making it taboo in academic critique. And yet, if we can see a difference in one's behavior for pursuing a life of compassion and mercy upon ingesting a particular theology, then can we not also give credit where credit is due by valuing the fruits of the Spirit born through theological discourse?

Otherwise the intersection of the two theological modes ceases to be an intersection at all, and becomes instead a concrete median separating two lanes of theological traffic along the journey of faith, such that they move ever toward each other without ever meeting. This is what I've experienced in my efforts to reconcile the two modes of doing theology. That is, on the one hand the academy has equipped me with a way of thinking that proves invaluable in my own life of discipleship and ministry, but too often my fellow disciples devalue or even distrust it. And on the other, my journey of living the faith and discipling people to follow Jesus has equipped me with a unique way of thinking that, more than any other influece, shapes my theological discourse within the academy, but too often my theoretical conversation partners seem to devalue or even distrust it, as well.

I'm trying, at least for myself, to break apart that concrete center median that runs between the two modes of doing theology. The risk is that by doing so, chaos will incur, resulting in both massive pile ups from head-on collisions and also never ending games of theological chicken. But, I find the reward in trying to remove the divide is that not only do the two modes merge effortlessly, but they also venture off the highway of densely trafficked subject matter and onto the less traveled scenic routes of challenging theological terrain through vistas seen only from the perspective of experiencing God in action.

Feb 6, 2009

Meet Eric Duwe

I'd like for you to meet my great friend, Duwe (pronounced like "do-ee"). He is near the top of the short list of my faith-heroes. And that's saying alot to have someone younger than me to look up to for my own journey.

Duwe is from around these parts in southeast Wisconsin. But for the past 18 months or so since he graduated from college, he's been living in Thailand as a missionary. One of my highlights in life that I look forward to is catching up with Duwe and hearing all about his experiences.

But you don't have to wait until he comes home to hear about his adventures in person. You can follow along on his blog: Duwe delivers regular updates about what he's learning in his immersion within several facinating cultures, as well as reflections of his own process of growing in faith.

Dive in.


Do it.