The Fog of Doing Theology

This is not intended to be anti-theology or anti-intellectual, I thoroughly believe in the daily need for doing theology; indeed, every single breathing person does theology of some sort everyday, it is just a matter of which god they are patristicjesusstudying (usually it is some expression or projection of the self). And instead of taking what I communicate in this post in a universal absolute sense, instead, you ought to take it in the particular and relative sense from which it is written; i.e. from my own experience and perspective.

I often suffer from what I would like to call the fog of doing Christian theology (as a riff on “the fog of war”). It is so easy to lose perspective, when reading reading, writing writing. And what I experience in this fog is a sense of almost nihilism. I start asking the question ‘so what?’, which itself, ironically, is what doing theology is intending to engage with; theology is intending to take the data of Scripture, the implicates of the Theo-logic of God’s life revealed in Jesus Christ, and to provide the kind of concrete (even ethical) answers that all of the aforementioned might prescribe. But even in this business, if it does not make contact with real life breathing sentient people; then I often get this empty feeling about it all — even if it is laudable stuff (which often it is). I mean I can read and think about God’s love in Christ all day and all night long, but unless that impacts my life in a transformative way, in a way that overflows towards those around me; then it really means nothing. I mean I can read, write and think about how love is act, how God is Triune love shaped by His other focused inner life; but again, if this does not translate out into and through my life in real life concrete ways where I care for other people with this love that I am purportedly participating in by grace and through the re-creative and fellowshipping work of the Holy Spirit, then as Paul says in I Corinthians 13 it all means nothing. Indeed, this is the feeling I often get. And I don’t think that this feeling arises from me; I think this feeling (or sense, or whatever you want to call it) comes from the Holy Spirit, that it comes from God himself. I know some people might think that this is just because of malformed piety in me, but I don’t think so; I think people who might think that need to get some piety in their lives, and quit worrying about whether or not they might be a mini-Schleiermacher or something.

So to me, this fog of theology really can only be cut through when in fact said theology is the kind that impacts real people’s lives. And when I say “real people” I am not referring to academics (they aren’t real people in the way I am using this language). Real people are people who are living their every day lives —whether that be blue collar, white collar, and even academic— who are struggling to live a life that honors God, and a life that is growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. So to get passed this fog, it is not enough to be a pastor, or a theologian, or a  missionary; instead it is simply a matter of living a life in a moment by moment manner that is sensitive to and dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s leading. And of course, all of this presupposes the importance and inevitability of doing theology, it is just noticing, personally, that unless it is applied and lived out it only creates a thick fog. Lord have mercy!

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4 comments

  1. That’s the great thing about you, Bobby, you’re the whole package, in my opinion. You’re right about what Paul said regarding having all knowledge – without love, it is nothing. Even though I don’t fully understand all that you write (still don’t know what “dispy” is – ha ha), your kindness and compassion for others always shines through. And knowing what you’ve gone through with cancer, just gives an even deeper level of credibility to what you say. Blessings, Eric

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  2. Thanks for this personal reflection. I get the same effect. It’s why I can’t read systematics (I wanted to throw Calvin’s Institutes out a window, and was only a 1/3 through it). We all do theology, but it has got to be real, as Jesus was not some phantom thought but a flesh and blood human.

    Cal

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  3. Hi Cal.

    I wouldn’t really consider Calvin’s Institute “systematic theology” proper, but confessional theology. But I do understand what you are getting at.

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