There is good theology and bad theology, whether or not someone is a Christian or not, whether someone is a naturalist, nihilist, a self-proclaimed non-religious person, etc. we all operate with and through theological blinkers and pre-understandings in our lives. Swiss theologian Karl Barth says it like this:
Theology is one among those human undertakings traditionally described as “sciences.” Not only the natural sciences are “sciences.” Humanistic sciences also seek to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence. The word “theology” seems to signify a special science, a very special science, whose task is to apprehend, understand, and speak of “God.”
But many things can be meant by the word “God.” For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies. There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world view that is not dedicated to some such divinity. Every world view, even that disclosed in the Swiss and American national anthems, presupposes a divinity interpreted in one way or another and worshiped to some degree, whether wholeheartedly or superficially. There is no philosophy that is not to some extent also theology. Not only does this fact apply to philosophers who desire to affirm — or who, at least, are ready to admit— that divinity, in a positive sense, is the essence of truth and power of some kind of highest principle; but the same truth is valid even for thinkers denying such a divinity, for such a denial would in practice merely consist in transferring an identical dignity and function to another object. Such an alternative object might be “nature,” creativity, or an unconscious and amorphous will to life. It might also be “reason,” progress, or even a redeeming nothingness into which man would be destined to disappear. Even such apparently “godless” theologies are theologies. – Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 3-4.
So whether we claim to be non-religious, or not, we operate under a metaphysical umbrella that indicates and recognizes that every belief system has characteristics that traditionally makes its posture of a religious nature (i.e. we just worship different gods, and we operate with different liturgies, even if we do so unconsciously).
With this as the case, let me narrow down to a certain point, a point that will shape the rest of this article. As Christians we can operate with bad theological assumptions, and those bad theological assumptions do not remain in the abstract; in fact they end up guiding the way that we live our lives on a daily basis. We end up making choices that might be deadly or life-giving based upon the theology that undergirds our lives. It is true that none of us can lay claim to a pure theology (that will only happen when we have been made concretely pure), but we can attempt to interrogate our theological assumptions by a certain rule.
The Patristic (the fathered) early church had a rule that they followed when attempting to interpret Scripture with ‘purity’ or ‘rightly’ (Ortho-doxy), they followed the auricular Apostolic Tradition that had been handed down alongside of Scripture which Irenaeus (an early Church theologian) called the regula fidei or the ‘rule of faith.’ It was this rule that these early theologians used against heresy or destructive teaching that had penetrated the walls of the early church. The heresy was of a kind that sought to undercut who God was (as Triune, as we know him now), and it was of a kind that attempted to destroy who Jesus was (as both God and hu[man]ity). It is this kind of rule, appropriated constructively by me (and others), that can guide us towards having a good theology versus a bad theology. It is this rule that will allow us to think from a center in God, as we participate and think from the center of God for us in Jesus Christ in and through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
The conclusion is that all people are religious, all people are governed by religious ideas, and these religious ideas get expressed and are given concrete reality and birth in our daily lives as we act upon them (these religious ideas). In particular, Christians self-consciously operate with and from religious ideas, but the question I have been probing is: Are these so called religious ideas good ideas or bad ideas?
I then attempted to hint at a way to get at good ideas, or good theology about God. I suggested that the best way to have good theology, and thus have good Christian practice in our daily lives, is to think from a center in God’s life as the rule for how we operate and conceive of God in ‘right’ ways. And then I underscored that if we think from this particular ‘rule,’ from God Self-revealed in the Son, Jesus Christ, that our chances at having fruitful lives and making right life choices will be manifold.
Let me urge you, as I urge myself, to press into Christ by the Holy Spirit; the consequences will be dramatic one way or the other. And let me urge you to not pretend like theology does not have consequences, it does, we can see them happening all over the world (including our personal world’s) right now.
The rule is the Jesus who walked on this earth, died on this earth, rose again on this earth, ascended from this earth, and is returning to this earth very soon. ‘Seek him first, his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you.’ – Matthew 6:33