Jesus is not a tradition. This is important to understand for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that realizing this can help us in the way we end up doing theology; it can help the way we engage with and read Holy Scripture. This is an important thing to understand about my own approach to theological work; I’m in this ‘game’ for one reason: that is, to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and the Triune God He brings me into participation with. This is why I’m only ultimately interested in doing the sort of constructive theology that sees Jesus as the centrum of all theological endeavor. The rest of this post will be another autobiographical one wherein I explain a bit further what motivates me to do theology at all; I will also take a look at Scripture as an application and case study of how focusing on a relational God in Christ shapes my approach to Scripture differently than other approaches might offer its respective practitioners.
I’ve shared my life story more than once through my blogging, so I won’t redress that now. But I wanted to at least note that as someone who came to a lively relationship with Jesus Christ as just a wee child (when I was 3), that having a personal and intimate relationship with the voice that awakened me (literally from sleep at about 2am) so many years ago is still my aim today. The voice that spoke to my heart, and the relational God I encountered that early morning so long ago has never changed. So, I think, that the way I do theology ought to be framed most actively by this reality; by the reality that God is a relational God who awakens young children from their sleep to call them to Himself. I’ve had many other experiences since then where this voice has shown up very acutely; whether that be through years of heavy doubts, anxiety/depression, or whether that be during the time that I was diagnosed with an incurable and statistically terminal cancer. The voice, the encounter has always been the same reassuring voice of the Living God who I met when a young boy.
The point of sharing the above is that I find it very strange to attempt to do so called ‘school theology,’ or academic theology. When the LORD got a hold of me in a serious and heavy way, through years of doubt and anxiety, it was during this season that Bible reading became my mainstay (I’m about to finish my 40th read through, probably tonight). Bible reading has only reinforced that the voice I encountered in my bed when a child is the same voice that I encounter when I read Holy Scripture. As such, I become heavily suspicious of theologies that don’t start from the fact that Deus dixit, that God has spoken and continues to speak. Some people, when thinking about the history of theological development would probably place the sort of theology I am most prone towards into the category of ‘existential theology’; maybe of the sort that we get with Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth (and maybe most sinisterly with Rudolf Bultmann —although I reject most of Bultmann), Thomas Torrance, and maybe even Martin Luther. But I’m not so sure about that in particular ways. Whatever category I’m placed into, I know that the focus will always be Christ concentrated (in intensive ways), and the fact that God is a relational God by His very nature; that He speaks to His sheep in a way that His sheep are able to hear His voice and recognize it.
This is all very loaded commentary on my theological development and trajectory. I won’t have time to fully unpack it all, but my blog should help to attest to the way this sort of theologizing has taken shape in written form. But I did start out with the assertion that Jesus is not a tradition, and I want to unpack what I mean by that. In school theology, of its various assortments, it is quite popular to engage in analytical or scholastic locus theo-logic chopping wherein the theologizing itself does not come with the sort of relational character that I have been describing thus far. Instead, the God referred to under these conditions bares almost no resemblance to the personal God I’ve come to know through years of encounter with Him; be that through reading Scripture, Prayer, or Fellowshipping with the Saints. This is why I am off-put by so much of the classical theistic theologizing that is so dominant in and among the conservative Reformed types of Christians (at whatever level). In my view, if the God being referred to while ‘doing theology’ can’t just as easily be prayed to and worshipped in an intimate and relational way while doing the theology, then this God doesn’t have much correlation with the God I’ve come to know in the smiling face of Jesus Christ.
Some might push pack: ‘well that’s all fine and good, Bobby, there is a place for what you’re referring to (like in your devotional and quiet times), but it isn’t what school theology is about.’ ‘Us academic or analytical theologians are interested in working out the technical implications of the great classical theistic theologies of the Church in order to fortify our understanding of the God we are praying to and worshipping.’ They might want to press that ‘there is a place for both.’ But that disjunction makes absolutely no sense to me. If we are doing Christian theology then we are doing lively theology of the sort that is intimate and in dialogical (prayerful) relationship with the viva vox Dei (the living voice of God); there is no meaningful sense wherein academic theology can be done in one moment, and then relational theology in another moment. Either the living God is in our faces in real activity, personal parousia (presence) or He isn’t. And if He is it is with this God that the Christian theologian has to do. We have to do with a God first and foremost who speaks and confronts us, rather than one who sits there, statically like a philosophical monad, and allows us to pick Him apart.
Ultimately, I do not think theology is worth much time unless it is interacting with the lively and revealed voice of God in Jesus Christ. In my view theologies that attempt to elide this aren’t really engaged in theology at all, instead they are engaged in philosophical reflection wherein the ‘theologian’s’ fertile imagination is allowed to supply the chains of reasoning wherein God is ostensibly known. If we must posit God’s voice, and what it entails categorically, prior to moment by moment encounter with Him, then for my money we aren’t doing Christian theology. And so, when I say Jesus isn’t a tradition, I mean to say that Jesus isn’t a ‘principle’ who makes our theological ratiocinations work; instead He is a person who encounters and confronts and negates us moment by moment afresh and anew. If we think this about the theological reality this will impact the way we approach Scripture. We won’t ground it in the idea that the Church or the churches Tradition[s] have any sort of regulative value for how we understand what Scripture is or what it is actively saying. Instead we will understand that Holy Scripture is Holy precisely because it is the place where God actively speaks to us, in a living way, through His Son. It will dispossess Scripture from being enslaved to our ecclesial traditions, and instead understand it as the possession of the living God who instrumentally uses it to speak His unfading voice to us, His sheep.
I think it is important to understand that what I am saying here doesn’t mean that the theologizing of the ancient church doesn’t mean anything. Instead, I am describing a particular way to be as a Christian disciple or theologian. I am describing a posture or way to appropriate and engage with theologies that might even engage in the sort of theologizing that I ultimately cannot follow. I am suggesting that there is a disposition that is the most fitting for the theologian, one that is grounded in lively and loving relationship with God in Jesus Christ. But I am saying because of this disposition certain forms of theologizing become antithetical to knowing God who is Triune Love. But even in the stammerings of those theologies there are things communicated that can still have informative value for the lover of Christ; even if the philosophical husk of those theologies aren’t ultimately life-giving or corollary with the posture I am noting in my post.
More must and should be said, but this will suffice for now.