Theology is God-Speak


Theology is Boring!

“Theology is dull and of little value” – PART 1

Theology is God-Speak There has to be a better way to “do theology.” That was the ending comment on my last post. And I think there is. When we think “theology,” we are thinking 14th c. when classical theology was formulated. Let’s go back to the beginning; the beginning of the word “theology,” before the 14th c. Perhaps classical theology got it all wrong? The word “theology” is derived from two primitive Indo-European (PIE) root words: dhes- and leg-. The first is a forming word of religious concept, and gives us “god.” The second, leg- means “to collect, to gather (together).” Derivatively*, “to speak.” “Theology” then, is literally: ‘god-speak” (or “god speaking”). Classical theology has made theology into man-speaking about God. Now, admittedly when we do theology we can’t get away from our speaking about God, and yes, we do draw those theological suppositions that we make from scripture, which we postulate, contains God speaking to us. Suppose though, we don’t begin with those scriptural suppositions. What would happen if we began elsewhere? Suppose we began with the idea that God-Speak is to be found everywhere? That the God-experience is to be found in the mundane, as well as the profound. That God-Speak is found in the ordinary as well as the holy, and in the profane. If we accept that as a valid premise, would it not perhaps make theology less dull and of more value to the person who says, “I don’t do theology”? What I am suggesting is, if we want to make Christianity relevant to both Christians and those who have turned their back on Christianity, we need to begin brewing theology where they are, not where the theologians are. Simply put, we need to begin postulating God-Speak” from what’s all around us, from what we see, and hear, and feel— before we head off to scripture.

Mural painted on wall around the Holly Street Power Plant, Austin Texas, March, 2011

“Theology is dull and of little value” – PART 2

Finding God-Speak in the Ordinary

In the last “Theology Brewing Letter” I said that I would suggest some ideas about where we can find “God-Speak” in the ordinary. In this “Theology Brewing Letter,” I do so.   William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience in the qualities of theology that is not dull and boring: “Religious rapture, moral enthusiasm, ontological wonder, cosmic emotion.” We can’t make theology less dull and boring for most people by calling attention to certain theologies or spiritual expressions as a means to do this. When we do, we are only preaching to the choir. To make theology less dull and boring we need to reach beyond the academic, beyond the traditional, to find our theologies where people live, be it art, photography, literature, music, work, gardening, science—just to name a few. This week I have been reading Donald Heinz’ excellent book, After Trump: Achieving a New Social Gospel. Heinz is not writing from the perspective of discovering God-Speak in the ordinary; however, I do think that in the “Introduction,” he provides some ideas to consider. After Trump appeals to us to achieve a new social gospel in three ways. I think the same three ways set the criteria for our exploration of God-Speak in the ordinary. The three ways are:
  1. Recalling God
  2. Reliving Christianity
  3. Returning to and recontesting the public square.
From our perspective of finding God-Speak in the ordinary we might ask ourselves: In what ways does this help us to recall God? In what ways does this help us relive Christianity? In what ways does this address our faith in the public square?   Let’s just look at one example of God-Speak in the ordinary and see how it fits Donald Heinz’ criterial: DePeche Mode’s “Where’s the Revolution? (Martin Gore) speaks to all three. The words can help us recall that Jesus didn’t come to coddle culture, he came as a revolutionary. His message was one of change. His message was a repeat of the revolutionary proclamation of the prophets. The words can remind us that Jesus pronounced his radical message, not only in religious houses, but also in the public square, in front of the politicians and religious of his day. The words could become a catalyst to a revived – relived – Christianity, a faith that has recovered, as the Apostle John writes, our “first love.” It only takes a simple question, “Where’s God in ‘Where’s the Revolution’?” The answers begin the brewing. Would not approaching theology in from this direction be less dull and boring? I think so. But there is a caveat, we who ask the question must not reject the answers as “unscriptural.” We can’t be dogmatic, nor can we immediately equate an answer to a specific traditional theology and leave it there. We must simply let the discussion be that which ferments the brew of one’s individual theology. Nature, or even a garden plot, is another ordinary thing ripe with theological insights. The early Celts found their own hopes, despairs and turmoil mimicked in the nature world. In tending to their livestock and gardens, securing the wild things needed to survive they became beware of the struggle to survive in a fickle world. For the Christian Celts, the God of scriptures was found in all of this—the struggle and in nature herself. Their song and prayers are full of such insights.

Of particular interest to me is Quantum Theory and what it contributes to understanding of our role in the well-being of community and nature’s holiness. If we dig into the far corners of Quantum Theory, we find such ideas as the “Multiverse” and “Biocentrism”— All ripe for theological plumbing. The same is true for Sci-Fi and fantasy. There is lots of God-Speak, for example, in Ray Bradbury, “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “Harry Potter,” Charlotte’s Web, The Lord of the Rings trilogy,to name but a few. And let’s not forget the God-Speak that can be found in a good novel or mystery.

A minister acquaintance of mine mentioned that his teenage daughter had no interest in theology until a school teacher pointed out that such scientific facts as the sun evolving around the earth, or that the earth is round, once were theological heresies. It made her question many of our common-held theologies and helped her, he told me, arrive at her own speculative theology. Theology has become a study disconnected from the ordinary, from where we live out the daily. In doing so, theology has negated its responsibility to push at the boundaries of what it means to be Christlike in a fragmented world. And as long as it remains such, theology will remain dull and boring. COMMENTS FROM READERS: Tony Boonstra February 4, 2021 at 1:34 pm Edit Thanks. I look at sacred scripture as an account of the people of faith, people who have given to us their story of “who God was for them and what God expected of them. I like the idea that this is not the only way God speaks to us so I always look to use “universal” language and/or none religious language so as to be inclusive of the experiences of people from different faiths and people who do not embrace any religion. Much of Christian “religion” uses language that is only understood by the initiated. So I like your “brewing.” Frank February 4, 2021 at 2:02 pm Edit Thank you for your comment, Tony. Like you, I see God-Speak everywhere. In an email comment the responder talked about seeing God with out legs, that is, as we walk about, rather than only in the scriptures. I like that. It goes along with a Celtic Christian idea that active pilgrimage is a moving prayer, mostly listening to and seeing God. Another commented that he liked the idea of seeing God everywhere, even “the stank of my toes.” This goes with another comment, posted by a young lady (although on a different post), that we need to have talking about a “theology of the body.” f.

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