The article is essentially a 4,000 word theological reflection on faith….which criticizes theological reflection.
Sadly, this sort of ironic (or hypocritical) denunciation has become increasingly trendy in the church over the years. Honestly, I get it. Even though I love theology, we in the church love splitting theological hairs so that we can then hold those dogmas over people’s heads as the keys to the kingdom when they are anything but.
As frustrated as I get by that, however, I get just as frustrated by the pseudo-intellectual attitude of people who pretend to be “above” or “beyond” theology, even as they practice theological reflection.
The truth is there is no “escaping” theology.
Even in denouncing systematic theology (which is usually what “theology” is serving as a code word for), we are still making theological claims. Why? Because all talk about God and faith is theology. And everyone who talks about God or faith, whether in positive or negative terms, is a theologian.
Sure, theology can be obscured by nuanced jargon and complicated systems, but the concept of theology itself is rather simple and the practice of being a theologian, unavoidable because as the world stands today (and has stood throughout human history) we are all forced to encounter and engage basic questions about the existence of God and, subsequently how that existence (or non-existence) does or does not affect our lives.
So, it’s not helpful to speak condescendingly about theology as if it is some sort impediment to true faith.
Sure, as Schaeffer says in his article, love is at the heart of the Christian faith, but it’s non-sensical to claim that “[Love] isn’t a theological concept to which you must assent. It’s as practical and measurable as doing dishes for 10 hours after the annual food festival fund raising event.” Aside from the fact that Schaeffer is offering a theological concept for his readers to agree to, it is exactly because love is a theological concept that we agree to that in turn pushes us (or should push us) to put that ascent into practice.
Obviously, Schaeffer is making the point that faith can’t just be intellectual assent, and to that I completely agree, but there is no practice of that faith without reflecting on how that faith should be lived out.
Which is, in turn, why it’s not only disingenious, but also dangerous, to imply that Jesus hated theology or that Jesus himself wasn’t a theologian.
Certainly, “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself” is the sum of the Christian faith, but Jesus didn’t stop there. He spent the rest of his ministry fleshing out what that means because living it out isn’t as simple as it might seem. In other words, Jesus’ ministry was 3 years of practical, theological reflection.
Now we may not recognize it as theology, but that’s because “theology” has become a code word for complicated and nuanced systematic theology. Jesus wasn’t a systematic theologian (at least not in the modern sense). He was a narrative theologian.
I like that. A lot.
Because systematic theology, though I love it dearly, has the propensity (at least in the wrong hands) for offering precise explanations for things that are ultimately unknowable. Narrative theology, on the other hand, allows us to say just enough. This is exactly what we see in Jesus’ use of parables. They are beautiful theologically rich stories that say everything that needs to be said, without saying too much, and in the process they leave enough space for the interpreter to adapt the meaning to his or her particular context.
It’s important to note that there is rigorous theological work that goes on to get to the point of this beautiful simplicity. Which means at the end of the day, Jesus was a theologian.
And so are we.
If the faith is something we are going to take seriously then we have theological work to do. We can say that Jesus is the Son of God, that he came to die for our sins, that one day he will return, and that in the meantime we should spend our time loving and serving our neighbors, but what exactly do those statements mean and how do we live them out?
Any response we give to that question is an act of theology.
In truth, the sort of unreflected faith that Schaeffer and so many in the church seem to put on a high pedestal as “truer” or “purer” faith is really no different than the fundamentalism they despise. It’s a call not to question, but to simply do. When the blind lead the blind it only ever results in disaster
Simply put, there is no practice of the Christian faith, at least no healthy practice, without honest theological reflection. We need it as a guiding force and as a guard against, not just bad thinking, but especially against bad practice. Which means theology is an indispensable tool in the life of every Christian.
Even those who pretend to despise theology, practice theology.
We all do it.
We can’t escape it.
We have to have it.
So, can we please stop with the nonsensical cries for an end to theology?
They’re not helpful and in the end, these histrionics are dangerously absurd.
Grace and peace,