Here’s my bold claim of the day: theology is about God.
I’ll give you a minute to gather yourself. How about them Red Wings?
Ok, let me see if I can make the claim a little bolder. Theology is not just ideas about God, or a set of topics related to God, but our confessions of how God is actually engaged with creation. Not just in the past. But right now. Not just in relation to certain philosophical propositions, but in relation to the actual conditions of the world and actual lives like yours and mine. That is, if you believe in a living God.
And because you are a part of this creation, and because you confess belief in a living God, you are necessarily a theologian.
Theology, defined this way, is a complex affair. It is not always obvious how God is related to the world in which we live. In fact, its often those who feel most confident in their pronouncements who make the worst theologians. God’s relationship with the world is something other than causation. In other words, God’s primary way of relating to the world is not through control, but through love. And love moves in mysterious ways, ways that aren’t always immediately apparent. Love does not control.
It’s simply bad theological method to assume that because something happens, God must be the cause of it. Because a tsunami hit the Philippines, God must be punishing them for something. Because my church is growing, God must be blessing us. Reality is nearly always more complex than simple causation, and even more so when you’re talking about God.
This is especially true from a Christian perspective. One of the things we believe is that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the clearest demonstration of God’s way of being with us. This simply doesn’t conform to what we think is strong or wise or the way of things for deity. But it is from a Christian perspective. God’s way is hidden to us in many respects in this upside down way of engaging the world.
So, let me say some of what I think this means. First, not all data points directly to God. Creation is other than God. Creation is not simply a puppet or a chess board with God making all the moves. Stuff happens. God is not always directly implicated.
Second, it matters how you view the world, the posture you take in life, the attitude you have toward what you see. Take, for example, what Paul says in 2 Cor. We are the aroma of Christ. For some that smells like death, but for others it smells like life. Same data, different conclusions. This means, and this is huge, that God’s engagement with the world has to be discerned within a particular way of life. Theology in this way is not simply a settled set of ideas about a topic, but a practice of pursuing God within a particular way of life.
To the extent that you are a person pursuing God within a particular way of life, you are a theologian. Be a good one. Be a responsible one. Be a helpful one.