Is theology still only for the privileged few, noble, literate, hard working, attentive, and precise individuals, worthy enough to belong? Must theology be relegated to the academic world? I know that on a certain level the answer is, of course, no. So why is most theology dedicated to what I’ll call certain prime “real estate” that involves only those who can follow the conversation? There are all varieties of theologies as there are all branches of science. The form of theology I tend to dedicate myself to is dogmatics, which again is varied but is defined by one person as:
“the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God.” (Karl Barth, CD I/I:3)
Now that kind of talk assumes a lot. It assumes the Christian Church has a single voice. It assumes that we can find and hear that voice and speak as part of it. As a Christian, and part of the Christian Church across time and space, I speak, and shudder that so much of what many Churches and theologians speak is confined to such narrow concerns. I must be honest and say that much time, ink, web space, and verbage is concerned with matters completely irrespective of what God is doing.
Let me run down a few examples:
—Proving the Existence of God
—Defining God in terms of human activity
—The need for millions of new Bibles each year (because the old ones can’t be understood or read)
—Offering new simpler answers to questions no one ever thought to ask, or (truthfully) didn’t really care to look up. (In other words, we must force the public to be educated because they will just never look for answers without your help. How is that not snobbery?)
In my experience, most people still roll their eyes at the word theology. Many theologians know that academic and abstract discussion of God as though He were a mathematic principle is minimalist and they’re scrambling to adjust. Most theologians I know are very down to earth people. Their work just tends to place them out of the reach of most people by about fifty years. Why is that? The Bible is not a terribly abstract book. The people who wrote it would no doubt be very uncomfortable in a modern or postmodern academic discussion of their work.
The Bible is of course a difficult book. Biblical theology should never be an attempt to rework the Bible into a twenty-first century document. I fear that’s a lot of what’s going on. Rather than appreciating the Bible for itself, we try to rework it for what we need, and ignore the rest. I’d love to see a survey of preaching and Biblical study practices that delves into just how much of the Bible actually gets appreciated and used in its’ own context! I’d bet maybe a third of it. I think the American church has succeeded in developing its own canon of the Scriptures by muting or reworking huge swaths of it into “preachable” material. That is, sermons on Salvation, Sanctification, and Missions.
Here are three suggestions:
—put the Bible back into it’s “community” context. The gospel is for the people not the person without a people.
—emphasize the Bible’s preference for the broken: poor, oppressed, children, aged, persecuted, sick
—Keep God’s plan, God’s intention as the focus of theology: the redemptive impulse of the Bible is God’s creative, sustaining, and renewing work across time. God is bringing about a New Heavens and Earth. We are part of that work. He chooses to engage and use us. The sacraments of the Church are but “blades of grass that poke up through the sidewalk” revealing another, truer World that God is bringing about.