An annual festive gathering of spiritual renewal has me out in the woods right now. Blissfully distant from email, comment threads, text messages. Yes, it’s heaven.
The theme for this year is health. We will be talking about mental, spiritual, physical, and, yes, theological health.
It’s that last piece that I’m going to take a stab at.
Over the past seven years or so I have done a lot of thinking about theological health. I haven’t quite used those terms, but the way that I put it in Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?:
…theology that produces bad behavior loses its claim to be giving faithful stage direction to the Christian drama.
How, then, do we do theology in such a way as to build in, from the get-go, that it not only says the right things but that it helps mold us more into the image of Christ?
I have a suggestion.
Often, when we start to think about the task of doing theology, we say that our goal is to speak truthfully about God. What if this virtually guarantees that our theology will be unhealthy?
The problem with defining our theology as seeking to speak the truth, is that speaking the truth and thinking the truth has been established as our goal. And once we have our theology goal set before us, it comes to define not just the goal of this activity, but of our Christian life. If good theology is about speaking and thinking rightly about God, so too is the Christianity that is supposed to flow from it.
This sets us off on a path in which any actions we perform in guarding, establishing, defending, and preserving the truth as we understand it are valid expressions of Christian devotion to God.
Next thing you know, we are burning heretics in the name of Jesus. And those bearing the sign of the crucified have become the crucifiers.
What if healthy theology demands a completely different starting point? What if it demands that we start with the goal of the Christian life itself? We are going to reflect thoughtfully and critically about God and our faith for the purpose of loving God and loving our neighbor.
And, as Christians, we will say that loving God and loving neighbor find their texture and consummate expression in the story of Christ–his coming, his life, his death and resurrection, his gift of the Spirit.
What do you think?
- Will starting with a different goal in fact produce a different result?
- Have you seen it happen in real life? In your own life?
- Is doing theology with the goal of love truly doing theology? Or does the goal of speaking truthfully need to remain paramount if theology is to be done in earnest?
I’d love for there to be some good conversation about that here. I’ll catch up on it when I’m out of the woods.