Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts on Theology

Everyone is a theologian. - Stanley Grenz

I remember sitting in the Alcove with my buddy Jon. We were talking shop and suddenly turned to theology. And somehow, while enjoy a Young's Double Chocolate Stout, the conversation came to a point where I pulled from the recesses of seminary education this nugget from Grenz. If memory does not forsake me, Chris Spinks had us start my first seminary course with that quote. As a recovering Baptist, I had some initial reactions against the statement, but was easily converted.

So, let's start with the basic breakdown of theology, and why you are a theologian, and so is that nursing mom that makes you uncomfortable at a restaurant, and the university kid that decides it is congruent to both love Jesus and smoke pot.

Theology - from the Greek. Two words: logos & theos. Logos - words. Theos - God. Words about God. Smooth that translation, modernize it a little bit and what we have is our "thoughts about God." See. You are a theologian, whether you have those little letters by your name that say so or not.

What most of us do on the day-to-day is what I like to call living theology. What is most obvious are ideas and thoughts like going to church, abstaining from sin, repentance, quiet times, etc. What is less obvious are decisions like inviting people to dinner, health care, purchasing power, etc. In other words those hundreds of little decisions we make on the daily that impact our lives, but we think of as just tasks, or...life. But those decisions are based on theological suppositions and reveal our ideas and beliefs about God and the Church.

For some reason, as I thought about writing this particular post I was reminded of a family back home. They have a few children and when the first boy arrived they decided not to have him circumcised. Now, what is seemingly a health decision, one that is also so common place where I grew up, that it takes on theological implications. A lot of Christians (like most Jew and Muslims) circumcise their kids. It's just part and parcel to the whole Judeo-Christian-Muslim thing apparently. Because generalized monotheistic tendencies (particularly Christianity) influenced society, a lot of dudes have had their foreskins removed.

This particular family took time to examine why they were going to have their son go through this particular procedure. They are, like myself, on the Charismatic side of the Church, understand covenant theology and the symbolism and identification of being marked with circumcision. Ultimately, they decided to break rank with a lot of society and I would say that marks a change in their theology. They decided that their faith was not demonstrated in circumcision, but rather a lack of circumcision. I do not know the full process of their thoughts, but understand the outcome of their theology.

Another story I am reminded of is that of a high school friend. This particular friend and I never had any "God talks." I think if we had, I would have tried to beat some Jesus into him, because at that time that was how I did evangelism. I just tried to beat people into submission. That reflected my theology at the time. But more importantly it also indicates something we religious people don't think about...atheists are doing theology. They have thoughts on God. Now that thought is "there is no God," but even in that, they are engaging in some of the same internal struggles and dialogues as we are.

As for me, when I think of theology, I still think about men and women such as N.T. Wright, Miroslav Volf and Marianne Meye Thompson. What I mean is, I still go back to the theology of the institution. There is something at work in me that assumes that something about what I picked up at Fuller is better than what I picked up outside of Fuller. To be fair, when you go to a "theological seminary," theology is probably on your mind. But, a recent post by Tony Jones is what started me thinking in terms of theology now.

Without going into the whole argument of racism, I want to pull a quote from the blog: "In my remarks, I spoke honestly about my view of Pentecostal theology, and how I do not think that it’s the best theology out there." That is what is relevant from the Jones article in relationship to this post. I spoke about deferring to institutional theology earlier. What Jones is saying (and I agree with) is there is not just good and bad theology, or even more concrete, correct and incorrect theology. There is instead this gamut of theology that runs from beautiful and amazing to, I guess, harmful and destructive.

And so, I have to thank Jones for reminding me of thoughts from across a lot of the Church -- Pentecostal/Charismatic theology is not highly regarded. These are not Jones' words. This is my interpretation of a multitude of experiences, across a wide variety of occasions. And the reason for writing a vague post on theology is this. Sometime soon, I plan to look at Charismatic theology. Now, it is assumed that Charismatics and Pentecostals share theology, but I don't presume as much. Much of my experience in the Charismatic Church was much more controlled than that of many Pentecostals, and in all honesty the brief time I spent in the Pentecostal Church was not very comfortable.
(I have no idea why this picture came up in a
search for "Pentecostal, but it humored me.)

So, sports fans, I just want to start a conversation about the validity, and to some of you snarkier individuals, existence of a Charismatic theology. Will I get into every aspect of theology? No. Am I an authoritative spokesman for Charismatics everywhere? Far from it. What I however hope to provide is a basic understanding of praxis inside parts of the Charismatic movement that I have been involved in. I want to explore why it is we have come to believe what we believe. Because that understanding can then be judged in its proper context and evaluated alongside Catholic theology, Baptist theology, etc.

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