Theology to live by
I knew a man in Christ, born in the early 1950s who initially saw theology in a selfish light. It was a body of truth that he wanted to know. He was intellectually curious about his faith and read to satisfy that curiosity. He soon encountered difference and so theology became a way of showing that he was right and others wrong. Even with the thought that knowledge is power.
Missionary work in Africa (and reading Kraft) saved him for usefulness. In his service there, he saw that theology was not a monolithic rock, or a golden brick that he had to bring and give to his African brethren so much as the unchanging Word speaking into the changing and varied world. And behold, theology became mission. An understanding grew within him that there are (as he had been) those who confuse their local, historical, personal and usually biased theology with the Word of God and so anathematise others un-necessarily. So theology for him began to be a process that brings Christians together around the Gospel instead of dividing them.
Theology for him also became more and more connected with the Christian life. He read Tozer and saw that what we believe about God determines so much of our faith and worship. He stood back amazed at Gutierrez’s critique of his un-committed northern theology and saw it anew as that which has to be driven by practical discipleship. And not just the religious bits. Kung pointed him back to Athanasius, that God’s design for our human-ness is fulfilled in the Christian, so theology undergirds every human part of our lives as well as our faith. And Wallace taught him that it has a right to speak into his society, speaking God’s desires for his world, whether we are heard or not.
And as he travelled this road, he taught it. Slowly but increasingly, he taught theology to his students as the basis for their lives. He tried to make theology speak into their use of laughter, their appreciation of beauty, their friendships and loves – things they really cared about. Forgive him lord, he even constructed a theology of good coffee! When speaking of sin, he helped students see that it can be in institutions as well as in hearts and they need to do what they can about this. He showed them that Christ’s humanity means they can dance and feast, that the Trinity, properly understood is the basis for their prayer life, that the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper despite the raging disputes, can centre their faith and life, that the catholicity of the Church means they can read Bonaventure as well as Hudson Taylor for devotional profit. That the cross means they must engage in mission.
He rested in the great conclusion that we need to do theology with an evangelical faithfulness to the Word, with an academic depth of which we do not need to be ashamed. And also as the great task which orders and enriches the lives of those to whom we speak it.
And now and then, he invites other theological educators to the same journey.