“…the question is, ‘Are you a good one?'”
This was the first statement Dr Paul Spilsbury made to my Theology I class in the Fall of 1998. The class, logically enough, centred around the Apostles’ Creed, a simple statement of the Christian story in use for many hundreds of years.
Dr Spilsbury’s statement has stayed with me ever since, because it highlights three things.
First, theology is not primarily an academic discipline done from the ivory tower, but a normal activity of speaking, writing, thinking, and living. The song “Counting Blue Cars” from 1999 or so expresses the basic conviction well: “Tell me all your thoughts on God.”
Second, no one can avoid dealing with questions related to the existence of God in this culture (or in any other, I’d imagine!” Even my atheist friends do theology very simply: “God (of whatever description) does not exist.” This statement, just like any that a theist would make, has profound implications for, among other questions, how we know things about reality (epistemology) and how to live well in it (ethics).
Third, the question of being a “good” theologian is a question of faithfulness, of living and speak well what we believe to be true. All Christians, in particular, have a call, whether or not they are academics, to “love the Lord [our] God…with all [the] heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Loving God with the mind involves being reflective about how we worship God and how this worship can become our whole lives. Thus, all Christians are theologians–and all Christians can be good theologians.
For myself, though I am well on the way, I am not quite a professional or academic theologian. I do believe that theology as an academic discipline can help Christian communities hear what the world is saying, and to articulate a faithful response to the challenges of contemporary life. I am as yet a lay person with a Master of Divinity Degree, and I will share more of my own story as the entries on this blog progress.
I hope to write about a huge range of things. You might find me reflecting on the Apostles’ Creed, commenting on the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, doing book or song reviews as a kind of theological reflection, writing poetry, or posting on issues about which many people have questions, like healing ministry, human sexualities, or Gospel-social justice.
One of the most helpful images for me in my journey as a theologian is the biblical story of the patriarch Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. Jacob and the Angel wrestle all night, and the Angel wants to leave because the sun is coming up. Jacob’s response is, “I will not let you go until you bless me!” The Angel (cheating!) reaches down and apparently dislocates Jacob’s hip, but says, “Your name is now Israel, because you have struggled with God and prevailed.” O, the mind-boggling dignity conferred on the people of God by a statement like that!
Theology, the journey of knowing and speaking into the reality of God, is not first about having answers, but about the struggle, the argument, the limping away changed from an encounter we can’t quite understand that nevertheless brings life to us. This conversation is the task of theology, and it is my hope that, regardless of whether you are an academic or not, you will feel empowered and even inspired to be the theologian you are already. Perhaps, together and with God’s help, we may also become ‘good’–faithful and pot-stirring–theologians.