Last week I started thinking about where theology should start. The topic has come to the fore as I finish up my first term in the Master of Theology program at Talbot.
On to part two:
If theology does indeed begin with God—with Theos—then the starting point of a theology provides a crucial area for critique. This is so even when the theological conclusions are coherent and biblical. Thus, while we continue to critique other theologies (a much needed task) we Evangelicals must be all the more diligent to critique our own theology. For example, while we the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, our actual practice often has more to do with business administration and Robert’s Rules of Order. I think we must ask, what would Christian life together look like if we started with God and his intended ends, and then traced the trajectory from where we are to where God is leading us? I daresay much might change: programs, money, missions, staff, structure, etc.
One’s starting place, then, determines one trajectory. This is the case for two current theologies: Feminist Liberation Theology (and here) and Postmodern Theology. Feminist Liberation Theology begins with the suffering women have suffered under patriarchalism. All of theology is understood—and reinterpreted—through that lens. The trajectory then becomes getting women from where they are to full freedom from patriarchalism. Anything not coordinate with that trajectory is cast aside or recast.
Postmodern Theology begins with an emphasis on the finitude and fallenness of humanity. All of theology is understood—and reinterpreted—through that lens. This trajectory traces the path from epistemological arrogance to epistemological humility and from prideful universal conceptual schemes to humble contextual conceptual schemes. Again, anything not coordinate with that trajectory is cast aside or recast.
Now, let us be clear. The problem is in the location of the starting place not in the content per se. Women have suffered—and too many still suffer—under patriarchalism. This situation MUST be addressed by theology. But that does not make women’s suffering an adequate starting place for theology. Only Theos—God—is adequate. The same can also be said of the postmodern focus on finitude and fallenness. Humans are finite and fallen, but that truth is not an adequate starting place for theology. In both examples theology goes awry because the focus is on humanity.
This is not to say that God-focused theology can go on without critique. In fact, these two theologies offer important critiques. The critique from Feminist Liberation Theology tells us that we have spent insufficient effort tracing the trajectory from where we are to who God is and what he desires: a humanity living together with God as the only Lord. The critique from Postmodern Theology tells us that we have often mistakenly acted and believed as if we had God’s own knowledge of himself. We do not. Let us listen and critique.
Next week I’ll likely ponder something Mark brought up on his blog: the need to sit under the teaching of the Holy Spirit rather than acting as if the Bible were a self-help manual for self-study.