"Sine Qua Non - That without which you have got nothing!"
Sine Qua Non as defined by Dr. Gordon Fee in a YWAM lecture
Ah! When is comes to theology - some people will say something like, "just give me the simple New Testament Gospel without anyone's interpretation". A worthy goal; but an impossibility. To articulate such a thing is an interpretative statement which is espousing a Biblical Theology, born out of one’s tradition, as interpreted by the speaker. This response, to even the mention of the word theology, often springs to mind in many people when they confuse liberal theological ideas with the wholesome and important art form of mainstream theology - which has been called the Queen of the sciences.
As soon as we start thinking about God and related questions, we are (all) engaging in theology. We do this without even realizing it. When you consider a tragedy, such a mass killing or a random death caused by some accident, you naturally ask, "how can this happen; where is God in this?" This is the issue of Theodicy, or how we explain the great problem of evil. We all ask these kinds of questions – it is part of being human, and there are many struggles to surmount as well as issues to ponder.
So the question I have is, not whether we need theology, but rather, whether what we have is a good theology. Now a good theology, as I believe firmly it is possible to construct, entails using good sources and recognizing our own perspective or views (and bias), which necessarily impacts the way we are approaching our theology. This, of course, is a value statement in itself; to say that there is a good theology or several good theologies, we are presupposing there are bad ones - and I also believe there most definitely are. Maybe a topic for another post?
However, even if we have a good theology, our fictional questioner might follow up with, "isn't this just another theory or system unrelated to the world and the day to day issues, like dirty laundry, car problems, and dragging devotions?" Well, actually, as soon as one goes from thinking to acting on our beliefs, which is also impossible to avoid, we are doing theology; applying that theology whenever we pray, serve or contemplate an issue of (great) meaning. Furthermore, what we believe directly relates to what we do. The so-called, "lex credendi, lex orandi - The way that you believe related to the way that you pray", and vice versa. Or, more fully, “Legem credendi statuit lex orandi.” From the Latin, translated literally it means “the rule of prayer determines the rule of faith.” In other words, “the way we pray, shows what we believe – and vice versa.” [http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/31-35/32-2-08.htm]
I appreciate this quote from David Ford, a senior Theologian at Cambridge, outlining a model for doing theology:
“The wisdom tradition represents the self-critical side of the Hebrew scriptures. It’s thus a very good model for what theology should be doing: paying close attention to tradition while thinking through the difficult and dark questions. Wisdom demands an integration of rigorous thought with imagination and also practical concerns -- how things actually work out in the living of life. Part of its fruitfulness for me has been that it acts as a check on theology’s being too doctrine-centered, and not taking account of the imaginative and the practical.” [http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2703]
Furthermore, I recall hearing a Bishop (I forget the name) posit that “every theology brings with it a psychology”. You will observe that our starting point or presuppositions, especially our experience, and concomitant personal disposition, have an irrevocable influence on the system of theology we follow and embrace. The most shocking examples of this correlation are the Cool-aid calamity of the Peoples Temple and Jim Jones, and the Whacko at Waco; the deluded messiah, David Koresh, who led more innocent people to a fiery end.
Once, my wife and I took a list of several verses from the Bible and gave them to several different clusters of people in a home group, and asked them to forget other verses, and to construct a theology and spiritual style of living from the verse they were given. The results were striking and instructive as to how this thinking and applying comes so easily to us. For example, the "Armour of God" crowd were militant and overly concerned with fighting the devil in the approach they developed; the “Study to Show Yourself Approved” gang were very precise and keen on teaching all the time to anyone at any stage or age, while the "Sheep of the Good Shepherd" were a restful and cozy bunch. You can imagine what they all came up with. This is a good argument that we need something of a systematic approach to studying the Bible and theology in general, so that we got a fuller picture, and avoid proof-texting our favourite bits!
It is almost hilarious when right-thinking adults will object to Christian ideas, or any others, by saying, “well, you might think such-and-such, but here is what I believe” though they may have no tangible evidence or apparent reasoning for the view being proffered in response, or if there is, it’s usually some half-baked version of the latest crazy philosophy being re-hashed in the media, as though anyone should trust them to serve up the best in scholarship or version of truth. Wild theories might get you published or lionized on the TV, but that is no proof of quality. I believe that the so-called, Jesus Seminar, were an example of the worst in this kind of enterprise - this is an example of theology which upsets people unduly and gives theologians a bad name. Don’t get me started on the “lost” books of the bible circus – suddenly the Gnostics are cool again - groan!
So what is your theology? How to you find answers to the ultimate questions about God. Do you ever stop to think why you believe the way you do? What separates a good theology from merely my opinions?