We see but the reflection of a riddle. 1 Cor:13

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yeah, But What Does It Mean?

"It is indeed unfortunate that the question of the truth of talk about God should be handled as a question apart by a special faculty, and, while we have to recognise that such a course is unavoidable in practice, we cannot find any final reasons to justify it. Only theological arrogance could argue the point on other than practical grounds. Within the sphere of the Church philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, or pedagogics, whether individually or in conjunction, might well take up the task of measuring the Church's talk about God by its being as the Church, thus making a special theology superfluous. Theology does not in fact possess special keys to special doors. Nor does it control a basis of knowledge which might not find actualisation in other sciences. Nor does it know an object of enquiry necessarily concealed from other sciences. Only by failing to recognise the actualisation of revelation, the possibility of grace and therefore its own nature, could it possibly make any such claim." KB CD Vol.I1

I have been thinking about the purpose of theology. Not the meaning of the word, but the purpose of theology in the life of the faithful and indeed the life of the world. How is it we speak so much and so often about God and God's work and yet seem further from truth now than ever? How is it we spend so much time and thought deciphering the ramblings of professional theologians, and still fail to grow in even insignificant ways towards knowledge of God?

Now I can hear some of you already, rushing to respond with claims about the unknowability of God and the limitations of our creaturely wisdom and so on. And I want to affirm these things as truisms. However, I can't help but feel impatient - deeply and profoundly impatient - as my whole being longs to wholly know God.

If it were true that God is simply some kind of supernatural being off there somewhere in heaven, necessarily aloof from all creation, then i could perhaps be satisfied to be graced with only a portion of vision/wisdom/understanding of God. But God is not simply this (or indeed, this at all). God is immanent as well as transcendent; incarnate and particular as well as universal; profoundly present as well as wholly other. So why can't we access God?

Of course Jesus is the revealer and "to know Jesus is to know God," but even Jesus, the particular, seems so obscured and elusive. So much of our time in the church is spent either squabbling over our definitions or interpretations of Jesus, or else, allowing the multiple images to be simultaneously spoken creating a diffuse, amorphous image of Jesus as helpful and connected to us as a Google search.

The phrase, "to know Jesus is to know God," is only meaningful if Jesus is someone we can know. As disciples have discovered since the early church, to follow Jesus is to know Jesus. I wonder then, whether our theology has any meaning at all, so long as it is not empowering/inspiring us to follow on the Way.

If, as Barth suggests, theology is by its nature the 'actualisation of revelation' and wholly dependent on grace, perhaps the purpose of theology is to articulate (actualise in word and action) the revelation of God in Jesus and indeed, the saving grace in which we find life. That is to say, theology as discipleship but never theology without discipleship. Theology then serves as a dialectic between the faithful following of the disciple and the complex and often chaotic, seemingly Godless world.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed. Theology, like faith itself, is ultimately a gift of God made possible through Christ. It is confession and doxology, reflection and action, prayer and peacemaking. What Barth calls 'special theology' is really a form of ecclesial gnosticism by which we say 'we have a deeper revelation of the truth' or 'access to a deeper revelation' than others may. This, really, is the antithesis of the promise and purpose of theology where theology is the 'actualisation of revelation', the vital and active reality of calling and discipleship. When one of my parishioners says to me 'I need to be more forgiving of others', that is theology as profound as any we might know or have read.



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