theology is for everyone

theology is for everyone

When you hear the word T H E O L O G Y …what comes to mind?

Expensive, ivy-covered universities? Grandfatherly men in tweed? Or is it more along the lines of a dusty handbook of denominational guidelines? Maybe it’s something that your pastor should be concerned about, but all of us (the normal ones with feet on the ground and grocery list in hand) have more pressing things to think about.

In his book “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit,” the late Clark Pinnock describes the unique dichotomy of experience and reflection that occurs as we learn about God,

“In theology, mind and heart– study and prayer– are both important. With the mind we analyze data, while in the heart we wait for illumination on it…In writing and reading, let us combine analysis and contemplation. Let us imitate Mary, mother of our Lord, who treasured what she heard and pondered it in her heart (Lk. 2:19, 51)…Let theologians observe times of silence in God’s presence as the elders and the angels do in heaven, pondering everything they hear (Rev. 8:1.)” [1]

It is my conviction that theology is for everyone. When we hear the word theology, we likely think about old guys in high academic settings, sitting around musing about the mysteries of God while smoking a pipe. And while that may be the experience of a select few, the rest of us are thinking about God while we put in another load of laundry. We are wondering about a particular aspect of who God is while we wait for our kids to finish up baseball practice. We are pondering what a certain scripture says about our own selves while we sit in traffic. We are asking our spouses about their experience with God while taking an after-dinner walk. We are listening to a podcast in the carpool line and jotting down references to books we’ve never heard of, ya know– the ones written by those old guys.

For the rest of us, we are actually doing theology in the everyday moments of our lives without realizing it. When we think about God, when we reflect on what we’ve read in the Bible, when we talk to a friend about the way that God is breaking into our normal, go-to-work and love-our-families reality, then we are doing theology.

Pinnock highlights the two-part way that we “do theology” by showing how we need both our heart and our mind. Our heart is the part of us that receives and responds to the love of the Holy Spirit. Our heart might give a little jump when we witness a breathtaking sunset or catch our children being unexpectedly gentle with one another. Our heart is moved by a phrase in a song that seems to be telling the very story of how God saved us. Our heart, while still carrying the wounds of being born into a world wrecked by sin, audaciously desires a wholeness and perfection that has only been whispered about. Our heart experiences God.

Our mind, on the other hand, takes what we have already experienced and tries to understand it. Our mind loves to analyze, categorize, and give value to what we’ve already lived. Our mind will soak in the words of the Gospels –the first-hand account of men walking with God incarnate in Jesus– and then ponder what it would have been like to feel the dust under our feet, to take a drink of the sweet wine at Canaan. Our mind has great capacity for connecting to the eternal story and yet, our mind is dwarfed by the eternal God. Our mind loves control; our mind loves to have it all figured out.

Because we are complex beings, this dual approach to theology acts less like an equation and more like a dance. When the heart is responding to the powerful drawing of the Spirit, the mind must give way to the transcendent moment. When the mind is blazing from a fresh revelation of living Word, the heart must trust the new and revealed compass of truth (especially when it contradicts our old way of thinking.) We are both heart and mind and God’s great desire is to transform all of who we are into the likeness of his son, Christ our Lord. The back-and-forth pattern of a dance emerges– a crescendo of transformation comes by encounter with the one, true living God. And then, as one theologian put it, “The task of theology is to reflect on these experiences.” [2]

I say this to you today: theology is for you. If you are thinking about God, if you are reflecting on how God has invaded your own life, then theology is for you. If you are hungry to dig deeper into the treasure of the scriptures and are longing for just a few, quiet moments alone with God, then theology is for you. It is not restricted to the walls of seminary, it is not contained within a narrow doctrine. Theology is not knowing all there is to know about God (ha! and thankfully so…) It is not having a particular set of letters behind your name. Theology is thinking and talking rightly about God. Do you do those things? Then you are an everyday theologian.

Welcome to the dance!

 

1. Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996.)
2. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.)

 

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