Posted by: Dan | December 29, 2006

Six Propositions on What Makes Good (Christian) Theology

I was cruising some theology blogs last week and I stumbled upon an entry written by Shane Wilkins, entitled “Six Propositions on What Makes Good Theology” (this post was written on Dec 3rd, and can be found here: http://shanewilkins.blogspot.com/2006_12_01_archive.html). Now, it seems to me that Shane's entry aptly describes the elements that should be present so that a theological paper can attain a good grade… but I got to wondering if these six things were really the key elements of a good (Christian) theology. After some reflection upon these things, I have decided to post an alternate list. Without further ado:

1. Good theology is a transformative, embodied proclamation.

Contra Shane, I would like to argue that the goal of the theologian is not to persuade me that his or her theological theory is true. The goal of the theologian is to proclaim God. This proclamation is not simply (nor even primarily) a propositional proclamation; rather, it is one that is embodied in our day to day activities, priorities, choices, and relationships. Good theology is a lifestyle.

Furthermore, and in part because this is an embodied proclamation, this is also a transformative proclamation. To proclaim God is to be transformed into the image of God and to see the Spirit of God's cruciform power bursting into the world. Thus, this proclamation transforms (a) the people making the proclamation, (b) the people to whom the proclamation is made, and (c) the place in which the proclamation is made. This means that good theology will be missional. It also means that good theology will be doxological — it will be an act of worship and of faithfulness to the God who is hidden within the proclamation.

Finally, because good theology is a transformative, embodied lifestyle, it must always be seen as incomplete, as pressing ever onwards towards its goal, as moving into ever deeper intimacy with one's God and one's neighbour. Until the day when God is “all in all,” good theology will remain unfinished.

2. Good theology is a communal activity.

Despite the Academy's (and Modernity's) love of rugged individual experts, good theology is never something done by a solitary individual. Good theology occurs in the community of faith. It does not simply heed the opinions of “experts” and “theologians;” it is also aware of the voice of Spirit speaking through the single mother who comes to the Monday night prayer gathering, or through the voice of the alcoholic who comes in for a free meal on Wednesday night. Good theology is done in community and as community. Or, to employ a slightly different metaphor, the theologian is to be viewed simply as the mouth speaking on behalf of the united members of the body of Christ.

3. Good theology is contextual.

All theology is, inevitably, contextual. Good theology is aware of this and engages both implicitly and explicitly with issues of context. This has at least three major implications: (a) it means that good theology calls this community to act this way at this time; (b) it means that good theology takes especial care to address the particularly insidious blindspots of the time and place in which it discovers itself; and (c) it means that it enters into dialogue with other contemporary voices. Good theology should not, and cannot, attempt to formulate “timeless” propositions, or “universal” truths based upon claims of detached objectivity — in part because there is no such thing as “detached objectivity”!

4. Good theology is biblical.

Despite the importance of being aware of one's contemporary context, an awareness of the biblical narrative is even more foundational. Contemporary dialogue partners are important but dialogue with scripture is more important still because this dialogue is more fundamental to the creation of good Christian theology. This is so because, within the Christian tradition, the bible is the primary authoritative witness to the Word of God. It is the bible that provides the Christian with the story of God's activities (and incarnation!) within the world God has created. Therefore, good theology is theology that lives within the trajectory of the biblical narrative.

5. Good theology is historical and ecumenical.

I could, perhaps, restate this point another way and say that good theology is traditional. By using the terms “historical” and “ecumenical” I want to stress two things. First, I use the term “historical” because all good theology is born out of the traditions of the Church — it does not simply appear out of nowhere. Therefore, it is essential that those who engage in theology are aware of what has been taught and believed by the saints who have gone before (in part because this is an especially useful way of becoming aware of contemporary blindspots, and in part because the Spirit has been active and present in the words and deeds of the Church from Pentecost until the present day, and one would be a fool to ignore that witness).

Second, I use “ecumenical” because good theology must enter into dialogue with the various Christian traditions. Good theology will listen to Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Anabaptist voices. It will dialogue with contemplative and spiritual voices and with practical and political voices.

It is the recognition of the authority found in these traditions that also prevents good theology from simply blown here and there by whatever contemporary issues happen to be “hot” or urgent or whatever. Furthermore, it is this dialogue with the traditions of the Church that is continues to mark Christian theology as Christian theology.

6. Good theology is trinitarian.

As stated previously, good theology proclaims God. However, the God of Christianity is uniquely revealed as a Tri-unity, as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Therefore, theology must consistently be faced with the question of what it means to proclaim a God who is known in this way.

However, to say that God is known in this way is slightly deceptive. For any notion of three-in-one, leads, inevitably, to the admission of mystery and God's transcendence. Thus, the fact that good theology is trinitarian, also leads us to the admission that good theology is also humble and proclaimed in utter reliance upon the One who is the subject of that proclamation.

Summary

If we were to boil all of this down to one sentence we could define good (Christian) theology as follows:

Good (Christian) theology is the embodied communal proclamation of the Christian God within the contemporary context, founded upon the biblical narrative and the traditions of the Christian Church.

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