This post expresses my own words better than I could try to. This is thanks to Schuyler Lewis, who is a good friend of mine and has a blog over at: Caverns Measureless To Man. Check him out, and make sure to leave your comments, as he loves to talk and think, and I still look up to the guy. Thanks for letting me use this post Schuyler, and to all who feel the same. -Eli
Not too long after I decided to study theology, I wrote something up about the importance of doing theology as an act of worship. I can’t remember whether I published it on whichever failed attempt at blogging I might have been involved in at the time, but for a number of reasons I feel the need to write something like it again. Besides my own personal enrichment, there are three reasons for this. First, as an apology to those of my friends who are not involved in theological studies, for any point at which I may have bought–at some level or another–the lie that I as a developing academic have the right to look down from an ivory tower and pass judgment on those who haven’t chosen the academic path. Second, as a reminder to my classmates that the language we learn in theological study must be used humbly and in a manner that expresses the unity of the Church, not one that deepens and hastens its division. Third, in the hope of encouraging many of my teachers, who have done such a good job expressing and demonstrating the study of theology as a unitive, worshipful act. Hopefully, I have grasped some portion of what they’ve tried to show me.
When we learn to do theology, of necessity we learn to participate in a different language, and order our perception of the world in a different way. This produces a radical disconnect between the conceptual world of the vocational theologian, and the conceptual world of the everyday Christian. Because of this, it is very difficult–and often frustating–to discuss matters of faith with friends from my youth, or with anyone who has not been exposed to theological language. Too often frustrations are allowed to break down the conversation. On one side this leads to anti-intellectualism, on the other, elitism; both lead to the breakdown of Church unity and contribute to the mutilation of the Body.
Vocational theologians have a responsibility to everyday Christians (we might also speak of everyday Christians’ responsibility to vocational theologians, but that’s a discussion for another time) to exercise patience and continue the discussion. In some cases, patience may be a respect for the process, as individuals learn to think in terms that will make communication easier. In other cases it may be the willingness to continue looking for a way to communicate in the language of a brother or sister who will never study academic theology at all. We absolutely must remain humbly involved in the conversation, or we retreat into a selfish and arrogant rejection of all other views. Fundamentalism is equally divisive wherever it falls on the theological spectrum. Catholic or liberal forms of fundamentalism are just as bad as an evangelical form.
The humility necessary to maintain this can only be possible if theologians insist that theology be done as an act of worship. The object of true theology must be to seek a more thorough understanding of God for the purpose of worshiping him better. In the attitude of worship, as God is upheld as transcendent and infinite, we must necessarily remember our own subjectivity and finiteness. Limited as we are, we can comprehend only in a small way, and may spend our entire lives puzzling over the mysteries of our Lord. Theology becomes driven by a sense of wonder, and we return to a “faith seeking understanding.”
Worshipful theology also allows us to see theological study as a means of conforming to the image of Christ. Too often we merely explore the dynamics of God’s interaction with his creation. It is imperative that we take the next step and evaluate what that interaction means for our own lives. Contemplation and reasoning about God’s nature must be accompanied by prayer and meditation about what should be done in light of that nature. Then theology becomes a means by which we learn to look like the God we claim to serve.
This brings us back to the responsibility of the vocational theologian to the rest of the Body. In the attitude of worship, we must be motivated by love and governed by humility. We must care for the church, and individual members of it, with the goal of unity and mutual understanding. Part of the responsibility here is to bring them into the same kind of worship we strive for, so that all the Church may be remade in Christ’s likeness, and can wonder together at the mysteries of God. Conversation and dialogue are imperative to the Church’s worship, but arrogance, impatience and division have no place.
Without this worshipful attitude, I submit that there is no defense for theological study. The moment the Catholic’s argument against protestants devolves to calling them stupid and heretical, or the Protestant’s argument against catholicism devolves to weak comparisons with paganism and magic, we have abandoned loving and unitive discourse, and are no longer acting in a manner informed by the Gospel. Unless we do Theology as Worship, we no longer have the right to do theology at all.