Wednesday, August 25, 2010

why theology?

The past week has been a flurry of house guests, meetings, welcoming newcomers to Montreal, and trying to get through some books for my reading course before we leave on vacation. Another thing I did this week was to write a short article answering the question, "Why theology?" In case you have ever wondered why people study theology, here is one person's explanation (that would be me).

The Theology Adventure

Everyone has their own reasons for exploring a discipline. Sometimes classes in a specific genre happen to work out best in your schedule. Or a particular avenue of study may be the most attractive and least painful of your available options. Perhaps you have always had a curiosity about a certain subject and decide to try a class or two to test the waters. There is also the possibility that family and friends influence your decision, offering solicited and no doubt, some unsolicited, advice. Whatever the situation, the best case scenario is that you are in a program of study because of love.

People study literature because they love words and the imaginative pictures one can paint with them. People study art because they love beauty and are invigorated by creativity. People study science because they are fascinated by the intricate mechanics and details of the universe. In fact, it is difficult to study a subject that one is not fond of to some degree. I study theology because I love God, and that is not merely a nice sentiment or a convenient cliché.

All disciplines involve the exploration of ideas, facts, theories, or some form of organised information. While this study is a noble and worthy pursuit, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind the data, beyond the facts, figures, equations, and conclusions, we find the really intriguing stuff, and that is personality. The unique beauty of theology is that in it we encounter a person, a story. And we study a person in a different way than we do facts or a skill set, or at least we should. While objectivity is still heralded in many circles as the only way to arrive at the truth, it is no substitute for loving proximity. Both of these positions, subjectivity and objectivity, deliver different and complimentary results and should never be divorced from one another.

We cannot truly understand someone’s contribution to knowledge unless we know something about them and their context. We cannot fully appreciate the point of view they offer us unless we are willing to see through their eyes. Most importantly, we will not have the patience to graciously and respectfully search for the hidden pearl of wisdom that resides in every human being if we do not find some measure of love for them within ourselves.

A lack of love results in premature, biased conclusions. A lack of love allows us to categorise theories and opinions without coming face to face with the truth that we need to be examined every bit as much as the data or the text. Love and humility open the door to genuine learning that is not only enlightening, but transforming.

Theology is an invitation. It is a welcome mat. It invites us to come and bring all our thinking about life, about meaning, about truth, about unity, about justice, about the Divine, and to submit it to careful, courageous, sometimes slightly messy, but always loving, interaction. It invites us not only to study the grand story, but to give it a place to grow in us.
Someone recently asked me, “Why are you studying theology?” I replied, “Because I love it, and I want to learn how to make it accessible to people who will never enter the classroom. After all, that was what Jesus was about – making God accessible.”

I believe that a skilled theologian is able to explain profound concepts to a scholar as well as to a 5-year-old. And a good theologian knows that she can learn a thing or two from a 5-year-old, as well. Children appreciate mystery more than we adults do, because they do not feel the need to explain things that only ask to be wondered at. And in the adventure that is theology, one must always be willing to be surprised by wonder: wide-eyed, wordless, reverent, and loving wonder.
This is a photo of Montreal's old port taken on Saturday when we walked around the city with our house guests. Wonderful!


Doug Floyd said...

Amen Matte.

Yreit said...

Like that answer since theology does connect with all of life.