Home > Atheism, Theological Scholarship > What is the task of Christian Theology?

What is the task of Christian Theology?

The past few posts on atheism have generated some good discussion. I deeply appreciate all who have participated in this discussion and I encourage any bystander to jump on in. I have to say that I am especially happy about the diversity of opinions posted and the respect with which people have engaged in dialogue.We have noted that much of the popular atheist literature does not take the time to engage theology. But why should atheists engage theology? I think in order to answer this we have to have some understanding of what theology is all about. What is the task of the theologian? Why does her work matter so much that we insist atheists listen?I’m going to point you to a wonderful little reflection on the task of theology by my friend, Halden at Inhabitatio Dei. I’d love to hear your responses and so would he.   

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  1. November 27, 2007 at 3:01 pm | #1

    Oooooo…this is heavenly stuff. And right brained.

  2. joel mason
    November 28, 2007 at 11:53 am | #2

    what is the job of the theologian?

    well, since I have just procured a copy of the Hauerwas Reader, one answer in my head is that the theologian’s job is to serve the Church, inform the Church, call the Church to what it is supposed to be, what God calls it to.

    The implication of this regarding the discussion about atheism and theology is that the theologian should impress upon the Church a wise and true discourse to engage the atheist, not be required reading for the atheist. In other words, the theologian has the unique calling to give the Church words to speak that have bearing upon the life of the atheist, the ideology of the atheist. When this has been attended to in a direct way, then perhaps one could direct an atheist to a church which has recognized the reality of atheism in the world, has recognized it without fear and without condemnation.

  3. Mike Harris
    November 28, 2007 at 4:38 pm | #3

    See, I like Joel’s opinion, because it means less reading for me before I can profess my agnosticism.

    But seriously, folks.

    Well, one part of the essay Ry links to above that struck me was, “To be a theologian, one must respond to what seem to be miracles in this world as though they truly are miracles for which no other explanation can be given. In fact theology is the absolute refusal to offer a final ‘explanation’ of anything at all.”

    How is saying “God did it,” concerning a miracle, a refusal to offer an explanation? I would think that it would be a scientifically-based atheism that would refuse to offer a firm explanation, instead postulating a theory, which science understands to be soft and fallible.

    I guess the problem I have with the notion of theology as described in the linked essay is that it makes the world seem smaller. From my time as a Christian, I understand the joy of God, and pondering His wonders. It’s an amazing feeling. But from my science classes I also understand the joy of the abstract, and the joy of the discovery that still acknowledges there is more to discover. This is also an amazing feeling.

    Human beings can be neither completely rational or completely emotional without sacrificing a part of themselves. This is why you have theologians who meticulously attempt to gain a better understanding of God and why you have scientists who write poetry. To my mind, arguing that we ought suspend disbelief means that we ought to think only with our gut, which leaves out a whole aspect of the human psyche.

    Yes, it’s good poetry to write that water runs downhill for the love of running downhill, but what about the wonder working power of gravitational potential energy and fluid dynamics? I’m not arguing that the world ought shut out God for science, but I think that theology must either be bigger than just loving God with all your heart and all your soul, or there must be an additional part to theology that revels in the wonders of His creation with all your mind. To do anything less would take the world for granted, which, I think, would be a shame.

  4. roflyer
    November 28, 2007 at 5:02 pm | #4

    I think your criticisms of Halden’s post are legitimate. Since the rise of modern science, Christian theology has really been transformed. In many ways modern science and the general “worldview” that came with it has posed a serious challenge to theology and has profoundly affected its shape. Its influence can be seen in all theology. For instance, some Christians have rejected scientific knowledge altogether, like seven-day creationists – or it can be seen in the many apologetic arguments that use science to “prove” God or make God seem reasonable, like the “intelligent design” movement.

    Atheism is of course primarily a modern phenomena – it is the rejection of theology – usually on the basis of modern science or at least the worldview attached with modernity.

    Theology must engage science whether it wants to or not. You are right to note that a theology that surrenders the natural world to science misses out on the “additional part to theology that revels in the wonders of His creation with all your mind.”

  5. November 28, 2007 at 7:15 pm | #5

    In the words of my 2nd favorite theologian (of course, after Popeye: “I yam what I yam”)

    Francis of Assisi:

    “Go into the world and preach the gospel…and if you must,
    use words.”

    Simple-minded? Anti-intellectual? Unscientific?

    Or simply–a true saint’s wisdom?

    And preach it with a song or a poem, because science, deductive reasoning, logic, systematic anything–all are momentary ‘stays against confusion.’

    The theologian’s job is to make some sense out of the inscrutable for the parched pilgrim…

  6. Mike Harris
    November 28, 2007 at 8:44 pm | #6

    “Go into the world and preach the gospel…and if you must,
    use words.”

    Mr. Flyer,

    I guess I don’t understand how the above quote could be interpreted as simple-minded, anti-intellectual or unscientific. I don’t think it relates to those things at all. If anything, I think it’s the only way of preaching what Jesus taught and is especially needed in today’s society, where so much of Christianity is all about telling people what to do and how to think. On Facebook, there is a group called The Goodbye Generation, which is dedicated to a discussion between Christians and Ex-Christians concerning why people leave the church. Recently, one woman posted a note in which she says that she wishes people would start reading the Bible and stop worshiping an idolatrous God they make up in their mind – namely, a Jesus who wants us to love one and other.

    She writes:

    “On top of that, as the visible church, we’re scrambling to find ways to be “relevant” by taking survey’s from unregenerate god-haters that hate the God of the bible and love the god they made up in their own mind what they want when they go to church and then try to caitor to their ‘needs.’ The gospel is then watered down so that its ‘another gospel,’ and Jesus is made to be this effeminate all-loving ‘I accept you just the way you are’ who is actually ‘another Jesus.’”

    She then talks about wanting to go to a church where The Bible is preached, as opposed to one of the God-Hating, Idol-Filled churches she imagines the majority of other Christians go to.

    So, I agree with you and with St. Francis, that what the needs is more examples of how Christianity ought to be lived and fewer people telling us what to do, when to do it and how to think about it.

    But I’m concerned with your idea that all science, deductive reasoning, logic and systematic anything are simply “momentary ‘stays against confusion.’” Certainly not *all* science is simply a stay against confusion. My grandfather’s angioplasty this week does nothing to stay my confusion, unless you’re talking about it pushing back the confusion I would feel over his death. But, then again, were that the case, it seems to me that we’d have to then say that all medicine pushes back against confusion, and it would then seem as though we ought to give up all medicine.

    But I don’t think you think all medicine is ungodly. And I don’t think you believe most technological advances that we use in our society are ungodly, though I would agree with you if you felt that we should be wiser in how we used them, so as not to cause other people harm with pollution and advanced weaponry, for example. I guess I’m just concerned when you say that all left-brained thinking is a chasing after the wind, because not everybody is a right-brained person. I know that I’m certainly more comfortable with logic and reasoning than I am with my feelings, and, certainly, if “I yam what I yam,” then I can only be as God made me. Why can’t we agree that a reasonable approach towards God, one that embraces both right and left brained activity, so long as it is devoted to understanding Him better, is a good thing? One of my favorite quotes from Hamlet is, “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, / Looking before and after, gave us not / That capability and god-like reason / To fust in us unused.” How can we say that what must surely be a God-given knack for reasoning and logic ought not be used? The punishment put upon Man in the Garden of Eden was to toil the fields, not to be so full up with a desire for reason that we have no idea what to do with ourselves. Then again, I understand that it was a desire for knowledge that tempted Eve in the first place, though I think that’s probably more poetic license than an exact accounting of what happened. The point is, though, I guess I just have a hard time seeing how a thirst for understanding how the world works cannot exist with a thirst for understanding why the world exists. Surely a human doesn’t *just* to be loved?

  7. Mike Harris
    November 28, 2007 at 8:45 pm | #7

    Apologies to all, by the way. Now that I posted that on Ry’s blog, I just realized how long that comment was. I don’t mean to hog the discussion space. I’m just excited at being able to talk these ideas out.

  8. November 28, 2007 at 9:15 pm | #8

    Go Mike go.
    You said:
    I guess I’m just concerned when you say that all left-brained thinking is a chasing after the wind (I didn’t say that, exactly–but in some ways–yes…), because not everybody is a right-brained person. (You seem to have some of the disease, Mike)
    I know that I’m certainly more comfortable with logic and reasoning than I am with my feelings, and, certainly, if “I yam what I yam,” then I can only be as God made me. Why can’t we agree that a reasonable approach towards God, one that embraces both right and left brained activity, so long as it is devoted to understanding Him better, is a good thing?

    (I agree)
    One of my favorite quotes from Hamlet is, “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, / Looking before and after, gave us not / That capability and god-like reason / To fust in us unused.”

    (Shakespeare was brilliant, no doubt–and very right brained, I might add)

    How can we say that what must surely be a God-given knack for reasoning and logic ought not be used? The punishment put upon Man in the Garden of Eden was to toil the fields, not to be so full up with a desire for reason that we have no idea what to do with ourselves. Then again, I understand that it was a desire for knowledge that tempted Eve in the first place, though I think that’s probably more poetic license than an exact accounting of what happened. The point is, though, I guess I just have a hard time seeing how a thirst for understanding how the world works cannot exist with a thirst for understanding why the world exists.

    Surely a human doesn’t *just* to be loved? (Aye, theres the real rub: A thirst that cannot ever be satisfied except by the love of God–right brained or hare brained, I do think it’s the lot of man.)

  9. roflyer
    November 28, 2007 at 10:23 pm | #9

    Ha! Mike, no need to apologize! I’ve been trying to get people to “discuss” on my blog for years. I’m extremely grateful that you find it worth your time. Please please don’t stop.

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