Prolegomena – huh?!!
A few years ago, a friend of mine challenged me to name my prolegomena. A big word to simply mean, the introduction to who you are, articulating what biases, beliefs, even your suppositions, for whenever you present to a group or write a book. In other words, don’t hold the cards under the table, but reveal who you are. I’m still not sure I entirely agree, as my style requires much more of a listening stance. However, in reading Grenz and Olson’s book, I’m reminded of the value for taking time to answer the questions about God, in particular: What integrative motif brings coherence to my Christian beliefs? What single theme holds all the diverse strands of biblical Christianity together?
Up until my late husband’s death, I’m not sure I had taken the time to articulate in a definitive way what I believed about many of the theological questions addressed in Who Needs Theology. But something occurred in that loss that actually relates directly to the late Dr. Stan Grenz, one of the authors. My husband, Greg, was in the last set of classes of seminary for his M.Div. when he had his bicycle accident, and subsequent death three weeks after a coma. About a month after his death, I came upon some of his papers from that summer quarter. The very last paper he wrote was for Stan Grenz with the title “Where Will I Go After I Die?” In the Eschatology class, Dr. Grenz had the students grapple with a subject that typically only “older” people address (Greg was 39 when he died). As part of the grade, Dr. Grenz forced the issue by requiring a thoughtful reflection for what both he and Olson ask in their book: take time to look at “the biblical message, the theological heritage of the church, and contemporary culture” as it relates to our finiteness.
As I sat on the floor, tears streaming down my face, a heart broken in the midst of the suffering, I realized I had received a gift from my late husband in the words on the page that brought me assurance that Greg was unafraid of what came next. He had looked at scripture, at the historical and contemporary context that provided some framework, and taken time to reflect. He was a theologian who was now with God instead of studying God.
Since that time, I’ve been intentional to do my own “reflecting upon and articulating” what I believe about God, a task that will take the rest of my life. It requires time, experience, and ongoing dialogue to think through what I hold onto as necessary dogma, tenets of doctrine, and significant beliefs that don’t have the same centrality as dogma and doctrine. Over the years, some changes have occurred; however, the centrality of that “integrative motif [that] brings coherence” hasn’t really changed. In fact, to name it, my integrative motif is the embrace of God’s love in every aspect of life, the ordinary, the suffering, the extraordinary, and the joy-filled life, that provides compassion as well as correction, permeates despair by offering hope, and an ongoing transforming work into freedom through Jesus Christ.
Throughout the text, I found helpful tools such as the critical and constructive tasks of theology, particularly expressing that “theological art involves an interplay.” As well, words framed some of my own frustration with the assumption that theology either demands or destroys too much. The descriptions: killjoy, divisiveness, speculation, or stalemates gave me a means by which to refute the arguments. But what I found most intriguing to me was the concept that Jesus unites, and he divides. I think, all too often, I want everyone to agree so that we can play well together. Certainly, God is about uniting us all in the mystery and love of who He is. But at the same time, division may serve a purpose that ultimately can forward the Kingdom. As in the quote: “heresy is the mother of orthodoxy,” perhaps the craziness that we see actually helps us find new and fresh ways to understand and receive the invitations God offers to us. That Jesus both unites and divides reflects one way that we sit in theological paradoxes, another tool that stretches me.
Returning to the idea of a prolegomena, writing what I believe begins the first step in commitment to underscore the dynamic process of understanding. I want to embrace what Grenz and Olson suggest at the end of their book. With intentionality, I hope to continue this journey of reflection on and articulation of who God is within the community of others who will ask hard questions, speak their own understanding, challenge, and support. Perhaps my words someday could serve as an encouragement to others, just as Greg’s words were for me.
11 responses to “Prolegomena – huh?!!”
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Mary, I also am a closet appeaser, I just want everyone to get along. But the problem is that approach allows for stagnation because healthy turmoil forces conversations which lead to answers that move us forward. All of our major doctrinal clarifications down through the millennia have come as a result of irreconcilable differences between church leaders. Then, the winner gets to write the theology books. Through it all, we trust that the Holy Spirit is superintending the process, preserving his intentions, covering our errors.
Thanks Jon. Your reminder that trusting the Spirit not only goes for theological issues, but also for how we work towards reconciliation in relating to one another over theological issues.
Mary…Thanks for sharing a piece of your story. And what an amazing gift the Father gave you in finding Greg’s paper, that is really amazing. It struck me that his taking the time to articulate his thoughts on God was able to not only provide peace for him but so many others as well. What we think about God really matters!
I also really enjoyed reading your integrative motif….your quote is beautiful, “my integrative motif is the embrace of God’s love in every aspect of life, the ordinary, the suffering, the extraordinary, and the joy-filled life, that provides compassion as well as correction, permeates despair by offering hope, and an ongoing transforming work into freedom through Jesus Christ.”
That quote only comes from a communion with the Father and deep thinking. I’ll be saving that quote to use again someday. Thanks.
The funny part was his paper wasn’t even all that well written. But it covered the point…I think Grenz was rather generous with a B grade 🙂
But yes, I especially am grateful to be able to give the paper one day to our daughter, Alison, who often asks about the character and beliefs of her biological father.
Mary, thanks for sharing your story and making theology something practical. Your post reminds me that the study and articulation of theology is not only for the one who is studying. I wonder if Greg had any inkling that his homework assignment would be used by God to impact your life in such a way. It makes me wonder how God may use our research and writing in ways that we cannot yet even imagine. Thanks also for the reminder that our ultimate goal is not to know about God, but it is to know God.
It’s actually your fault (is that the right kind of blame?) that I even thought about this story. Your willingness to listen to my story on the boat that day coming back from Robben Island reminded me of a number of stories I’d forgotten. Thanks Brian for your theological gift of listening not only to God, but also to others. 🙂
Powerful, personal and very reflective. I’m again encouraged by you to not forget my own intimacy with the Father and Son even in the midst of all this extra study. Thanks for keeping what could become very cerebral, heartfelt and very real.
I appreciate your words, Dave.
Thanks Mary for sharing so personally. So many great thoughts from such a powerful place. Its funny, to think of articulating my own essential beliefs was a piercing thought to all the general applying of what Grenz and Olson stirred in me. What a challenge your friend gave you and I am taking this writing as your passing the gift on.
God bless you Mary,
I thank God for your openness and how you are a strong person to continue on in the midst of tragedy. What a powerful story. One of the main things as a theologian is knowing what you think about God. Our life has formed our theology in a lot of ways so don’t be afraid to voice what you think and why. Education also helps us form our theology. I don’t think a well formed theology can be without education. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral includes experience and tradition in knowing God. Knowing God through experience is important but questioning things and study is important to understand him and articulate what you believe. Blessings Mary
Mary, such a beautiful story…I am honored that you shared with us. Two of my most prized possessions are my grandmother and mothers Bibles. I am so thankful for their legacy of faith and love that they left. What a precious gift that you received.