That’s a Good Question
Why ask questions? David Ford’s book, Theology: A Very Short Introduction, provides a challenging follow up to the Grenz & Olson book (Who Needs Theology?) from last week. Ford’s take on theology allows us the chance to think further, and deeper, about the role of theology in our own lives and its implications for our roles in leadership. Where Grenz & Olson encourage reflection as a means to developing theology; Ford provides some detail as to what that reflection can entail. Questions, the asking of them, and the welcoming of them and the thoughtful consideration of the responses they bring, Ford contends, are an integral part of developing theological views.
“Can you really claim to know anything without their being experience, understanding, and judging, with questioning being present throughout?” (p. 148) I love good questions, except perhaps not as much when they are asked of me. However, what I have learned, sometimes through difficult circumstances, is that Ford’s question is rhetorical. I don’t really need to answer it, because there is only one answer. Whether verbalized or not, questions are being asked all the time through the experiences faced in our personal lives, and by observing the lives of others.
Questions are intriguing. The capacity to welcome questions is difficult for some people. At times we resist questioning because we haven’t truly thought through our reasons for holding a particular view. At other times we resist questioning because we’re afraid of the implications for our own lives if indeed our thinking, in this case theological thinking, proves to be lacking.
The Gospel writer, Matthew, in the interaction of Jesus with the one called “the rich young ruler” (19:16-22), captures well this idea of theological questioning. While the ruler comes looking for answers or a confirmation of his status. Jesus engages him in a theological discussion which reveal questions that he already possesses within him. He came looking for Jesus to tell him that he was good enough. Jesus instead invites him to question himself, based on his own current understanding of Scripture: “What good must I do to inherit eternal life?”; “Which commands should I keep?”; “What more can I do?” Through their interaction the ruler is confronted with the subjectively narrow theological view that he currently possesses, discovers alternatives and is faced with a choice.
The capacity to help people think through their life choices on a theological level, knowing that God’s truth intersects the essential questions of their lives was important to Jesus. Therefore, it ought to be important to us because through this type of engagement we obtain the wisdom that is required for everyday living. As Ford indicates, “Wisdom is not just concerned about more information and knowledge but also how they relate to other … (wisdom) deals with dimensions of life that much academic learning tends to bracket out, such as suffering, joy, or the purpose of existence.” The real life application of God’s truth is at the heart of engaged theological question and thinking.
At times, leadership training can be tailored toward one person (the leader) providing other people (those being led) with answers. My frustration with this approach is that it eliminates the capacity for both the leader and those being led to benefit from the mutual learning that can take place in the exchange of questions, possibilities, judgments and decisions. This is even more important in “Christian” interactions when the Holy Spirit is present in the life of both parties. God through His Spirit has something for the leader and the one being led to learn, together.
Over the last few years, I’ve been challenged to extend the idea of developing wisdom further, reminding myself (yes, I need to do this intentionally) that whether someone is a follower of Jesus Christ or not, they are still people made in God’s image and made for His glory. Therefore, I can deepen my theology (understanding of God) through any interaction with any person. When the opportunity presents itself, I can also awaken them to a recognition of the Divine design of their lives in the hope that they will ask, consider and come to a point of decision, much like the rich young ruler, but hopefully leading to making a life-saving choice.
Perhaps that what Ford was meaning when he said:
“The most important statement in a Christian theology of desire is that people are desired by God. At its heart is trust in being overwhelmingly desired by a God who loves them. They are created by God, blessed by God, addressed by God, chosen and called by God, forgiven by God, taught by God, and given God’s Son and Spirit.” (p.58)
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