Theology and Wisdom
Trying my hand at Haiku (5-7-5 syllables) today as I attempt to assimilate the “whole shape of living” by David Ford at a deeper level. I’m struck by his words at the end of his book, Theology: A Very Short Introduction:
“Who will do theology?….God will..by taking the initiative in questioning, opening up minds and imaginations beyond anything previously experienced, inviting into deep and far-reaching affirmations, summoning to follow guidelines and imperatives, and desiring the student’s transformation through wisdom and love.”
The value of theology is the interaction between God and us in the initiative, the imagination, the invitation, the transformation, all for a better understanding in our questions about God and the world around us. Too often we approach theology as a means to an end: find the right answer. But in fact, theology is about relationship, first with God, and then with each other. That’s why I will confess to appreciating theology, but distressing about apologetics. Too many people want to prove their point, rather than take the time to listen to what another might have to say. I’ve always been curious about why people feel like they have to defend their faith or defend God. Isn’t God big enough? I recognize that I’m to “give a reason/defense for the hope that is in me” but what is often left off is the remainder of the verse that says “with gentleness and respect.” This approach of valuing wisdom reminds me of the words from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, “It’s better to be kind than right.”
Juxtaposed to this value of kindness is the value of discernment that Ford addresses in understanding one’s own framework for theological engagement. In last week’s Who Needs Theology text, the distinction between dogma, doctrine, and belief was the most significant enlightening point for me (I discovered while I may be a heretic at times, at least I’m not an apostate J). This week’s most significant find is the distinction between the five approaches to help unravel what we can know about God’s movement and character. With one extreme as an external framework coming from philosophy or other worldviews and the other as an internal framework in scripture and a traditional Christian worldview, I found freedom in recognizing that I had options in the middle of those extremes, other than the typical conservative or liberal labels. There are those I respect who have gone before me that profess natural theology, or “the Bible and the Newspaper” of scripture and culture, or finding those places of correlation (Tillich). Additionally, discovering that fluidity is part of the dynamic process in theology offers me hope in watching what Bonhoeffer experienced; I too will continue forming, informing, and being transformed in the work of understanding God. While I am not yet able to articulate which framework I adhere to most (that’s part of my assignment for this quarter in my Module Learning Plan), the clarity of Ford’s descriptions help in my discernment.
Two final take-aways that I want to continue to ruminate upon: the need for hard work when it comes to theology and the idea of “Docta Ignorantia.” First, while I’m enjoying the value and delight (I’m being honest!) of theology, I recognize that it still is a “[c]omplex learning process…[that] requires trust, discipline, and long-term self-involvement (in mind, imagination, feeling, and will) to the point of being transformed in various ways.” I can’t just improvise when it comes to theology. It requires creative thought, tools (even suggested language expertise), and the willingness to not only sit in the questions that don’t seem to have answers, but to continue to explore them without giving up. The work of transformation demands intentionality and time.
Second, I want to hold onto “Docta Ignorantia” (learned ignorance) “that is seen as requiring a radical transformation of self and above all the virtue of humility before the truth.” The willingness to admit that I don’t know what I don’t know is as valuable as ascribing to what I believe I know. Holding those two together, the knowing and unknowing, instills the humility necessary to journey towards the wisdom that comes in seeking to understand God. In my feeble attempts to understand God, perhaps there will be a theology graced with wisdom that will provide a humble transformation, not only for me but for those around me.
 Ford, David F. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. (2nd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 175.
 I Peter 3:15 (NIV/ESV)
 Lamott, Anne. “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.” Lecture, Seattle Synthesis Series, Seattle, WA, March 16, 2005.
 “Quotes by Barth?,“ Princeton Theological Seminary Library, accessed October 20, 2014, http://www.ptsem.edu/Library/index.aspx?menu1_id=6907&menu2_id= 6904&id=8450.
 Ford, Theology, 24.
 Ford, Theology, 63.
 Ford, Theology, 45
 Ford, Theology, 164.