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Beware!!! Theology Without Wisdom is not Theology

Written by: on October 23, 2014

IMAG0630Understanding God

Theology and Wisdom

Humble Transforming

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.”[1]

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”[2] but what is often left off is the remainder of the verse that says “with gentleness and respect.”[3] 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.”[4]

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”[5] of scripture and culture, or finding those places of correlation (Tillich).[6] 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.[7] 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.”[8] 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.”[9] 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.

[1] Ford, David F. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. (2nd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 175.

[2] I Peter 3:15 (NIV/ESV)

[3] Ibid

[4] Lamott, Anne. “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.” Lecture, Seattle Synthesis Series, Seattle, WA, March 16, 2005.

[5] “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.

[6] Ford, Theology, 24.

[7] Ford, Theology, 63.

[8] Ford, Theology, 45

[9] Ford, Theology, 164.

 

About the Author

mm

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

7 responses to “Beware!!! Theology Without Wisdom is not Theology”

  1. mm Dave Young says:

    Mary,
    Your thoughts blow me away! Beautiful and humble. You said: “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.” That’s a good definition for Christ-centered spiritual formation, it’s in the tension of what you know and what you don’t know, that you’re both humbled and drawn to relay more deeply on God. Rely on him to reveal Himself, to visit you in your journey to knowing more of Him. It’s also been my experience that this can feel like a crisis. Do you agree? I really appreciated your thoughtful post. I’ll be quoting it with my small group.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Scene – Jon at his kitchen table, Redd’s Apple Ale in a blue solo cup.
    Action – Jon finishes Mary’s post. Slow clap…. Jon slowly rises from his seat, just a little bit misty-eyed. Clapping increases in speed and intensity. Jon whistling and shouting “Holy Crap that was awesome!”

    Mary, I have known you to be an eloquent and thoughtful writer but this post… well I don’t know what to say, speechless. And that doesn’t happen often. Maybe it’s the little patch of raw emotions that I’m walking with this week, but your writing moved me.

    “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” (Mary). Theology IS the end because in the very process, woven all through the fibers of theology, we find God! I can never say “I found him” because I am continuously finding him. In the voices of my dear friends who caught wind today of the loss of my leadership role and my smashed pride and ego and called me from Hawaii and Pennsylvania and Alaska and St Louis just to tell me they are with me and they love me, I hear the voice of God speaking my name.

    I am finding him and realizing more and more that I don’t know what I don’t know and what I do know is hollow and pale in comparison to what can be known.

    Theology. Thanks Mary

    J

  3. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Mary…Beautifully writing.

    I have always been taken back by the mysterious God that calls for our “hard work” as we are drawn into relationship with Him. I fully believe we are called to work hard and it seems the times I’ve worked the hardest have often been the times I’ve grown the most. It’s just the irony that gets me….My hard work is like a small step compared to the 100 steps the Father comes to me. In this theological relationship with the Father He chooses to honor my hard work and then goes the extra mile to draw me close.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Mary,
    “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.” I love that sentence/thought. I think as we are pressed, poked and prodded in our thoughts of theology we can lose sight of what it is about and what is point. I love that you place the value right back on “our interaction with God.” As a Dad, I sometimes do not actually care at all, about what my kids are talking to me about, I just love that they are talking to me. And inviting me into their world. This is not the only truth of theology but it is an absolute one! Thanks for the great thinking!

  5. A friend of mine who considers himself a disciple of St Francis and the Celts once shared a story with me, from the end of Francis life. As he lay on his deathbed he said to the gathered friends, “Brothers, as yet we have done nothing — let us begin again!” The wisdom and humility and hope in those simple words —

  6. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Mary, i think we all need to remain in a humble state of mind discovering new things as our minds our shaped in the program. And truly we need wisdom in all we do and in all we study. I don’t want to sound so religious our ultra spiritual, but i really seek the Lord for situations where theology is concerned. Im at a point in my life I do not want to make bad decisions based on my lack of information or my lack of investigation. I think we are responsible for at least trying to understand God through not just book knowledge, but through the exercise of our experiences and through wisdom!

    Blessings!!!!!

  7. mm Brian Yost says:

    Mary,
    I loved your post. I Peter 3:15 has aways been a favorite verse of mine, not from the standpoint of apologetics, but from the standpoint of being prepared to offer a loving response to people who notice and ask about the hope we have in Christ.

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