David Ford opens his book, Theology: A Very Short Introduction by writing about overwhelmings. As I understand it, overwhelmings describe various human conditions and experiences (love, war, poverty, joy, suffering) that are readily present in the human life and which require appropriate reflection and response. This reflection and response can easily be described as theology.
I like Ford’s approach to theology for a couple of reasons. First, it begins with God’s initiative. God creates a world that points back to him, but yet doesn’t answer all the questions that arise from the world. God leaves room for questions, thought and creativity. I can’t help but think that when we ask good questions and think deeply God is pleased because we’re responding to the complex universe that he has created. When we stifle questions and thought (which come from overwhelmings), are we possibly hindering someone from coming to faith or experiencing a deeper level of faith? After all, without questions would we even realize we’re in a situation where we need to think or search for God? The overwhelmings of God require reflection and response.
Secondly, I think being overwhelmed by God encompasses the totality of an individual’s experience (heart, mind, body, soul). There isn’t an aspect of us that is free from God’s overwhelmings. God is constantly drawing us to him. Yet, I don’t think being overwhelmed necessitates a 5-point hyper Calvinist approach to theology. The choice is ours to decide how we respond to the overwhelmings, and why some respond and others don’t is a mystery.
Later in the book Ford writes about soteriology and the journey of intensification. He points out that historically there isn’t an official church soteriology. God saves, but how we understand salvation changes depending on the time and place. Christians have held a myriad of atonement theories and beliefs about the scope (particular vs. universality) and nature of salvation. Many of these soteriologies have undergone a journey of intensification and have been faithfully thought through to their logical conclusions. There are even soteriologies that are undergoing that intensification in our current time and place.
I found Ford’s explanation of salvation and it’s journey of intensification helpful. The deceleration of the early Christians was that Jesus is Lord and Savoir and everything related to that seems to be less than primary. That certainly isn’t the case in today’s society. Today, many are certain on every aspect of salvation. From who’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ to exactly how the death of Jesus solves the human dilemma. I think Ford is adding humility and mystery back into a theology that we so desperately want to have completely figured out and placed neatly on the shelf in our brain.
Overall Ford’s book is a great read I recommend to those who want an easier but non-shallow intro to Christian Theology.