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.