These days I’m up to my eyeballs in reading. This makes sense given the fact that I’m now in a PhD program taking a particularly PhD sort of class–Theological Methods. Basically, this is a class on how people write, or “do”, theology. We look at different theologians and discuss how they approach this huge, huge topic. People who are not close to reading academic theology might think this is an odd endeavor. How does one differ in studying God and speaking about who God is?
There are a lot of ways and these ways come from a lot of directions, with a lot of purposes, and a lot of emphases and interests. Not all are equal, mind you, but that’s not to say there are clearly wrong ways that interfere with the Right way, even if that’s what certain pastors like to imply (the Right way being their way, of course).
That there are many ways to express theology is easily shown by the very foundations of our faith. Scripture itself tells us of God from many different perspectives and eras, looking through many different perspectives in different contexts, and relates to us God’s revelation and human interaction in a wide variety of styles.
There is not a Right method to studying or conveying theology. But there are wrong foundations or goals or approaches that don’t always directly oppose Christian foundations but undermine it in an attempt to make sense to other goals or purposes. The former cheerleader who wants to cozy up to the newly rich nerd.
This was the charge against Liberal theology, the sort of theology that began with a man named Schleiermacher and continued on into our present era. Here the emphasis is less on foundations and more on making sense to our personal experiences and to the experiences of others, assuming that theology has to give up what are considered outdated assumptions in order to provide some measure of influence and inspiration. But in doing that, as history shows, theology is so gutted as to be even less necessary and even less interesting for anyone to converse about. So open minded there’s no worthwhile thought left that can’t be found a hundred other places.
Now, saying this now I’m being particularly unfair to Philip Clayton and his book Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action, which I’m looking at for the Transforming Theology initiative. Because I’m not saying this is true about his efforts. Mostly, I’m just musing about the context of theological interaction with broader fields, and the mines that have been found. Whether or not Clayton himself wanders the same field is yet to be discovered. I’m hopeful, truth be told, because of the helpful insights of recent theologians which have broken down the old Liberal/Conservative divide and allow us to wander towards a newly cleared field towards a more substantive theological contribution to this world.
I’m coming at this as a curious kind of Evangelical, one who still embraces the category but with the understanding that not all Evangelicals would embrace me. Inasmuch as Evangelicalism doesn’t have room for my sort, however, I argue that those places are where Evangelicalism has gotten off track rather than me. I’ve got all my Evangelical bona fides lined up, and would argue this more, but that’s not the present concern.
From this perspective, I am going to go chapter by chapter of Clayton’s book. Because of my present reading load, that includes a major paper due in a couple weeks, I’m not going to be very systematic about it, and hope others might better outline his quite interesting contributions. Instead, I’m going to take a more lectio divina approach. Read a bit, muse over it a bit, then write whatever comes to mind. And throughout I’m going to be asking a response of sorts to Clayton’s own recent contribution. What can Evangelicals learn from Philip Clayton? I suspect a lot.
And, once again, I’ve made a post of introduction rather than getting to the meat of it.
I need to do less musing and more interaction… that comes next.