Organic Theology

Over the course of the last few years I’ve increasingly noticed something about theology. At first, it was a vague discontent, sort of the anti-intellectual diatribe against wanting theology to be practical. Yes, I would say, but why does it matter?!

Which is funny, if you know me, because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about theology and pondering a lot of topics which certainly don’t fit into the field of practical theology. I don’t want to often admit it of myself, but I can get kind of philosophical at times. I know. I’m trying to get better.

That I’m now going to start my PhD in Systematic Theology is utterly surprising. I remember at Wheaton not wanting to take a Systematic Theology class because I thought it would be useless knowledge. I wanted history! I wanted to know what was, not what someone else thought up. Then I realized my study of history made me good at theology, and then I realized theology wasn’t really about philosophy. Not the good kind, at least. Theology, the good kind, is about God.

That’s not exactly a startling realization, I know.

But, it’s what I realized. And when I realized it I began looking at theology a little different, indeed with a bit of interest. Only there was that lingering… something… that kept me from thinking I would leap fully into my new theological lifestyle.

That vague discontent has started to coalesce until now I feel like I’m starting to find what it is that was bothering me before and what I intend to do about it. A passage I was writing about this morning gave even more imagery to my thoughts and so maybe it’s time to start putting these into words.

The passage? The golden calf incident. Exodus 32.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

These kind of stories are left for us to read because they tell us about more than a single incident. They tell us a human tendency. The whole Exodus story, from the slavery to the settling in the Land, is a template of God’s work and human response. It’s what we should expect again and again and again, with the specifics different but the themes often quite the same.

And as I was dwelling on that fact it hit me. So much of theology has become a Golden Calf. That’s a weird thing for me to say, what with my starting a PhD in systematic theology in a little over a month.

But the fact is it’s true. Not entirely true. But true in enough ways for me to say that it’s true.

God, you see, reveals himself. That’s the core of theology. We know God only as he lets himself be known. But the fact is that questions remain. God doesn’t answer our questions. In fact, God often entirely ignores our questions. Scripture, in fact, doesn’t answer our questions. Yes, it answers questions, but not our questions.

Scripture answer the questions that God chooses to answer. Meaning, God tells us the questions, as well as the answers.

But we don’t like that. We don’t like not knowing. We don’t like waiting. We don’t like mystery. Mystery is… scary. So we try to solve mystery and if God won’t answer our questions then by golly we’ll answer our questions about him, and make it sound like he’s submitting to our little Q&A.

A lot of theology is that. Our questions being given our answers, which are almost always given more precedent than the questions God has decided are important to answer. So we have a lot of arguments about a lot of topics that aren’t apparently germane to God’s purpose in revelation.

And so we miss the points God is trying to make even as we are trying to really get a better handle on God.

We throw our gilded words onto the fire and cast our version of the revealed God that makes best sense to us. And we worship that god, and we insist other people worship that god.

Which makes me wonder. What would a theology look like that not only seeks answers about God, but also seeks the right questions? Instead of starting with the Greek or Enlightenment or Postmodern questions about who God is, and thus find the answers of who we would like God to be, how about starting with looking at the questions God says we should be asking.

I don’t know exactly what that would look like. But, in that I see a focus of my own theological development over the next years. I think I’ll call it Organic Theology, because it is devoted to stay in the original soil for questions, discussion, and conclusions.

An Organic Theology would start with God’s revelation and move along the answers God is answering, while remaining open and humble about the rest.

Might be a curious way to go through advanced theological studies while retaining my own hope to remain relevant while exploring even greater depths.

This entry was posted in academia, church, emerging church, missional, theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Organic Theology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *