The task of theology and theologians

Theological truth is the truth of God’s relationship with people and it is the fruit not of learning but of experience. In this sense all theology, properly so called, is written in blood. It is an attempt to communicate what has been discovered at great cost in the deepest places of the heart–by sorrow and joy, frustration and fulfilment, defeat and victory, agony and ecstasy, tragedy and triumph.

Theology, properly so called, is a record of a person’s wrestling with God. Wounded in some way or other by the struggle the person will certianly be, but in the end that person will obtain the blessing promised to those who endure.

The theologian in this respect is no different from the poet or dramatist. All of them must write in blood. Yet, what the theologian is called upon to do with his experience is different from what the poet or dramatist does. Obviously it is different in form — the theologian qua theologian does not write poems or plays. Their idiom is more abstract.

They have to translate their experiences into ideas and then arrange those ideas in as logically coherent a form as they can, so that reading their work is much more obviously a sustained intellectual effort than reading poetry appears to be or seeing a play.

It is not, however, only in form or idiom that the theologians’s work differs from that of a poet or dramatist. Its centre of interest is always different and in two ways.

First, the theologians’s primary concern must always be God’s relationship with humanity, and any relationship a person may have with other people or the world they live in must always be subsumed under that primary relationship with God.

Secondly, the theologian has been nurtured by a tradition of belief and practice and all the time they must relate their insights to the tradition which has nurtured them. However first hand, and in that sense original, those insights may be, they cannot be entirely out of the blue. They have to connect in some way with insights already achieved.

H.A. Williams, from the foreword of The Risk of Love by W.H. Vanstone

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