Thursday, February 02, 2006

Thinking about thinking, thinking about writing, writing about thinking about writing, and (maybe) doing theology, too. Plus, actual writing.

I haven't been to church in about two years now. Well, that's not totally true. I haven't regularly attended a local church in about two years. I've been, here and there, from time to time, but I don't attend anywhere at the moment, and I'm not in any particular rush to get myself back into the habit -- at least for the time being.

So I've had a lot of time to step back and look at theology with very different eyes. Not until I moved in with Jake last June did I have any clue as to what was hot or not in theology. And to a certain extant, I still don't. I couldn't tell you much about the New Monasticism or Don Miller or that new Biblical hermeneutic they've got going on over at Princeton U. And until I find a reason to care, I probably won't.

But there is something I've been thinking about for a good while, without making any attempt to articulate it, I guess, until now. And that's the work of the Holy Spirit and the Christian Community in the task of theology.

I'm thoroughly convinced that the regenerative work of the Spirit is vital to the theological task. I'm at odds with the old-evangelical/C.F. Henry contention that depravity doesn't extend to the areas of logic and reason. The idea of total depravity, whether it extends to every nook and cranny of human nature or simply just affects every area of human nature, seems to precludes that our capacity to reason is not affected by the Fall. The Spirit's work in the life of the believer, then, is necessary for a proper understanding of God and revelation. [My only problem with this view is that Jewish theologians wouldn't have access to the work of the Spirit in the work of Jewish theology -- at least in eyes of Christian orthodoxy. The writings of Abraham Heschel make, at least in my opinion, a compelling case against everything I just said. But I'm trying my best not to get too far off topic...]

So while I'm sure [well, mostly...] of the vitality of the Spirit to theology, I'm very unsure of the role of the Christian community in theology, at least to the extent of the local church on the thinking of any theologian. I've argued here, long, long ago, that the local church is essential in the fight against social injustice (and by a little bit of theological extension, evangelism as well). But -- and here is where I'm indebted, for good or ill, to the individualism of the Enlightenment -- is the local community absolutely necessary to the work of theology?

I'm not about to say that I do theology in a vacuum, objectively and impartially, without any assistance from the broader Christian community. Mostly because that would be a colossal lie, on so many different levels. But I do do theology apart from the local church, at least in the here and now. In the broader scheme of things, I guess I could argue that I've only been doing theology apart from the local church for something like, 1/12 of my Christian life. And at some point, I intend to do theology as part of the local church again. But for the time being, as I'm not part of a local community, does that mean that what I'm doing shouldn't be considered theology? I don't have my copy of Stan Grenz's Theology for the Community of God lying around, but I'm pretty sure old Stanley would object to my method. And I'm pretty sure my esteemed roommate might, too, considering that the two of them are coming out of the same Anabaptist tradition of theology in the midst of community.

But if the work of the Holy Spirit (or the Comforter) is so tied up in the work of the Church (or the comforted), how is it exactly that I fit in at this point? And is what's going on inside my head/heart really theology? Mostly, I'm just real confused, because it seems like most bad theology since the Enlightenment has come from thinkers who believed they could do their work on an individualistic level, and bypass all the stickiness that comes from doing theology in community. But, to be honest, that's what I want, too.


At 2/03/2006 10:15 AM, Blogger Jeff BBz said...

This isn't going to be indepth or coherent as I would like because It's late and I've got some killer diareaha. so there's not enough water in my body so i can't think clearly enough.but whatever

You don't have to have/go to/live in a Church or a community to "do theology," and yes what you are doing is (perhaps merely technically) outside the bounds of a stated community. But I would argue that theology needs community and that community needs theology. Maybe you can do it outside a community, But i would say its more powerful, truthful and valuable from with in. This is for a number of reasons. One big one being that community is the hermanuetic for interpreting the word and actions of God. Sans community you've got yourself some big problems espcially since you don't dig carl henry.

Second you say that community is essential for "social action." I would agree and then ask what is the purpose of the community calling itself the church? While i wouldn't say that its "social action" per se, I'd say it involves and resembles it alot. And I would say with out proper theology the church will sit doing nothing, rather than transforming lives and the earth. In addition I would say that for a Christian the entire idea of "social action" would not be interesting if not based on a theology of love or grace that interprets such actions as necessary for following jesus.

You seem to be creating some kind of division between theology and the church, and between theology and action, and between theology and living, all of which I would say are not seperate things. The Church is/ought to be a community of truth, of people gathered together, doing, living, theology. The actions of the church must be a result of "theology" but the actions of the church also are in fact theology. And I would go further in saying that, the church regardless, how corrupted it is, is the method in which god has chosen to work has given to us, and therefore to not be within it is to miss the point a little bit.

I know that yes we are individual people and so therefore we also have "personal theology" or something but I would say that it is not the main point. It's not that what you are doing isn't theology or isn't something. Its that what you are doing isn't complete, isn't what it has the potential to be. Not only does it disallow your ability to be transformed by a community but keeps you from transforming a community. There are all kinds things yoder and others have said about living in community that are really exciting and amazing, but i don't have access to any of that right now.Ultimately, Enlightenment individualism comes to selfishness. And its screwed us up bad.

Why don't you quit messin' around and become an anabaptist already? you know you want it.

At 2/03/2006 2:26 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

(I have taken a particularly strong tone in my response because 1. it is a topic of great concern to me as a theologian struggling to find my eclessial placement and 2. it is my roommate who makes this post. I would preface with a full realization of the multifaceted difficulties that come with relating to church whether they be schedule related or struggling with the absence of any christian community worth sharing. Further, I acknowledge and celebrate the full Christian community that thankfully extends beyond the local church.)

I agree with most of Paco's response but will clarify some of my own opinions.

1. What does it mean to do theology? Ultimately, I would argue, it is to do the Christian faith with a particular mind toward the whys and hows of it all. Note, then, that doing theology is not simply being a Christian but a particular way of being a Christian.

2. At one level, then, Paco's statement regarding the relation of social justice and theology and the general marriage of practice and doctrine are united in the call of the theologian to be in the church. Theology is necessarily reflection, clarification, and expansion on Christian practice and the experience of God. In this, however, is already a theological claim. I am asking "can one be a Christian without participation in Christian community?" becuase being a Christian is a prerequisit to doing theology.

3. To offer a preliminary answer, maybe. I know this may seem more catholic than anabaptist, but I truely believe that there is no "salvation" outside of the church because it is only in the relationships that constitute Chrisitan community (both human and divine) that the full experience of salvation is possible. Further, the bulk of (if not all) Christian practices are dependent upon the gathered community. Certain practices that have become individualized (prayer, bible reading, etc.) are in fact communal. The practice of reading the text on one's own is dependent upon the community that informs and corrects and dialogues over interpretation. The private practice of prayer is dependent upon the community that informs who God is, makes present the Spirit, and teaches the discernment of the Spirit.

4. Speaking of the SPirit, it is not only Grenz but pretty much the entirety of the Christian tradition that strongly associates the presence of the Spirit with the gathered body. With the exception of some 20th century charismatic/evangelicals and some mystics, the presence of the Spirit is in the church, whether in the gathered people (anabaptists), the eucharist (catholics), or the preached word (protestants).

5. Summarizing and returning to point 1, it is the Christian life that provides the content of theology. This is a life of discipleship of Jesus Christ. We know and follow Jesus Christ through participation in Christian fellowship in the church. Thus, when I am delinquent in my ecclessial involvement my theology suffers. Often this can be seen in a tendency for theology to stray toward the abstract rather than the practical. Apart from community theology can turn toward abstract speculation about who God is without the informed presence of Christ and the Spirit. In this sense, theology is a spiritual discipline based on a spiritual gift. When the ecclessial practices of the body determine the content for theology we experience the essential marriage of the text to our context. It is here where the theologian must work to do anything that is faithfully Christian and worth reading at all.

-Can we reflect on the practices of the Christian faith without participating in most of these practices in the common life of the church? This is an interesting question. For many the question has been "which community" should the theologian work for, the academy or the church? For others, the community of the church has been replaced with the community of the poor. Only in America could we even posit doing theology within the community of the self, wherein the memories of past christian experiences and the imagined possible exercises of Christianity take place provide the practices and the conversation partners. Ultimately, this is still theology, though it is a particularly deformed one that begs the question of "what's the point?" as in, what relevance does this theology have beyond you and your personal experience? In fact, it is, in a certain sense, the 20th century Liberal Protestant approach to theology based on the notion that the practices of the faith are ultimately private and individual.

At 2/03/2006 11:30 PM, Blogger jonny said...

Paco, I would wholeheartedly agree with you that my theological reflection is in no way "complete" outside of the context community. But how much community would I need for completeness? This is definitely where my inherent selfishness comes to bear -- I'm a very inward-thinker, no doubt about it, and have a difficult time talking about things that I’m unsure of. But this is also where my aversion to the selfishness of others (again, that stickiness of community) screws up my whole vision of the church community. Maybe I just wish more people had as difficult a time as me articulating their theology? (That's something I've never really thought about before…) I have no problem with the certainty of theological truth. My only problem is with the certainty most Christians believe that their truth is 100% God's truth, whether they be liberal or conservative. No one side has the market on rabid, raving loonies.

Jake, I guess my only response is what constitutes community? As I just said, most of my recent theological reflection goes on inside my head, and is informed both by the communities I have been involved with in the past (Baptist, Charismatic, Independent Reformed, Wesleyan-Holiness) and by the community of thinkers, writers, ministers and friends I involve myself with in the present through books, blogs, message boards, casual dinners, coffee shops etc. Maybe, in the here and now, what I need (or maybe just what I want) is my own personal, liberal, Protestant, inner-faith journey-thingee before whatever it is that’s supposed to happen next actually happens. But not liberal in the sense of theology – liberal in the sense of self. It would go a long way toward explaining my recent interest in the relationship of self and citizenship to liberal democracy.

Or maybe it’s just because I don’t want to tithe. Which we both know means less money for people in polo shirts who stop me on the street and convince me to sponsor kids in Ecuador and join the Human Rights Campaign.

I’m such a sucker.

At 2/04/2006 2:36 PM, Anonymous joey said...

This article is unrelated but worth reading


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