Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Am Not a Practical Theologian

I am a theologian. That sounds pretentious, but it's what I do, and it's what I want to do with the rest of my live. It is my intended vocation. It is my passion. I love theology.

I define theology as, "Attempting to speak faithfully about God in a way that is life-giving and liberating to all of creation." The criteria that theology must be life-giving and liberating is a non-negotiable to me. If Jesus came to bring life and to set people free (in a myriad of ways), then theology must reflect this.

I do not consider myself a practical theologian. Admittedly, I am sometimes guilty of scoffing at "practical theologians" or those who receive "practical ministry" degrees. That's not the right attitude. I know. However, I truly do not consider myself a practical theologian in the technical sense of the word.

However, in spite of this, I do care about how theology is affects people's lives. I often find myself asking "So what?" Sitting around thinking about "God," and not rooting that thought in that which is revealed in Jesus seems pointless and self-indulgent. I have no interest in philosophical theology that is rooted in theory and assumptions with no real application.

See, theology is more than just a cerebral exercise between us and God. Our theology has implications for us, those around us, and the world. Perhaps this is why doing theology in community is an attractive option. We all have stories; all of our stories are different. Theology intersects the story of God with our stories, and the more stories we include in that, the more we can ensure that theology is, indeed, life-giving and liberating. Not just for you; not just for me--for all of creation.

When our theology proclaims an eschatological vision of the future that is void of any concern for the here and now, we are apt to forget about the fragility and giftedness of creation. When our theology promotes a view of the atonement that promotes sacrifice as the highest virtue, we are sending the wrong (and dangerous!) message to women experiencing domestic violence. When our god-talk is male-centered all the time, we are perhaps alienating the girl whose father molests her. When our theology claims faith in God eradicates sickness and promises healing, we are sending a confusing message to those who have prayed for healing and have received none. When our theology is based on view of humanity that promotes heterosexism and views homosexuals as "sinful," we are failing to honor our sisters and brothers, by failing to honor that they, too, are made in the image of God.

I am not a practical theologian. However, I do contend that it is imperative that we consider how our theology is heard or read by others. What message does it send to those around us? How does it affect other humans, and ultimately the world?

Theology is a powerful thing. Bad theology has the ability to hurt, wound, and destroy. However, theology-done-rightly has the potential to empower, heal, and liberate. Which one will your theology be?


  1. Hey! I just found you on twitter. I love what you say here about theology. I have so many thoughts on it and I like how you put it.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on the topic.