Theology as a starting point

Today I started writing some pages that set out my theological standpoint. It was quickly turning into a bit of an epic so I’ve decided to break it into bite-sized chunks and offer them up for your delight, one morsel at a time. My cooking is never too good at the best of times, so perhaps it’s not the best analogy to use. Rather, the smaller pieces should make it easier to comment, but please bear in mind that it’s not a full picture. I hope that the coherency of the whole becomes more obvious as I post more parts. This one merely acts as an introduction and explains why I place such an emphasis on theology.

For me, theological understanding lies at the root of faith (not all faith, but mine in particular). Despite having a church background that places scripture in a very high position (the highest, one might almost argue), I always find myself questioning it and attempting to reconcile its inconsistencies, not with reference to other scripture or alternative critical methods, but with theology. The question for me, if you like, is, “What does this tell me about God and is it consistent with our understanding of God?” For me, theology, in a sense, drives interpretation of scripture whilst always recognising that scripture is part of God’s revelation to us. Understanding scripture then becomes held up against a yardstick that asks, “Is this a faithful and consistent understanding of God?”

That makes theology, not the dry academic discipline it often appears, but a very immediate and essential aspect of our faith. Theology is our understanding of God as we go about our everyday business, as we meet and speak to people, as we make ethical and moral judgements, as we choose one path over another, as we witness, in word and deed. There are so many areas of our life that scripture simply doesn’t address and so it is theology that allows us to make our judgements. One might argue that this is the role of ethics, but ethics can be entirely secular and it can be easy to confuse ‘doing good’ with ‘being a Christian’. Even our ethics must be driven by our theology.

Perhaps this approach is simply a consequence of how I came to faith. I know many other Christians who wouldn’t even consider their faith being based on such ‘academic’ grounds. Nonetheless, I think theological thinking is what gives us maturity and depth in faith. We may just not call it theology.

As a final word, let me place one caveat on what I intend writing. One of my lecturers using the phrase ‘language at its breaking point’. I love this phrase and think it is very apt when we hope to describe God with mere words. So, when I use mere words to attempt to describe feelings and thoughts and concepts, please do remember that they will never do justice to God.

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