Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who Needs Theology?

"What makes you think 'theology' is even a subject at all?" --Richard Dawkins

I have spent a lot of time thinking about theology. The subject always seems to surface no matter where I'm at or what I'm doing. Click Several days ago, for example, a friend's Facebook status said, "Sometimes I wish I could just get away from the world." These types of statements subconsciously—and automatically, I might add—produce a whirlwind of questions in my own mind:

"Why," I think to myself, "does something exist rather than nothing at all? Do we have a purpose for being here? Was the beginning of the universe orderly or chaotic?"

Or take another illustration: I was cruising down (or perhaps it was up?) 75 North (with my foot heavy on the gas) when the all-too-famous "COEXIST" bumper sticker flashes on the Pontiac ahead. Wham! My brain involuntarily pulls up the grid of questions that go along with religious pluralism, namely, "Can there be one exclusive truth? Does Christianity have it right? Can there really be several ways to God?" And, of course, there is the problem of evil. I see a lot of bad things—especially as an ICU nurse at Baylor hospital—that lead me to inquiries like,

"Why does a good and loving God allow pain and suffering?" and "What things in life are free versus those which are determined"?

To be honest, I'm not sure if I will ever be able to get away from these thoughts; I don't see how anyone truly could. "No one who reflects on life's ultimate questions," says Roger Olson, "can escape theology."
I believe Olson is right. I also believe Mr. Dawkins is wrong. Even as a prominent, vocal atheist Dawkins is one of the world's best theologians. He can't get away from the subject. He cranks out book after book touting how "untheological" the world is—that life is without any intelligence (unguided and random), making statements like "What makes you think 'theology' is even a subject at all"? when, interestingly, his life's work truly is theological. Oh, the irony.

Anyone who is a thinking person, and reflects on life, is a theologian—whether they be atheist or theist, Gnostic or agnostic, polytheistic or pantheistic, Jew or Gentile, Sunni or Shiite, white or black, fat or skinny. Consequently, I created my own syllogism.

  1. Anybody who thinks about life's ultimate questions is a theologian.
  2. Everybody thinks—in some form or fashion—about life's ultimate questions.


  3. Everybody is a theologian.

Yes, everybody is a theologian. However, it seems appropriate for me to layer my definitions of theology.

The General Theologians

The general theologians, in my opinion, are those of us who speak in generalities (no pun). For example, generally speaking, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and non-theists could all answer the theological question "Is there a purpose in life"? The Christian, Muslim, or Jew could (all) generally agree that God created the cosmos and that we are here because He chose to put us here. That answer, I believe, would be a form of "doing" theology. Likewise, the Hindu and the Buddhist could both agree that humanity has some "spiritual" purpose or journey that we are all on—also a way of "doing" theology. The non-theist, namely the atheist or agnostic, both agree that there is (probably) no purpose for our existence—and, even answering "no" to the question, is still a form of theology.

The Specific Theologians

The specific theologians are those who have developed systematic ways of putting their theology together. While the Christian, the Jew, and the Muslim may generally agree that God created the earth, all three would have separate, specific approaches. The Christian, for example, would want to say that humanity has fallen astray (Doctrine of the Fall) and that God has a specific way of redeeming (Doctrine of Redemption) His created people to save them from the separation from God (Doctrine of Hell). This, then, is not only specific theology, but systematic. Generally speaking (again, no pun intended), the specific theologian is the one who is also systematic.

I like Alister McGrath's definition of systematic theology: "…the prime concern is to present a clear and ordered overview of the main themes of the Christian faith…" The Christian can try to create and arrange all the major doctrines of Christianity into a formidable, orderly function. He would consequently try to pull similar verses together to form a canon of thought—and how those verses relate to the bigger picture of other verses.

Interestingly, Christians have many different ways of being systematic theologians. The Roman Catholics write their own systematic theology books, summarizing their beliefs about how God deals with the world. Likewise, the Evangelical Christians (which could be broken down more specifically to Dispensationalist, Baptist, Reformed, etc) have, within a Christian worldview, approaches to how doctrine should be ordered, followed, and practiced.

In conclusion, the question—at least in my mind—is not "Are we all theologians"? but rather, "What type of theologian are you? Are you general or specific"? The atheist and agnostic (or "non-theists") are, from my experience, general theologians. Even though rightfully belonging in the boat of theologians (as does everybody), it seems—from what I can understand— they would have a difficult time producing a specific or systematic theology. Personally, I fear for the man who is merely a general theologian because, to echo C.S. Lewis' thoughts, the only thing theology can't be is moderately important.

Unlike Richard Dawkins, theology really is a subject and it really does matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please respect others/