What is theology for?
In a conversation recently, one of my peers was talking about why we need to change certain aspects of our theology. He argued that by changing our theology of how the world will "end," we can move people to political activism. He thought it was brilliant. I thought it was dangerous.
Are we supposed to have an end goal in mind before we begin doing our theology? I mean, there may be some worthy causes out there, but should we go about bolstering that political cause by creating a theological paradigm that supports it? Should we have "green" theology, or "feminist" theology, or "liberation" theology, or "conservative" theology?
I discovered an old movement that springs up out out the late 1700's with a man named Gabler. He insisted that we ought to study the Bible to get at its truth. He claimed that every statement and story ought to be exegeted carefully, and with enough scholarship, we mere mortals can get at the big-T Truth the Bible is trying to communicate.
Now, while that seems a bit ridiculous to this postmodern; I must say that his idea of transcendent Truth being communicated by the Bible itself intrigued me. Here's the problem: Gabler assumes that one can truly be objective. He assumes that I can read a Bible story and remove all my own garbage that gets read into the story. He also assumes that I can detect the author's garbage, the author's cultural garbage, the editor's garbage, the editor's cultural garbage, etc., etc.. That part makes me laugh.
But, I live in a world where the Biblical account is used however the person reading it wants it to be used. Am I trying to get people to live with a smaller carbon footprint? Sure enough, I can custom order a reading of the Biblical account to match it. Call it... Green theology. I'll just highlight every story that has anything to do with taking care of the earth. In places where the opposite seems to be true (like the world ending by a cataclysmic set of events, and then recreated), I just discard. I'll claim that it was the author's garbage, or a cultural misunderstanding. Surely whatever it is that we want for the Bible to say, it ought to oblige us in saying. Right?
This, my friends, is how we get to a place where we have "black" theology, and "liberation" theology, and "feminist theology." And it creates an environment where the Bible is used to accomplish something that we want it to do.
But what is the Bible trying to do on its own? What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to us through the Biblical text?
This is the primary question which motivates Biblical theology. Perhaps it is an actual impossibility, to truly get over our context. Perhaps we cannot ask any questions outside of our own experience. Fine.
But for me, I find it a refreshing change to believe that the Bible wants to say something outside of political hot-button issues. I find it refreshing to dig for what the Spirit is saying to me, and to my congregation, rather that having something that I want Scripture to talk about, and then dong my best to see what the Bible says about it.
I hope that we can all start moving toward a more Biblical theology.