A few days ago someone commented that they liked my contribution to the circuit website and appreciated my ‘amateur theology’. I was pleased that someone thinks of my musings as theology but was unsure what they meant about them being amateur! But as compliments in ministry are few and far between I will take it as a compliment.
However that phrase highlighted a fundamental flaw that we have with theology in the western church, we see theology as a profession usually done by academics in a university setting and for much of my training that was what it was. Our systematic theology course focused on the two towering giants of 20th century theology, Karl Rahner and Rudolf Bultmann and into whose camp you fell.
This is not new of course, in the early days of the Methodist movement there was a fierce argument as to whether we should follow the teachings of John Calvin (Calvinism) or Jacob Arminius (Arminianism) and as good Methodists we know whose theology we follow today!(?)
This discussion about theology reminded me of an interview I read with Prof. Alan Torrance. Alan Torrance is Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Andrews University, he is the son of Professor James Torrance Erstwhile Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Andrews University, grandson of Rev Thomas Torrance a missionary in China and nephew of the great if formidable Rev Prof. Thomas F Torrance professor of Christian dogmatics at New College, in the University of Edinburgh. He joked in the interview that there must be a rogue gene in the family that makes them all theologians.
During the interview the interviewer commented with so many theologians in the family there must be ‘Torrance Theology’. Alan Torrance pushed back at this idea and stated that the agent of theology and the context of theology is the body of Christ. For Torrance the body of Christ is the people who have been metamorphosed, through God’s self-disclosure as Jesus Christ — not in Jesus Christ, as Jesus Christ — where the divine life is open to us to share.
Theology comes not from academia but from the church, the body of Christ, held together in a covenant with the triune God, the theologian is not the professional academic but are the people acting as Jesus Christin the world today.
The Church should not be defined by whose theology we accept or whose theology is imposed on us but by the theology we create in our, some times, feeble attempts to be the body of Christ. The direction of theological interpretation must always be from God’s self-disclosure to our categories of thought, and not from our prior categories of thought to God’s self-disclosure.
That sounds very abstract, but to be practical, when we see the word “law” come up in Paul, we interpret it as what we mean by law, civil law, moral law and so on.
When Paul speaks of law He meant Torah, the articulation of our response to God’s covenant faith in us: “I am the Lord thy God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. As I am unconditionally faithful to you, so be faithful to me and to each other.” The whole history of Western theology has been to reverse that, to try to interpret God’s self-disclosure as Torah in the light of foreign concepts of law, natural law, civil law, moral law and so on.
Or we talk about the covenant. The covenant has become, in the West, “contract.” We think in terms of not an unconditional promise on the part of God to humanity, proposing an unconditional love like in a marriage covenant, where we promise to love the other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.
That’s what God’s covenant means. But we interpret it as a contract between God and humanity.
True theology comes not from our attempts to impose our world view on God’s self-disclosure but allow God’s self-disclosure, which is the body of Christ in all it’s forms, to form our theology.