Friday, June 15, 2012

What is "Theology"?

So what is a theological blog about, anyway?
If you were to survey several dozen blogs, websites and online journals concerned with "theology," you would be barraged with a dizzying array of material covering a wide swath of disciplines and from disparate confessional and "objective" perspectives.  These would include biblical commentaries, metaphysical speculations, political analyses, sermons, memoirs,  satires, book reviews, historical surveys, screeds, some sketchy stuff about UFOs, some libelous material about televangelists and other public figures, pro and anti GBLT treatises, and attempts to empower particular groups of people or, alternatively, to keep them in "their place."  And, I hope, you would find only a fraction of this stuff remotely interesting, or else you should be prepared to say goodbye to your day job -- unless, that is, you're lucky enough to get one of those jobs in which you get paid to read this stuff all the time.
But this is not to be a theo-blog about theo-blogging per se, despite the inevitable self-referential and intertextual aspects of the enterprise.  No, I would actually want to say something about something.  And that's the tricky part.
(After I graduated from college, before embarking for seminary in Atlanta, I wryly informed my roommate I would soon be off "to study the study of God."  He thought that would be a waste of time:  Instead, I should actually try to learn something about God.  At the time, he was something of a religious skeptic and introduced me to the Tao-te Ching.  He's an entrepreneur and a multi-millionaire now, and I have visual evidence of his numerous sport vehicle purchases on my Facebook feed.  Theo-blogging, by contrast, doesn't tend to be terribly lucrative.  But if I start running Dr. Pepper 10 ads on my sidebar, then who knows?)
Back on topic -- Theology as the "study of God" (or of a god or the gods, depending upon your religious worldview):  Now that has a commonsense ring about it.  That way of framing the matter gets pretty close to the Greek etymological roots of the term.  Theology, roughly, means "talk" or, perhaps better "discourse" about God.  I might be tempted to say "reasoned" discourse about God.  Ancient and medieval philosophers might have approved of that, but in the current postmodern intellectual climate, that would ensnare me in a thicket of additional questions and problems.
Ask me what a microbiologist studies, and I could give you a rough answer, though I couldn't give you too much specific detail about her methods, data and conclusions.  Even for something as ethereal as "parapsychology," I have a pretty good idea (gleaned from cable TV) what that is about, though I'm not sure whether that enterprise meets the rigorous empirical criteria of a "real" science.  (Just hearing the term itself evokes for me this image of Bill Murray, wearing something resembling a Hoover vacuum cleaner on his back, chasing a luminous green blob around the New York Public Library.)
But why is it, then, that when I'm trying to delineate "theology," a field I've ostensibly been tracking for about two decades, I run into such difficulties?  Theology as "reasoned(?) discourse about God" -- What might this possibly mean? If you're new to this question, you might be surprised by the wide range of answers offered to this question throughout the history of religious thought.  And you might be perplexed by the wide-ranging debates and myriad perspectives on offer today.
But if you want to find out more what I think about all this, unfortunately, you'll have to tune in later.


  1. Fisher Humphreys (New Orleans Baptist Seminary & Beeson Divinity School) called it "thinking about God." Fisher's approach to theology and teaching led me to the life-long desire to watch, read and listen as God shows Himself all around me.
    While I continue to think about God - more and more I am driven by the question what does He think of me? The more I seek an answer I am overwhelmed by His grace.
    I hope your comments here inspire me to seek to know Him better and serve Him more.

  2. You know, I never read Dr. Humphrey's book all the way through, but I'd like to do so, if you still have a copy of it.

    1. I have two copies - 1st & 2nd edition. Will be glad to share w/you.