What’s the Point of Theology?

Earlier this summer, I noted on Facebook that Chung Hyun Kyung’s book Struggle to Be the Sun Again upset my theological worldview.  I found myself asking what it might mean to do theology in my context.

I thought other people “did” theology.  They wrote it.  I consumed it, looking for “right,” bright and shiny ideas about God.  I approached theology as my own reflection about the nature of God.  Grounded in the Bible, of course.  But largely a private enterprise.  Personal. And predominantly, right thinking about God — orthodoxy if you will.

Then, Chung Hyun Kyung messed up my world.  She makes the claim that theology is not essentially about understanding the world, but about changing itThe point of theology is not passive sitting around thinking about God, but that reflection on God necessitates active engagement in the world and confronting injustice. When I do theology only to understand the world, I find myself comfortably resigned as a passive observer of the world’s drama. 

Those claims led me to rethink who does theology.  That maybe, even if its only from the platform of my home and blog, maybe, I’m becoming a theologian too.  And really, all of you asking questions about God and how your faith connects to the world you live and work in — you are theologians too, however much that might scare you (or your friends).

I think I’ve been hemmed in by my cultural constraints, namely, individualism.  Theology has been solo, private and personal rather than political. Implications for me are easier to speak of authentically than implications for the world. I don’t know how to confront the systems and powers that be, and I like my middle-class objectivity.

I lead with my heart and emotions (which most of you faithful readers have probably already noticed).  Consequentially, I tend to use theology as a spiritual painkiller to cope with my existential crises.   To be fair, I think theology does act as a spiritual medication, but I’m beginning to doubt the health benefits of pain relief for the already mostly comfortable me.

What if theology is interpreting God? Creating metaphor and language to explain who God is, who we are in relation to God, and what implications that has for how we live. What does it mean to say something about God in a way that matters for my context?  How do I say something that is both true and relevant?

I find myself most moved as I read theology from Christians in other parts of the world expressing personal, storied, almost tangible metaphors for who God is, and I’m finding myself envious of those beautiful cultural metaphorical connections.

Their metaphors connect to a God concerned for justice and compassion.  A God who redeems broken people from their oppressors. I see Hagar’s God — the God who sees her and responds to her unjust situation (see Genesis 16 and 21).

Suddenly, my view of basic theology has been demolished.  My old views about God seem small now.  And now, I have new sets of questions.

How do I speak about God in a way that connects to my cultural context — not just reiterating old “truths” in tired, church-y language. How is God relevant for us?

Who is God for us middle-class folk in the US?  Is God our therapist who helps us manage our anxiety?  Is God a cosmic Santa who brings us toys and treats while keeping score of the nice and naughty?  Is God our self-help guru, all 10-steps-to-a-new-and-improved you? Is God even that concerned about my happiness?

In case you’re wondering, I think the simple answer to these questions is “Not really.” There’s more complicated answers, but I don’t have time for that in one post.

I hope God is bigger than that.  I believe God is.

But, readers, I need some help from you.  I’m a little stuck.  My default language for God is abstract and transcendent.  I want some personal and concrete language.  

What are ways that you think about God?  How do you describe God to your context? What’s your God metaphor?  No cliches or church words.  Pretend you’re talking to someone who’s never been to church or heard of God or Jesus.  How do you talk about who God is to you? What hope does God offer you?   

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