From a recent e-mail update for the Emergent Village (May 20, 2009):
What, Exactly, Is Theology?
By Tony Jones
an exclusive excerpt from the book
The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (now available in paperback):
Some readers might be tempted, at this point, to say, ”All this talk of philosophy and theology is really a waste of time. Why bother with it? The only important thing is that we love Jesus. That’s it.”
Well, I submit that ”only loving Jesus” is a theology. It’s a paper-thin theology, a reductionistic theology. It’s a theology that avoids many things; for instance, (1) two millennia of argumentation over the nature of God, (2) the great difficulties in reading the Bible, and (3) all of the grief in the world. The refrain ”Can’t we all just love Jesus?” uses that unseemly word just (a word that we Christians use altogether too often in prayer: ”Father, we just ask that you would just be here with us tonight …”). Just is a term of minimization, of diminution, when used in this way. (Ironically, just can also be used to denote justice, which is at the very heart of the gospel.) But Jesus, the gospel, the Bible, theology, they’re never ”just” anything. They’re always more, much more, than we might think. These items (Jesus, gospel, Bible) should not be qualified with the adverbs just or only. The gospel is always more than we imagine, the Bible always has something for us greater than we expect, and Jesus is always beyond what we can conceive.
So we must refigure our theology. Too much bad theology has engendered too many unhealthy churches and too many people who don’t quite get the whole ”following Christ” way of life. Too much thin theology is responsible for too many Christians who practice the faith in ways that are a mile wide and an inch deep. The hope of emergents, their ministry, their message is, more than anything, a call for a reinvigoration of Christian theologyâ€”not in the ivy towers, not even in pulpits and pews, but on the street. …
Most human activity is inherently theological, in that it reflects what we believe to be the case about Godâ€”who God is, what God wants from us, how involved God is in the world, and so forth. The house I buyâ€”where it is, how big it is, how much it costsâ€”is a theological decision. It reflects what I believe about the following questions and more: Does God care where I live? Does God care how I spend my money? Does God favor the city or the suburbs? Does God care about energy use? Does God favor public transportation? Maybe I believe that God cares about none of these things, in which case my decision to purchase the biggest house I can afford in the nicest part of town reflects my theological belief that God is not concerned with such things. Similarly, decisions that are much more mundane also reflect our beliefs about who God is and how God interacts with us. Some people pray for a good parking spot when they’re driving to the mall. Others ask, ”If God is allowing genocide in Darfur, why would he intervene in the traffic patterns at my shopping mall?!?”
So theology isn’t just talk, and it’s not even just great works of art like The Allegory of Peace and War. Actors act theology and businesspeople work theology and stay-at-home moms change diapers and make lunch theologically. So human life is theology. Virtually everything we do is inherently theological. Almost every choice we make reflects what we think about God. There’s no escaping it.