Theology is discourse which seeks to give understanding of God and God’s relation to all of God’s creation. The task of Christian theology, specifically, seeks to render an intelligible account of the triune God’s acts in human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Christian theologians engage in critical reflection upon the doctrines, texts, and practices of Christian traditions. While Christian theology is essential to Christian faith and witness, modern Christian theologians are painfully aware of many Christians’ suspicion of theology. Many Christians find theology to be highly speculative and obscures the task of Christian mission. Moreover, many Christians find that academic theologians are far removed from the lived experiences of those whom the Churches are called to proclaim good news i.e. the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Regardless of the fact that all Christians engage in theology, lay Christians and many church leaders find that theology is the privilege of an intellectual elite.
Theological reflection in all of its diversity (practical, speculative, moral, dogmatic, and so forth) is a matter of interpretation. We (specifically persons of Christian faith) all come to the task of interpreting our faith with biases–personal experiences, various levels of education and different forms of knowledge. We have various points of reference and hold fast to principles of interpreting Scripture and other texts in our traditions which are influenced by our social locations and our various identities. Sometimes our minds change, for better and/or worse, on matters that affect all of us–war, sexual ethics and sexuality, violence, economics, environment, liturgical practices, and so forth. We inevitably disagree on these matters. Sometimes respectfully. Many times violently. We call for debates, yet some, especially those in power and with privilege, dominate these discussions while others are silenced. We passionately claim that lives of all of God’s children are at stake in “weightier matters.” Our beliefs, and the subsequent actions which reinforce our beliefs, impacts the lives of many people.
To bring it home, Christians around the world are waging socio-political theological wars surrounding issues related to gender and sexuality. As the United States (seemingly) shifts more left towards full acceptance of LGBTIQ and their families, Christians who are traditional on matters on sexual ethics and marriage are confronted by a generation who finds such positions as veiled bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and fear of the “Other.” Evangelical Christian colleges do not know how to handle the truth that many of their students are coming out of the closet as LGBTIQ despite their heteronormative culture. Self-identified gay evangelical Christians are challenging the biblical interpretations that condemn homosexuality as “sinful.” One can sincerely read these challenges from LGBTIQ persons of faith as the final manifestation of the “spirit of the age.” However, historically, it shows that Christians have never completely agreed on any so-called “weighty” matters, even sexuality. I would dare venture to suggest that the rise of LGBTIQ and other marginalized Christian challenges the socio-economic and political privilege of white, European-American, heterosexual males’ political and ecclesiastical power to mediate the divine. The voices of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTIQ within Christian theology reminds us of that theology is an ongoing conversation and engagement with our respective traditions, not a mindless regurgitation or repetition. These “marginal” theological voices also remind us that God cares for the oppressed of the earth and privileges those own the margins of the society. Theology must include all voices. Theological discernment is a communal practice. Yet, as teachers of the faith, theologians are given the task, I believe, to help guide the churches into understanding what we believe and to critically examine if our practices and our beliefs are faithful to the gospel.
It’s easy for traditional Christians to dismiss challenging, uncomfortable views of others as not “biblical” and heterodox. One can appeal to certain passages in Scripture as proof-texts to protect oneself against the onslaught of “false doctrines.” However, a truly courageous faith will risk the privilege of being right by engaging with God’s beloved creatures and enter into their space to listen to their voices and hear the cries of hurting people. Faithfulness to God’s Word embodied in Jesus means following Jesus into the depths of people’s pain and listen, discern, and trust that God’s Spirit will guide us into all truth. For whatever reason, we may not come to an agreement with our theological conversation partners on everything that can be imagined. However, we must divest ourselves with the idolatrous quest to “stand upon the Word.” Instead, we need to realize that we all stand under the Word. The Word confronts us of all and exposes our biases, our interests, our blind spots. We need to fully surrender to the authority of the Word and Spirit and humble ourselves. We may not be right about our interpretations of texts and definitely are not ethically just in our dealings with people with whom we disagree. This is good news. The Word judges us and gives us grace. Theology as “faith seeking understanding” seeks to faithfully convey this message. I guess, what I’m trying to say is this: if love is not at the core and the driving force to engaging in theology with others, than theology is idolatrous and demonic. If we seek to silence those who are different than us and who understand themselves in a way that’s different that we do, then theology does not serve the living and true God, but our sinful interests.