Wednesday, July 01, 2009

intro part 2

I chose the other two texts for this self-imposed summer project because a) I've already read most of them, and b) I really appreciated many things about them and the theologies presented. The main deficiency in this project is that all these texts are written by white Westerners (well, I'm not sure about whether all the women in Freeing Theology are white, but a majority of them are anyway). For my seminary systematic theology courses we also read works of Black theology, Asian theology, Latino/a theology, and other feminists/womanists. (We also read several other "traditional" theologians.) But in order to keep this project somewhat manageable, I'm going to limit it to these three texts.

Daniel L. Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding was written for use in a classroom as a slightly-more-than-basic introduction to the traditional Christian doctrines. Migliore was a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary until he retired at the end of this school year. I never got a chance to take a class from him, but he seems like a genuine, thoughtful person, and I appreciate the way he wrote this text. I like the way he states his objective for this text: he wants "to offer an introduction to Christian theology that is both critically respectful of the classical theological tradition adn critically open to the new voices and emphases of recent theology" (Migliore, 2004, xiii). In other words, he presents theology from the past, and tries to incorporate contemporary and more contextual theologies, but he does not accept either kind without critical reflection.

The name of his text comes from a quote attributed to Anselm, a Medieval theologian, that the task of theology is "faith seeking understanding." Theology is not simply regurgitating what people have said in the past, but "Christian faith prompts inquiry, searches for deeper understanding,d ares to raise questions" (2). I appreciate Migliore's caution that "faith causes us to do more than think" (7). As we do theology, we have to realize that if we're just sitting around thinking and writing about the intricacies and inanities of various doctrines, we aren't doing theology. To do true theological inquiry is to think about things, then act on them, then reflect on that experience, and go out and act on our thoughts some more. (Practical theologians call this "praxis," and perhaps do a better job of living this theory out more often than systematic theologians, but at least Migliore addresses this and sees it as the ideal.)

Migliore lays out four helpful "Questions of Theology" (pp. 10-14):

1. Are the proclamation and practice of the community of faith true to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture?

2. Do the proclamation and practice of the community of faith give adequate expression to the whole truth of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ?

3. Do the proclamation and practice of the community of faith represent the God of Jesus Christ as a living reality in the present context?

4. Does the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ by the community of faith lead to transforming practice in personal and social life?

I appreciate these questions as ways to think about theology, rather than just explicating doctrines created by human beings. I think the parts of theology that Quakers have traditionally rejected come in when theology ceases to address these questions. When "theology" is only theoretical, when it does not prompt action in the world for the sake of others, it is useless. On the other hand, it is also not Christian theology when it's not focused to some degree on the Bible and the life of Jesus, historical and present in the Spirit who moves in our midst. I think Quakerism and other denominations witness to the struggle between tradition and contemporary revelation. How do we understand past revelation in a way that is still relevant? How do we make sure that the "revelation" we receive today is actually revelation and not just false prophecy? (I would define "false prophecy" as "things that make give us the impression of happiness without taking into account past, future, other people or the world in which we live.") But that's getting into the next chapters' topic, so I won't say too much about that now. Suffice it to say, I think the way Migliore explains the task of theology is helpful and, when stated thus, is something with which Quakers can be in complete agreement.

No comments: