If you mention the word “theology,” I’d wager that the population would respond roughly along this breakdown:
75% Boredom/non-Interest/sense of futility
20% Anger or leaning towards anger
Maybe the last category would edge up a few percentage points if you asked inside a church. Maybe even 10% of the church hear’s “theology” and says, “Oh yes! Let’s chat!” I’m not exactly sure about the statistics since I just made them up entirely. What I’m getting at, though, is that there isn’t a whole lot of positivity attached to the word or the idea or especially the discipline. From once being described as the “Queen of the Sciences” to now being increasingly swept aside as the tired babblings of old fools, delusional intellectual doodling or the realm of inconsequential academic debate. Outside of certain circles, theology is fading in influence.
Of course, we are all theologians at some level, though. Even the atheist who insists dismissively that God is as real as the Flying Spaghetti Monster (because LOLZ), are doing the work of theology. It’s just that their -ology has dismissed any semblance of a theos. We could start there and move along the gradient of belief about God, of course. The agnostic or the “spiritual but not religious” or any number of beliefs along the spectrum comprise all kinds of theologians doing all kinds of work, intentional or unintentional, in the field of the study of God. It seems to be unstoppably human to think about the divine, even if only for a little while.
I “do” theology as a function of my job in addition to my human-ness, though. I am one of that small circle that nerds out to books with words like “ecclesiology” and “sacraments” and “communicable attributes.” I like the stuff. I like finding myself among a large community of people who have been busy thinking about the Christian God. This community spans not just countries, but ages. There is a real sense in which I read with loads and loads of dead people looking over my shoulders. And before you ask, no I do not have “Sixth Sense” experiences where I see the dead people. But I hear their whispers in the quotes, in the age-old nuance, in the trajectories they’ve helped establish or strengthen. And you know what? It’s great to be in the room with those people. It’s great to know that I’m interested in questions that other people have been interested in for thousands of years. It’s great to feel the weight of thinking in the same general direction (with very, very different approaches and conclusions, of course). I like it.
Theology works best for me, though, when theology is doing what theology was meant to do. Theology was meant to not just study the idea of a god. Theology was meant to study God Himself. Theology was meant to be thrilling. There is no getting around that theology is often work. You have to work with dense topics, often dabbling into other languages. That’s not easy work. That’s work that tires the brain. I understand why that level of theology puts people to sleep or makes them angry.
But theology doesn’t have to be that way. Theology can walk out of the ivory tower and speak the language of everyday theologians, the theologians of the street. Theology can scramble through the brush and cliff faces and make its way to stunning vistas that leave the participants slack-jawed at the vistas of God’s character. Theology that gets to the point and studies God before the face of God is a thing that can and should thrill everyone involved. That thrill, that love is what theology was meant to do.
That’s not for the elite. Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of the work of theology is for men and women who are highly skilled, highly trained technicians who do work at a level that the vast majority of people cannot participate in, including me. That really isn’t for everyone. But theology was meant to flow from out of there to enflame the hearts of all people. God is worthy of being fawned over and rejoiced over and marveled at. God is astounding and the font of all beauty. We were meant to be amazed.
Theology was what we were all meant for. The lie has crept out that it’s for the irrelevant, the bored, the deluded. But the truth is that you were made to hear the warm invitation of God and creep closer and closer. God is not an unavailable Father locked away in His study, begrudging your intrusion. He is the Father who loves to play hide and seek, who loves to find and be found. If God is good, and I believe He is, then seeing more of God is nothing less than falling headlong into goodness. If God is ti-personal, and I believe He is, then love is nothing something He does or chooses to feel or is provoked to feel. Love is something that God is to His core. Studying God is finding the source of all Love. Theology is not an infinite task because of the sheer number of dry books written. Theology is infinite because the subject itself is without end.
This is what theology was meant to do. It was meant to draw you into the vortex of God’s infinite being where all your craving for meaning and love finds an end in His unending Person. Theology does not suck the life out of you. Theology, done properly, infuses you with more life. Theology is not dry drudgery.
It is eternal delight.