Do Theology Before — Not After — Your Decision

Todd Littleton thinks. That’s right, he thinks.

One of the things that most bugs me about the way that my coreligionists talk about the activity of God is that they almost alway see that activity ex post facto. That is, they make a decision, or something happens to them, and then they say something like, “The Lord’s hand was really in that.”

Todd Littleton pretty much calls bullshit on that in a great post about thinking theologically before and in the midst of decisions, not just after. He uses his family’s choices of where to live as the example that drives the post. Here’s a snippet:

Theology done in prospect takes Divine possibility into account first, not last. For instance, it did not specifically occur to us when we turned down Tyler a house might possibly await.

In the course of God-talk, theology in prospect calls attention to what God might do, the way God might act. Our church owns a bit of property. We have batted around the idea of selling a small parcel. During a recent discussion, Cary contended that from his perspective we might be putting an end to possibility if we sell. Who knows what growth might occur, what ministry might make use of the land, or other act where we might consider the Spirit leading.

Imagine these two sorts of conversations occurring around the same event. We Evangelicals tend to be schooled in both. We know when to employ retrospect. And, we know when to suggest prospect. It is when these two collide that we face the interpretive battle. Whose interpretation? Whose meaning? And, how could God-talk divide us.

What we need is a good dose of deconstruction. But, too many immediately consider this destruction. Religious pundits spout accusations of relativizing the truth. They spend much more time assessing the cultural implications often associated with postmodernism than the deeper philosophical turn that helps through the maze created when well meaning people face God-talk over the same event requiring a decision as retrospect or prospect.

He goes on to write that this kind of consideration of God-talk inevitably leads to ambiguity, paradox, and even conflict. But, he argues, that’s inherent to being a Christian.

Read the rest of Todd’s post: God-talk In Conflict or, When Retrospect and Prospect Collide | The Edge of the Inside.

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  • Craig

    In making a big decision, isn’t the task of properly considering the relevant non-supernatural factors already difficult enough? If God exists, he’s not cruel.

    My advice: trust in your gracious God’s ability to speak to you clearly and unmistakably if and when he wishes to give you special guidance–like from an audible and fully articulate voice from out of a magically burning bush while you are perfectly sober and wide awake. Otherwise leave the business of divining God’s whispers to the prophets (also acknowledging that most “prophets” are either dead or are the worst bullshitters of them all).

  • Evelyn

    Todd seems to be saying that theology done in prospect is about making decisions based on opening up divine possibility. So, the primary principle when making the decision is to make the decision that should make the most things possible. This looks like a weird attempt to control the possibilities open to the spirit by giving it every possibility.

    Before reading Todd’s post, I thought that theology done in prospect would be about acting on your pre-existing principles which could include things like maximizing gain or placating the suffering of the most number of people. When your ethics are based on opening up possibilities, you tend to do more sowing than reaping and I’m not sure you could really accomplish much of anything without having a goal in mind. Usually goals give meaning to action and motivate people to perform tasks to the best of their abilities. If the goal is simply to open up possibilities that doesn’t seem to be much of an impetus to do anything. Where does our God-given capacity to reason come into play in this possibility-opening procedure?

    • Craig

      Soberly assessing possibilities is indeed difficult if you’re always having to make provisions for the possibility of intervention by an omnipotent God. For faithful Abraham, even killing his only child evidently wouldn’t have shut down his possibilities for having biological descendants. To identify religious virtue with such paradox and conflict is the perfection of B.S.

  • Tony,
    I am flattered that you picked up this post and found something worthwhile to note.

  • A couple of the most interesting comments I’ve read here in a long time.

    It seems the trouble with this is that you open yourself up to noticing that God didn’t show up. If you simply notice Him in retrospect, it is confirmation of your bias. If you expect Him and he doesn’t show, what affect will that have on your faith?

  • Chris

    “He goes on to write that this kind of consideration of God-talk inevitably leads to ambiguity, paradox, and even conflict. But, he argues, that’s inherent to being a Christian.

    This statement must not be considering God-talk then, ’cause it sounds pretty cock-sure and unambiguous!?!

    Not very Christian.