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.

Update on Progressive Theo-Blogger Challenge #progGOD

Last week, I challenged Progressive Theo-Bloggers to say something substantive about God. I then clarified what I hoped for. Thus far, I’ve been very heartened by the response. I’ve already got 30 posts queued up, and the challenge goes through this Friday (so there’s still time for you to join in!). Patheos will be building a landing page where, next week, we will post links to all of the contribution. (So, there’s some further incentive: If you want a permanent in-bound link from the biggest religion website on the internets, submit something!)

There’s been great commentary on both of the above posts. And a two thoughts that I want to respond to.

1) I’m not saying that God must always be talked about without Jesus. I’m just saying that now, for this challenge, you’ve got to talk about God without falling back on Jesus. It’s all too easy for Christians — both liberal and conservative — to default to Jesus-talk. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I think we also need to work our God-talk muscle, without reverting to Jesus-talk.

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This Is Me, Saying Something About God

…by saying stuff about what God is not. That is, by writing some apophatic theology. (Don’t worry, I’ll write substantive stuff about God next week!)

God Is Not Male

I think this sentiment is more palatable these days than it was fifty years ago because we are now aware of the complexities of gender. The meanings of words like “masculine” and “feminine,” “manly” and “womanly,” have been pretty thoroughly deconstructed. Thus, it’s really not even accurate to say, “God has characteristics of both genders,” since that sentence is basically meaningless. God is strong, which is masculine? God is sensitive, which is feminine? The ridiculousness of these sentiments quickly becomes clear.

God Is Not on the Side of the Poor

The other problem with claiming that God is one someone’s side, over against someone else, is that it gets to sounding a bit like members of a sports team who claim, upon winning, that the victory was somehow authored or blessed by God.  Most of us scoff when one team claims that God is on their side.  But how different is it to claim that, based on our own human measurements of poverty, that God favors one group of people over another?

God Is Not Just

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Progressive Talk about God: Lots of Throat Clearing

So, my Challenge to Progressive Theo-Bloggers has been well received, prompting many responses from across the blogosphere. You can see the Storify stream where I’ve been curating all of the posts, poems, and even tweets that have come in.

There have been some objections, and I’ve got some observations. First, the objections.

Firstly, I wrote,

Write something substantive about God. Not about Jesus, not about the Bible, but about God.

That prompted responses like this:

Maybe Benjamin is right and I misunderstand revelation, but I actually think there are lots of things to say about God without talking about Jesus. Jews seem to be able to do it.

That’s not to say that your vision of God shouldn’t be christocentric. I think it should. But as a Christian, you should also be able to articulate aspects of your doctrine of God without referencing Jesus of Nazareth.

To that thread, a comment by Brad was echoed in a tweet by John:

Dear John, you’re a theologian! That’s who you are to say things about God. Please note, I did not ask you to write a comprehensive theology of God. I asked you to write something substantive about God. If you can’t say anything substantive about God — whether it be to me, or to the person sitting next to you on a plane — then I just don’t see how you believe anything at all.

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