Allowing Ourselves to Question our Theology


Howard Stone and James Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, make a distinction in two types of Theology: “Embedded Theology” and “Deliberative Theology.”

“Embedded Theology”
“Christians learn what faith is all about from countless daily encounters with their Christianity—formal and informal, planned and unplanned. This understanding of faith, disseminated by the church and assimilated by its members in their daily lives, will be called embedded theology. The phrase points to the theology that is deeply in place and at work as we live as Christians in our homes, churches, and the world.
Our embedded theology may seem so natural and feel so comfortable that we carry it within us for years, unquestioned and perhaps even unspoken except when we join in the words of others at worship. We may be secure in the conviction that this is what Christianity is all about and leave it at that. 
But occasions arise that require us to think about our embedded theology, to put it into words and then subject it to serious second thought. Frequently it is during crises that people first experience this call to theological reflection”
“Deliberative Theology”
“Deliberative reflection questions what had been taken for granted. It inspects a range of alternative understandings in search of that which is most satisfactory and seeks to formulate the meaning of faith as clearly and coherently as possible.
Like Solomon, the theologian wants to take all the testimony and evidence under advisement, press beneath the surface to the heart of the matter, and develop an understanding of the issue that seems capable—at least for the present—of withstanding any further appeal. This is deliberative theological thinking”
When I first became a believer, I was suspicious of theologies other than the one that my immediate faith community taught. If someone was not from the right seminary, the right church, or of a particular theological stripe, I dismissed them as either impure or maybe even outright heretical. I only read books from publishers with a “name you can trust.”

Then I went to seminary, where I was encouraged to question my embedded theology, to deliberate and test it against the Scriptures. I learned to hold my theology with a looser grip.

Strangely, some of those same professors from whom I learned this are now telling the evangelical church to not deliberatively reflect on our presupposed theologies. They worry that if Christians embrace the postmodern practice of “deconstruction” then the faith handed down from the apostles will be threatened.

They don’t like it when young Christians embrace the idea to “Question Everything.” Though their motive is to protect people from heresy, they are encouraging a non-deliberative theology.

They do not understand that the goal of deconstruction is not the deconstruction itself. It is the reconstruction of our theology as we attempt to question everything we presume from our embedded theology.

It is this Deliberative Theology that best reflects the Reformation’s slogan of “semper reformanda” – “Always Reforming.”


Lance said...

Hey Bob,
I've just recently discovered your blog. It's great and has been very helpful to me. I'm always thinking about stuff like this, and this particular post really helped me understand what I'm doing and what I ought to be doing.

Also, the comment about the post-modern idea of deconstruction made me think about my idea behind the blog I just started. I sort of took the modernist idea of "form follows function" and apply it to art, and improving art. I haven't really written much yet, but that's my idea. I think I'm gonna have to write a post on deconstruction and it's role.

I think most of the time I just feel deconstructed and as soon as I start to reconstruct I learn something new, and have to start over again. Though I will admit I haven't given myself enough time to really process and think.

Anyway, I really dig the blog. Miss ya.

Andy Rowell said...

I read this book back in seminary at Regent College in 1999 with Barbara Mutch in Supervised Ministry.

It reminds me of this a little quote from Karl Barth.

Hang in there.


"In the light of what we have already said, it is surely clear that before the end of all things there is no age whose work cannot be taken up again and continued and improved. Together with the whole ministry of the community, the critical scholarship of theology itself stands in constant need of criticism, correction and reform . . . Always there must be serious questioning, analysis, argumentation, construction, discussion and therefore directly or indirectly, and preferably only indirectly, polemics. From time to time, though not all the time, a little of the notorious rabies theologorum [fury of the theologians] is quite appropriate. This does not alter the fact, however, that in itself and as such theology is supremely positive and peaceable, that it fosters peace, and that it is thus to be pursued soberly, good-humouredly, without raving lack of composure, and particularly without too much petty, self-opinionated bickering. It is to be noted further that it is a modest undertaking which like missionary work can only aim to serve rather than to dominate by rendering a certain limited and transitory assistance to the cause of the community and therefore of all Christians and the world as a whole. It is to be noted further that when it is conceived and executed correctly and resolutely, yet also freely and modestly, theology is a singularly beautiful and joyful science (cf. C.D., II, 1, p. 656 f.), so that it is only willingly and cheerfully or not at all that we can be theologians."

The Church Dogmatics IV.3.2 p.881; (translation slightly altered).

Bob Robinson said...

Good to hear from you!
Keep up the de- and re- construction work. What a great way to be artistic.

Bob Robinson said...

Preach it, Karl!

caucazhin said...

In a strange way Im not sure theology matters that much in certain instances. One has to be born again of the spirit or else it doesnt matter what he professes to believe. Jesus hid the truth from many people because he knew they would never receive the spirit of truth and believe in him, although they were following him everywhere declaring him the messiah.