Sunday, 13 April 2014

Faith Tweaking Understanding

What is theology? When I took the 101 course the nice lecturer seemed perfectly happy citing the old (really old... eleventh century!) chestnut, "faith seeking understanding." The problem is this doesn't allow for the sceptical enquirer. In the mind of the teacher, however, this didn't seem much of a problem: only people of faith could understand theology... faith (of the suitably patented Christian variety) was a prerequisite.

Very convenient. Could a non-Christian really come to grips with this field of thought? The lecturer thought not.

This response came as a surprise to me, especially given that we were studying in a well-regarded secular university, not some two-bit, tithe-funded Bible college. I countered by offering examples of Jewish scholars who contribute greatly to the field; but no, the point wasn't conceded.

This whole approach is, of course, nonsense, regardless of what crotchety old Anselm of Canterbury might have thought "back in the day." It's akin to shutting yourself in to a deadlocked room, tossing the key out of the window, and then blubbering about how free you are.

But back to the question: what is theology? "Faith seeking understanding" might cut it for those poor wretches who describe themselves as apologists, and expend their energies whitewashing crumbling sepulchres, but that's about it.

To the rescue comes Robert McCauley writing in the New Scientist publication The Big Questions.
"Deliberate, conscious reflection about the meaning and truth of religious claims is called theology."
Amen brother - high five! A useful, inclusive definition at last.

McCauley continues, making some further insightful comments, some of which I hope to cover in a follow-up posting.


  1. I have a more concise definition. What is Theology? Buffalo Chips.

    After extensive research, that's my considered opinion. I once had faith and was a true believer. But I've learned so much since then. And one thing I've learned for sure: every writing about God is just the speculation of men, based on no proof, little evidence and specious argument.

    I'm sure most on this site will disagree.

  2. Ryrie said it was “thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.” That's broad enough, I think. I mean you could think and say "he is," or think and say "he isn't," or think and say "God's will is such and such" or "God's will is blah blah blah" ... It's all theology. But none of it needs be called truth.

  3. While McCauley's statement has the appeal of idealism, in practice various theologies have the nature of large, detailed creedal statements. I have a Calvinist theology and it is very different from Arminian writings on the same topics. These systematic theologies may be detailed and analytical but they advocate a viewpoint.

    Published theology does have value in that it exposes belief to scrutiny. The closest thing that the WCG ever came to producing a systematic theology was the book entitled "The Mystery of the Ages." I like to look at my copy once in a while to remind myself how far removed HWA was from actual Christianity.

    -- Neo

  4. Isn't it all a matter of individual experience and personal expression, anyway? The minute you attempt to impose corporate standards, you throttle and spoil it all.


  5. Here I thought the word theology was from the Greek meaning study of God (or some facsimile thereof).

    "Faith seeking understanding" is inferior to "Science seeking understanding". At least with science you get to confirm (or disconfirm) your hypothesis by observation and even experimentation whereas the "seeking" by Anselm is an abstraction removed from the realities of the universe, making it possible and entirely likely that you can gaily comfortably adopt rubbish and have "faith" you are right -- you know, like the ad for British Israelism in the latest Journal, when we all know that Dr. Michael Germano disproved British Israelism using DNA proof back in 2007 (even though he's joined up with Roddie Meredith to gain accreditation for the LCG online University -- which is going to end in anomalous behavior inimical to "faith seeking understanding" no matter what Dixon Cartwright has to say).