The other day, someone said to me, “You’re not academic.” It was meant as a compliment, but I felt disappointed. The speaker meant that I was interested in people, and took ‘academic’ to mean ‘remote’.
However, I see academic theology differently. I know that in all too many cases it can be remote from ordinary life, and frankly abstruse. Try reading anyone called Karl – say Barth or Rahner – in a home group or a sermon. It’s often dense, and I need to re-read it to get the sense. My passion, though, is to connect the academy and the church. I believe theology is important for living.
So I was pleased to see Sally Coleman blogging on this very subject. I added a quote in the discussion there from one of the Desert Fathers, Evagrius Ponticus:
If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.
(I found that quote many years ago in David Benner‘s wonderful book ‘Psychotherapy and the Spiritual Quest‘, where it was cited from S Lash’s article ‘Orthodox Spirituality’ in ‘The SCM Dictionary of Spirituality‘, edited by Gordon Wakefield.)
To me, it encapsulates what theology is about: not just words about God (which would be a fairly literal interpretation of the word), but words to God, the exploration of God as an act of worship.
As for the academic stuff, well don’t we need the people who will use their gifts to think hard about the difficult questions? The church can be strangely ambivalent about this. In my experience (although not, I hasten to add, in my current appointment), I have encountered Christians who have vehemently rejected the idea of sermons that made them think only at other times to expect the same minister to explain hard issues to them! You can’t have it both ways!
Surely we are all theologians, at least by Evagrius Ponticus’ standards. But we each bring something different to the table, as together we seek to know God more deeply.