Theology as Habit

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I argued in my last article that Christians have no choice in being “theologians” and doing “theology.” These activities are inseparable from the claim of being a Christian. You have learned to speak TO, FOR, and ABOUT God, perhaps I should say your god, in a certain way. This is the same for many practices of human life, which we call habits. It is a jarring moment, though, when those habits are questioned and called out as possibly being bad.
Remember the time you went to the doctor or dentist and learned of heart disease or gum disease. You were told that your normal habit, a habit you learned from your parents or guardians, was insufficient for a healthy body. So too, I am questioning your current habits of theology. It is important to notice that I do not think theology is in the first place a subject or academic topic of study—even though it is also those things. A subject reserved for a few quirky professors who reside in the darkened back hallways of seminaries and universities who only write and talk to/for each other. No, I submit again that theology is a kind of activity, a certain set of practices through time, a way of life, inseparable from the claim of Christianity. In this way “theology” is not something you talk about but something you do—a habit.
Recently the theological habits of many in Oskaloosa were on display. The issue regarding the Nativity scene in the city square seemed to squeeze theologians out of the woodwork. And as theologians were squeezed out of the woodwork so too were their habits.
How do we speak and act toward a civil government placing a Nativity scene in the city square? How do we respond to the criticism of citizens who are opposed to such a display and apparently lawfully so? These are the types of moments that test our theological disciplines and habits. In these situations how are we going to speak and act as theologians of good habit? We know not all habits are “good” nor are we as individuals powerful enough to claim our personal private habits as being good, they are always subject to another.
In the case of our teeth we submit to our dentists, in the case of our “theology” we submit to the spokesman of God, Jesus of Nazareth, and then those he has commissioned to carry his teaching to all nations namely the Apostles and those who follow after them. We can get a second opinion. Rather than listen to your doctor you can listen to your Son-in-law the mechanic concerning your heart disease. In the same way you can reject the path of Jesus and the Apostles for your own sought after theological habits (Oprah, Montel, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado all offer alternative theological habits to those given by Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther), but in both cases it is an unwise decision leading to what will no doubt be a “bad” outcome.
The season of Advent is a season, if you do not know, of reflection, refocus, and increased discernment finally leading to or flowing from repentance on account of the announcement that the Lord of the Church and her Christians is preparing to descend and judge. Since we, regardless of denominational division, rather unanimously agree that we know neither the time or place of the Second Advent of our Lord; a different question hangs over our time. We are not occupied with the question of when and how, as the disciples once were (Matt 24.3) because Jesus clearly and firmly directs them, and by extension us, to the more important question: “What type of practices will you do while you wait for my (Jesus’) return (Matt 24.36-25.46)?” Or, as I will reiterate, “will I (Jesus) find your theological habits good or bad?”

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A Theological Paper at a Theological Symposium?

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Preaching that does not kill God.  I wrote about one bright spot in the St. Louis Symposium.  That will be the paper, “Preaching that does not Kill God.”  I know that it will be delivered early in the morning, 8 a.m. to be exact, but what day I am not sure.  What I find interesting is this; I have read through the list of presentation and papers that will be given.  None of what I have seen seems to be theologically potent.  Dr. Meyer’s presentation on “baptismal theology” and its work in shaping a sermon might be a good one to sit through.  Theologically potent?  That will be seen.   Other than that these seem to be vaguely theological leaning toward more hermeneutical and, of course, homiletical.  The bulk of the presenters are “practical” theologians, whatever that is?  And their topics reveal the issue I brought up in the first place, rediscovering the artfulness of preaching is not what we are currently in need of as a church.  What these topics do seem to present is that there seems to be a clear division between theology and preaching that is even evident in the symposium.  Other than Dr. Meyer’s main presentation on the underpinnings of baptismal theology and preaching, the main presentations are about using the text, the creative Word and why that means we should be creative in preaching (that might be entertaining), and devotional structures to help you get your point across and be remembered.

If I were spending the $140 bucks to register, paying for a hotel and gas, I would make sure that I am at the Seminary at 8 a.m. to hear what I think will be one of the clearest, most theologically potent papers that will be delivered.  I think I might even go so far as to say this might be one of the most theologicall potent papers I would have ever heard in a Symposium.  “Preaching that does not Kill God” will get at and make very clear just what I meant when I said, “God has been suffocated from our pulpits.”  What this paper will do is lead us to think about removing the pillow from God’s face or loosening our fingers from around his neck.