On June 25th, contributors to the All Saints Center for Theology met for a round-table discussion called Table Talk to attempt an answer to the question “What is Good Theology?” Using John Pryor’s essay “On Good Theology” as a starting point, the participants ( James Arcadi, John Pryor, Adam Rick, Isaac Demme, Brian Barry, and Matthew Brench ) bandied about heavy theological ideas over good food and drink in the tradition of Martin Luther’s boisterous discussions with his students.
While Table Talk was fun for the participants who get their strokes from discussing weighty matters of God, the gathering’s broader purpose was to find ways to marry the task of theology to the activity of the church. Theology, as a discipline, has typically been more associated with the university and the ivory tower, rather than in the trenches of the church where the Word and Sacrament are administered and the Holy Spirit dwells. Convicted that this state of affairs is less than ideal, the participants explored ways in which the church could enliven theology, and the ways in which theology can serve the church. Since this task goes straight to the heart of the primary mission of the Center for Theology, this meeting (the first of its kind since the Center began in 2009) stands as an important marker within the young history of the ministry.
At the end of the night, the main principle, first articulated by Brian Barry and expounded on by the participants, was that “Piety in the church is a natural habitat for the theological enterprise.” Convinced that good theology flows from piety, participants agreed that the study of God is not simply an objective study of a lifeless thing that can be dissected like a cadaver, but rather a study of a living subject (God) who has made Himself known and calls us to Him. Indeed, the subjective aspect of theology is such that theology and piety (the virtue that produces the spiritual fruit which allows us to discern God’s communication) are intimately connected and unified.
The implications of this principle are many and profound. They include:
1) Theology is about God talking to us. Thus, theology reflects on His communication to us (in this sense, anyone who thinks and speaks about God is a theologian).
2) Theology is an extension of humanity’s purpose as created image-bearers of God. God created us in order to know and love Him by reflecting on His communication to us in a way that carries the banner of God’s characteristics to the world.
3) Good theology flows from sanctification–among other things, an active prayer life, giving alms to the poor, and worship produce good theology and qualify someone to make good theological statements.
4) Good theology is recognizable by its deeds. Good theology produces spiritual fruit and goads the church to acts of love.
5) Just as piety is fueled by a prayerful, supportive, and faithful community, so is good theology fueled by a prayerful, loving, faithful church.
6) Good theology should lead to the enjoyment of God, not just to overcome intellectual problems or resolve ethical dilemmas. In this sense the application of theology to everyday life should lead to more than just ethics. It should lead us to devotion.
7) Good theology is characterized by translation. Just as God offer a translation of Himself through His Son Jesus, good theology is characterized by concrete statements that lead people into piety.
Putting these precepts together, the group agreed that the goal of theology is to enlighten the hearts of people to worship God; to meet people where they’re at in order to “light the fire” of their hearts and minds. Good theology should motivate people to acknowledge God as God and worship Him for His glory alone.
We invite others to contribute their own thoughts about the characteristics of good theology here in the comments section. The participants will likely want to add additional thoughts themselves!
A second Table Talk gathering is scheduled for September 10th, 2011, in which the participants (and hopefully a few more!) will discuss further characteristics of good theology, characteristics that will serve the church and lead her to the worship of our great and glorious God.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.