On September 10, contributors to the Center for Theology attended the seminar Table Talk 2 in order to answer the question What is Theology? Contributors included Fr. James Arcadi, Fr. Brian Barry, Joe Merrill, Dr. Paul Aganski, David Hanley, Matthew Brench, and myself. The question under discussion was motivated by the first Table Talk, in which we discussed the characteristics of good theology. After our first discussion, we realized several assumptions were being made about the nature of the theological task itself that needed further qualifications and definitions. After all, how does one speak about good theology if one hasn’t first defined what theology is?
This was our task for Table Talk 2. Following the excellent and highly recommended article provided by Matthew Brench, What is Theology?, published in the Fall issue of the Think Tank for the Center for Theology, we provided some basic definitions of theology, its sources, and its purpose in the church. As we began our discussion, we made some provisional statements that eventually led to a defining of the theological task. These provisional statements included:
- Theology works against “Me-ology”. That is, theology works against self-centered paradigms that justify a “Do whatever I want” ideology.
- Theology is both mystery and knowledge. Each go hand-in-hand. Theology attempts to unveil truth, beauty, and goodness as defined by God.
- Mystery contains the ineffable qualities of God that nevertheless touch his creation.
- Knowledge is justified true beliefs. It is more than data, facts, or paradigms, even though data, facts, and paradigms fuel our love of God. Knowledge is also different than beliefs (mental states; opinions; cognitions; anything within the realm of though). Rather, knowledge is absolute.
- Theology makes sense of God’s revelation.
- Everyone has beliefs about God by which they organize their life. Christian theology’s goal is to rightly form these beliefs.
After making these provisional statements (which came from a free-flowing conversation over beer and Mexican food), we settled ourselves down and developed a set of six precepts we believed summarized the discipline of theology in way that was easily consumable by the church. These are:
- Theology is expressed belief about God.
- The source of theology is Holy Scripture, along with Tradition, Reason, and Experience insofar as they agree with Holy Scripture.
- Good theology is characterized by dependence on Holy Scripture, where the church struggles together to apply scripture.
- Since everyone has beliefs about God, everyone is a theologian.
- A christian teacher is someone who translates the things that are necessary to salvation according to their contexts; corrects error in our beliefs; and reflects on the ineffable things of God.
- Love for God drives our desire for good theology.
While these precepts are not comprehensive, we believe they provide a basis for grounding the work of theology within the church. If it is true that everyone is a theologian, then our expressed beliefs about God in our churches — fueled by Scripture, Tradtion, Reason, and Experience — should provide fertile gound for the theological task. Indeed, it should provide the most fertile ground for theology, since the church is where God dwells through the Holy Spirit, communicating his love and knowledge to his children.
By publishing the results of our discussion, we invite others to further contribute to the question of the evening, drawing upon their experiences of theology in their church contexts.