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Decoding Theology-Speak: Prologue

8 January 2009

I don’t know how successful this series will be, but I have a feeling it will take a while even to half-bake it.  Blame N. T. Wright, E. Peterson, D. Willard, and J. Patrick, along with R. B. Hays and the giants on whose shoulders these great authors and educators have stood; they have given me so much material to work with, I’m drowning in it.

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By the way, thanks, Mom, for sending me Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God.  It is a magnum opus, a rich source of raw material for thought and play, and the immediate inspiration for this series.  As it is taking weeks to plow through it, so it will take years to plumb its depths.  Now THAT is a great birthday present!

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The task at hand is a grassroots version of synthesis, to take a lot of material from a variety of sources, fashion it into a palette, and paint a single, coherent panorama.

The working hypothesis is that the ordinary Christian who wants to be a disciple of Jesus (in the fullest sense of the term) must learn to think, to reason, to reflect, to worship, to [be willing to] test inwardly, to [have the courage to] test outwardly, and thereby to become a patient, diligent, attentive student of truth.

That last word might scare you off.  What about love?  How can there be such an emphasis on truth to the exclusion of love?  qb, you are already heading down the path of neoPharisaism and exclusivism, a path I jumped off years ago and do not want to re-engage…I still bear the scars and nurse the wounds of the so-called “pursuit of truth.”

Ahhh, patience, gentle reader.  As N. T. Wright is persuading me, truth and love are dialectical.  (We’ll unpack that word some as we go, I hope.)  For the moment, though, let’s begin with this Wright-esque but oversimplified description of our field of play:  truth is the end, and divine love is the means.

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Alas, we’re already moving too fast.  I need to be patient as well.  So let me begin with some observations from the grassroots.

The scholarly class needs shorthand to capture the broad themes and areas of inquiry in which it engages, so it borrows word roots from Latin or Greek and tacks the suffix “-ology” onto them.  These words are long and intimidating:  epistemology, ontology, eschatology, theology, ecclesiology, anthropology, soteriology, Christology, phenomenology.  The scholarly class uses a variety of other words that simply baffle us and drive us to distraction:  Hermeneutics, exegesis, eisegesis, worldview, and all the rest.  We see those words or their cognates, and we turn off our engines, or we turn around and head for the beach.  Who has time for all that ivory-tower stuff?  We have lives to lead, bills to pay, doctors to see, children to raise.

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It’s a tragedy, albeit an understandable one, because my working hypothesis can be recast in precisely those earthy terms.  A disciple of Jesus, in the fullest sense of the term, needs to know how to get to the truth and what to do with it once he’s gotten there.  Taken together, that’s what all those “-ologies” are all about.

So I want to paint a picture, slowly, deliberately, and in conversation with the readers.  (Both of you.)  I want to try to demystify Christian scholarship, but I want to do it in a way that energizes you to engage in the same pursuits as these great scholars instead of driving you away.  You and I are capable of theology, for example; and in fact our lives express our theology to a great degree, perhaps without even being aware of it.  The same goes for exegesis and eisegesis:  every time we gather to study the Bible in small groups, we’re doing at least one of them and probably both.  We just don’t know it, and in general we’re not aware of the pitfalls in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Do you think this project is doable?  I hope you’ll see fit to join me, and let’s see if it is.

qb

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