The Work of Theology is Never Done

The work of theology is never done.

The work of theology is never done because we theologise in our own space; unending glimpses of grace from within our own situatedness.

The work of theology is never done because contexts change like sand on the shore, perhaps looking like the day before but never quite the same.

The work of theology is never done because, though God’s faithfulness will never change, we fail to remain the same; similar questions, perhaps, but different faces and names seeking ‘truth’ (though it necessarily be contained so we may embrace it).

The work of theology is never done because, even though the academy (as well as responsibility for publishing choices) is dominated by whiteness and male voices — often silencing that which is ‘different’ through the violence of ignorance — other voices are yet discernible if we just choose to listen.

The work of theology can never be done as long as definitions of ‘central’ and ‘peripheral’ remain indistinguishable from those identified by imperial power.

So we do the best that we can — our traditions on the one side and our situatedness in the other hand —  and we do what we do, working towards the ongoing revelation of God’s plan to make all things new.

We strive on towards the light, not sure if we’ve got it all right but confident that, when we stumble, God might continue to sustain us. We leave dogma far behind, giving up the facade of doctrinal purity and, rather, seek to find that which seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the faithful community.

And though we yet see imperfectly, we must never fail to love. We must love with reckless abandon, for love is the only firm ground that we stand on. We include and we embrace for, when we do, we see the face of God.

And thus will it continue, until God is all and in all.

But, until then, the work of theology is never done.

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Published by

Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

4 thoughts on “The Work of Theology is Never Done”

  1. Yes and amen. Loved reading about giving up the facade of doctrinal purity and seeking what seems good to the Holy Spirit and the community of faith. And to love with reckless abandon. The whole article was inspiring, wonderful post Josh.

  2. I think there is a sense of truth to what you say Josh, especially in regards to the domination of particular voices but don’t you think such a position also potentially leads to a continual proliferation of voices for voices sake, of differing opinions simply so we can have differing opinions. There is too much potential for subjective positioning (eg. what is the contemporary faithful community and who defines ‘seems’ good to the Holy Spirit in Theology)

    It leads to a form of academic and theological pluralism. I have to admit I am increasingly appreciating Thomas Oden’s concept of Paleo-Orthodoxy. The idea that we should continue to discover things that apparently, the Church (esp. the early Church) never seemed to understand is actually concerning for me. That modern Scholars come up with a myriad of ideas that are ‘new’ screams an academic culture where a new idea is required for doctoral dissertation. (a dangerous position in my opinion). Obviously such a position requires people like myself to re-examine some doctrines on the back of historical positions (esp ante-Nicene understanding) but that is fine by me.

    The separation between Dogma, Doctrine and Opinion is also very subjective (Catholics have this communally defined but not Protestants aside from Nicene, Apostolic Creeds in general) Things I might believe to be dogmatically important to the ‘super-structure’ of theology another simply says is not. This is where strong historical foundations of Theology come into play atleast as guidelines.

    The work of Theology is never done so far as it’s application and cultural semantic framing but I am not sure the same can truly be said of it’s development in foundational understanding. Anyway, rant over 🙂

    1. I hear what you’re saying, Josh. Any more than 5-ish years ago I would have agreed with you 100%.

      I would offer two thoughts in reply:

      1) I came to the realisation a while ago that this (i.e. what I outline in the post above) is largely how Christian communities already operate, even though they often aren’t even aware of it in order to admit it. It’s been the same throughout church history. The canon and our other theological traditions are always interpreted through the lens of our experience in the historical moment we find ourselves, and it’s community/ies of faith that end up being the gatekeepers of ‘orthodoxy’. We can call this a number of things, but I think we need to admit that this is actually what happens anyway.

      And this brings me to the second point.

      2) If it is what already happens anyway, the least we could do is be honest about it and seek to make sure we’re doing it as well as we can. I don’t buy the whole idea of objectivity vs subjectivity, because the only thing we have is subjectivity. The trick is whether it’s ‘authentic’ subjectivity or not.

      We are finite beings. We are bound by our historical situatedness. We have our traditions, but we are ultimately shaped by our own context and experience. This is only a ‘bad’ thing if we don’t admit it.

      So, we try to be as ‘authentic’ as we can as we approach our traditions (and the biblical texts are included in my definition of ‘traditions’). But we ultimately remain conscious of the fact that our experience is primary. As Christians, we (hopefully) believe that in this experience we can be met by the Spirit, and thus we look to ‘where the Spirit is working’ as our guide.

      Funnily enough, this is why I remain committed to a kind of ‘pentecostal’ hermeneutics. Though pentecostals generally haven’t really done the whole thinking thing very well, the idea that we (as individuals and as communities of faith) are guided primarily by our experience (and experience of the Spirit) is, in my opinion, the best framework from which to begin our theologising in our own space.

      This is what communities of faith have done in each generation.

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