Saturday, September 5, 2015

Risking Theology

Weaving together the web and issues of theological touchstones; each is embedded in one another. Imagine it as a sphere not a chart. Imagine these as points of departure, as collections of questions more than, or not only, of responses and answers. They help us to see and frame life. They are not the only lens. 
theology=study of God, and the Image of God
cosmology=study of Creation/Universe/Nature
theological anthropology: study of humanity
hamartiology: study of evil, suffering
soteriology: study of healing, salvation
Christology: study of a particular form of soteriology, views of Jesus as/and The Christ
missiology: study of the mission of lives and communities growing from soteriology
ecclesiology: study of the church, a product of missiology
eschatology: the vision of the ends, be it of beloved community, of death and life eternal in God. 
This is my beginning lecture to supervised ministry students in first semester of their field work. It is about applying "the theological map" to the practice of ministry. Our text for these beginning semesters is Laurie Green's Let's Do Theology, so there is some reference to that, and in subsequent lectures I bounce off of Green's work. But here it is about how constructive theology illuminates the practices of ministry, and vice versa. 
As a foundation for ways that I will be helping you "connect the dots" of your theological reflection on your ministry this year is to refer back often to the "theological map" of constructive or systematic theology which you got a glimpse into during your first theological courses. It is a way of reading the world and particular conflicts. It seeks to lift up and make visible the theological default modes we operate with, and which others are often operating out of, or in rejection to. So it is good to take an early break to refresh about the map and how it shows theology at work in the small and large ways.
Supervised ministry is a course that will enable you to put into practice and further reflection the theological learnings from your introduction to theological work from the first year of seminary, and any other theological courses since then. Among the many lens we will look at, and look through, this semester, this one lens of "the map" is one of the ones that will grow and develop your ministerial skills and will be revisited often during your theological education. 
Professor Joe Bessler of Phillips Seminary is of course noted for the use of the map and its language to illuminate various ways theology is used. I was fortunate in my studies to have 27 credit hours studying with Prof. Bessler, and so whatever shortcomings there are in this synopsis they are mine, and whatever is useful in it is credited to his thought. 
In short, specific particular issues in church and world and within ourselves, and tension points and questions that come up in ministerial settings can be “diagnosed” by thinking about them as points on the theological “roadmap” and considering ways they are connected to other points on the map. 
How people in a given situation may differ or employ the imago Dei will affect how they “read” and “interpret” and “respond” differently in the same situations. It is good at this point in the semester to remember the learnings you have gleaned up to this point in seminary education and how to use them, rethink them, when brought to bear in practice so reflect back to your entry level theological. By the way, the way the map works, is that the imago Dei is also a part of this web of touchstones, and so issues and reflections of any of the map sites, such as evil and suffering, or human nature, nature itself, of the church responding to suffering, or of ethical issues, or conflicts over church and its mission and what it should focus on, or issues of the ends and the end, of heaven and hell, all the eschatological issues, all of these as we work in them will also often affect and change ours and others Imago Dei. 
The issues of church life that we focus on particularly in this course, and there are legion of them, fall under the point on the map called ecclesiology and missiology (the being and the mission of the church; or the mission that calls the church into being) and they are often connected back to what we find salvific, to soteriology and Christology views. When there are differences of soteriology (what brings healing) between people, for example, there will often be differences in how churches are seen by different people. Same for how they view Jesus as the Christ.  
And so dealing with ecclesial issues this semester, what the church should be doing and how, what ministry is, and how we are as ministers, on a variety of issues, is often more about other theological issues than just the issue at hand. As many of you have noted already, you understand that there are systems at work. 
Keep in mind that what some find salvific is connected to what they often see as the "major wrong” in the world, especially in what they see as where suffering is, to how we view evil and sin, and "what needs saving." Classic case is those who see sin mostly as a personal issue, or those who see it mostly as a social issue. But our understandings then of that point on the map called hamartiology, of sin and suffering and evil, and what we find amiss and in need of salvation, is itself connected to our views of human nature and its essence and goals, to what is called theological anthropology; this in turn is connected to our view of Nature and Creation itself, out of which humanity comes and is connected, and how humanity is seen as part of the universe and life itself, which of course is connected with our images and ways of describing and understanding God. Which brings us back to the Imago Dei. 
And on the other side of the ecclesial point on the theological map, the issues of how we see and do and be the church affect and are connected to outcomes of lives of faithfulness and grace and praxis and ethics, all of which contributes to one's overall eschatological understanding, to what we picture as beloved ultimate community, toward the ends or aims or end of life in God. 
So there you have the sphere of the theological map (more sphere than linear).
All questions, conflicts, issues on any of the theological map points, or stations or doctrinal points, are shaped by how we view and see and experience the other points, and how we respond to the issues at any one constructive theological point will have a bearing on the others in the web or weave of the fabric of our theological world. 
When there is a specific issue "within" the church it often has its deeper roots "without" with how different understandings of salvation, christology, or missiology are viewed; often differences "within" church mask differences of other theological stations and responses. Conversely, how we resolve issues within the church and in the church's relationship with the world has effects in other theological ways. Be attuned, again, as you encounter questions, issues, conflicts (healthy or not) to how the theological map might be running throughout even though it is not at all part of the explicit issue at hand. In this way this year can be seen as another continuous step in connecting the dots of theology and of your own ministerial formation and theological reflection.
And as we will be seeing throughout the semester by reflecting out of Green's text, Let's Do Theology, and out of our practices of ministry, there are many other models and ways of engaging in this important work of reflection. Reflection itself is often a word that can come with baggage, I might add; it has a passive air about it, as something that comes received if we just still our minds and meditate on it; there is some truth to this of course, and mindfulness is key in discernment. But I will end by saying that doing theology, applying different lens and being conversant in their use, is also about risk. It is, as Greene says, an activity. I would say in this age it is a risky activity, and one we should take and help others risk taking too.