Who Cares about Theology?

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Monday, April 12th, 2010

Do you care about theology? Chances are you will say, “it depends.” What your care depends on is not so much whose theology it is, or what it is about, but whether you actually understand it. We care about the things we understand. All to often, we do not care about theology because we do not understand it.

When theology becomes disconnected from our language, our context, our culture, or our experiences, we have difficulties understanding it. We find it difficult to integrate theology into our lives. It seems to be disconnected from reality. The reason for for this dilemma is the way theology is carried out in today’s world. Theology is the prime example of the failure of modernity. Theology has put itself in prison.

Here are the top 5 problems:

  1. Isolated Publics: Theology is carried out in the segregated worlds of the academy, the church, and the public life.
  2. Divided Disciplines: Theology fails to transcend the isolation of biblical, historical, and systematic theological disciplines.
  3. Semantic Segregation: Theology fails to identify itself beyond the confines of science and ethics as a transformative pursuit of the whole person.
  4. Lost Liturgy: Theology cannot integrate thinking, doing, and being into a coherent account of everyday living.
  5. Dead Desires: Theology has lost its passion and desire in the constant battle between the formulations of doctrine and the demands of a relevant praxis.

Don’t get me wrong: we do care about theology. We just do not know how to share our care with one another. What do you think about the fact that academic theologians write books no one reads in the church, the church cares more about its own survival than about the world, and the world cannot find a dialogue partner in the church and academy? How can we bring the academy, the church, and the public life back together? How can we start caring … again … about theology?

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Wolfgang Vondey
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3 Responses to “Who Cares about Theology?”

  1. Jason Wermuth says:

    Great post. I have often thought about this myself. Many of my friends that I grew up around back at home love God, and they love church, but many of them have very little interest in “theology.” Part of the problem is they simply don’t understand the language. Talking about theology is often like trying to speak English slowly to a person who speaks only Chinese. Not only is it degrading to the other person; it shows a lack of respect on “our” part. The problem is that most theologians can speak “Chinese,” they have just been speaking “English” for so long that they think everyone should know by now how to speak it.

    The inability to engage in the conversation because of the lack of “proper” training and vocabulary is, I think, the biggest hurdle theologically minded people face. This is very true of the books that academic scholars produce, which aren’t even accessible to most highly trained pastors. When books are written which intentionally use ivory-tower academic language, when perfectly adequate language is available which is accessible to the “every man (or woman)” and common language is dismissed as trivial, we have a problem. I was watching a documentary last night on Martin Luther and one of the brilliant things about Luther was that, seemingly, a lot of people could read what he wrote. His ideas, while brash, were accessible to the common man and the academic alike. I think that if theology is going to be taken seriously for this generation and those that follow, theologians needs to focus less on preaching to the choir and find creative, meaningful ways to engage the world in the conversation.

  2. Yes, Michael, Radical Orthodoxy has pinpointed some of the problems connected with modernity. My response to the use of their suggestions is twofold. While Radical Orthodoxy attempts to overcome the modern use of dualisms, it often turns not to the postmodern but the pre-modern. On the other hand, while Radical Orthodoxy rejects the nihilistic absurdity of postmodernism, they often deliberately speak in the language of the postmodern. As far as the problem of theology is concerned, I think the answer lies more in a post-modern than a pre-modern approach. The problems I highlighted are symptomatic for the modern project, which is the Englightenment project, and hence they need to be confronted with a way forward not backward. What I like about Radical Orthodoxy is its expansion of the realm of orthodoxy that engages the renewal of the social, cultural, anthropological, historical, political, and metaphysical realms of Christianity–and not just exclusively what we call “theology.” We need to become more radically orthodox in our openess to all areas of life. In that I believe lies a promising response to the dilemma of theology.

  3. IAMTOO7 says:

    Very interesting point being made here and a real problem in our society.

    I would like to offer this. Our problem is one made up of Western social weaknesses on many levels. The main idea I’d like to present is that Yeshua is, obviously, not Western. Neither are his words, culture, nor worldview.

    The worldview of an ancient semitic, which we tend to forget describes Yeshua, does not see these three: church, academy, public or secular, nor theology. For the ancient east, one could not separate spirituality from all the “other” concerns of everday life. We have done this very well in the west- separated God from everyhing else as something you do instead of something that simply and paradoxically IS.

    Our western compulsion to divide and separate everything naturally leads to questions such ad what we are dealing with in this blog. Our culture is THE problem and thy culutre has completely overrun the church to the degree thy we are nearly incapable of recognizing why all these problems exist. We can’t help the world if we can’t see why the problems exist.

    To finish up, the original eastern perspective of Yeshua and his people (his ancestors), not the hellenized version that we have adopted, is what we need- a complete revamp of our way of thinking.

    This is possible. I know for I have done it and live it the experience of it daily.