Don’t say theology is hip. Or cool. Or whatever you call it. You know: belonging to the stuff that is hotly debated; fast on the tracks of the latest developments; culturally and politically informed. Contemporary theology is many things, but being ahead of the crowd is not one of them. Theology is what you see in the rearview mirror. While everything else is racing in hot pursuit of the crucial topics, theology has a hard time keeping up. The old boiler is steeming, the engine is coughing … but don’t kid yourself. Among the Porsches and Ferraris of today’s scene, theology simply puts on the parking brake.
Now, we can excuse theology’s delay in catching up by pointing out that theology is not designed to be a formula one vehicle. Theology is more like a truck that runs a little more slowly but is nonetheless steady; not the winner of the race but nonetheless the king of the highway. Or perhaps you are thinking of the old faithful steamengine locomotive. Somewhat temperamental but always reliable. It takes time to do anything in theology, but once things have been done they are solid.
This image of theology is true–and to some extent necessary. At the same time, there are times that require the fast-racing ambulance, the quick availablity of the emergency vehicle. Theology cannot afford to arrive at the scene when all the debris is already cleaned up. Theology needs to be available when traffic has stopped and nobody knows what to do next.
What I am suggesting is that theology changes vehicles. Modes of communication, that is. You know, the things that get accross what we have to say. Scholarly books read only by scholars (and only those who are interested) are a necessary but not a sufficienct vehicle. Sermons preached only in church (and only to those who have already heard them) are not a sufficient vehicle. Theologians need to let go of the parking brake. Who am I talking about, you say? Anyone who reflects on the nature of their faith in God is a theologian. Christian theology belongs back in everyday conversation, in newspapers, schools, on websites, blogs, movies, text messages, family dinners, games, sports, and play. What Christians have to say belongs in every place and every situation. Who needs to let go of the parking brake? Don’t we all?