My Confession

“Hi, my name is Anthony, and I… I’m a theologian”

“Hi Anthony!” the crowd said in unison, as the smell of coffee and cigarette smoke weighed heavy in the air.

Anthony continued, “I guess it all started when I was about 18 years old, and had some kind of religious experience. I made a decision to follow Christ, and yet I was vaguely uneasy on some level, and so, I picked up a couple of books to sort through my experience. One was from my Mom’s bookshelf. It was called The Christian Agnostic by Leslie Weatherhead, and the other, which I purchased from a Bible bookstore, was titled Know Why You Believe, by Paul Little.”

Anthony shifted his weight, feeling that his posture might have looked a bit odd, and after a brief pause he continued. “It seems to me, I don’t know, perhaps they worked together to establish some kind of template for my future religious endeavors. I mean, I am not really an agnostic. But I am a bit cynical, and I certainly don’t accept things very easily, at least not without thinking, and spinning, and mulling, and spitting it out and picking it back up and chewing on it again. Anyways, the point is I am obsessed! I cannot stop thinking about these things, about God, I mean. I can’t stop thinking about who God is, who I am, what man is, er.. excuse my patriarchal slip, humanity. What is salvation? How is one saved? What is damnation? What is the Church? Is it an institution, or is it just an affiliation of people who are bound by a common commitment?”

The above scenario characterizes how I feel about my deep theological inclinations. I sometimes feel like it’s an addiction, like I need to read and puzzle through theological questions. This feeling is somewhat justifiable as I have an obsessive bent, but even if it is obsessive I think it is legit, as there is a place for theological reflection in the life of the Church.

My discomfort with being a theologian, however, is not just grounded upon my obsessive tendencies. It is a feeling reinforced by the fact that people often look upon theologians with some suspicion. I mean, it seems that it’s hip to not be too into doctrine, as many fear it is a distraction from the mission of the Gospel. Yes, people rightly get short when the Church gets bogged down in theological arguments to the neglect of bearing witness to the love of Christ. And yet, the work of a good theologian can help people come to a deeper understanding of God’s goodness and grace, and thereby help them live more powerfully and love more deeply. This said, the fact is, if a theological argument was to break out, I would be the first to jump in, although actually I wouldn’t, because I have learned to suppress this impulse. Well, most of the time. I mean, if someone started talking about the relationship between epistemology and theological method, or how subtle changes in Christology can radically alter soteriology, would you blame me for jumping in?

Anyways, I have recently come to accept the fact that I am a theologian. Moreover, I embrace it. However, I am working on embracing it in a healthy fashion. I wasn’t kidding when I talked about having an obsessive bent. Still, as Paul says, what is sown corruptible will be raised incorruptible. And so, what may start as obsessive can be raised into a life giving reality. From another perspective, my theological bent is both expressive of my naturally philosophical temperament, as well as a gift of the Spirit. And, it has struck me that it would be just as bad to neglect this gift, as it would be to abuse it by getting bogged down in irrelevant questions. Whatever the case may be, I am a theologian. So, pray for me.

8 Responses to “My Confession”

  1. K.L.B.  

    Whew! I’m glad you got this one straight!

    For all this time, I’ve been telling friends and others that you taught reading & writing at a private religious U. Now, I can tell ’em “he’s a theologian!” Which, of course, I can follow up with, “but what he does for money is…” *LOL* (wink, wink)

    While you wrote that “…people often look upon theologians with some suspicion,” I think for many, part of the the perceived turn-off of theology is their use of what I’ve heard called “25-cent words” like “soteriology” and “five-cent words” like “Christology.”

    While I have no problem with them, others, because they may not understand the meaning of the words, perceive those whom use such words with the proverbial “jaundiced eye.” (See? Recall my earlier comment about “esoteric conversation”?)

    Realistically, I think there’s something to be said about the “dumbing down” of America… that’s there’s definite validity to those assertions and claims.

    But I digress…

    The tone which you’ve taken in the opening of this entry is refreshingly creative. What group would you call that – TA? (Theologians Anonymous?) But that mental picture of you eating your own vomit… well, that’s gotta’ go. May I suggest instead, a more pastoral mental image? That is, to wit, “chewing cud,” or “ruminating.”

    You’ve concluded quite well, acknowledging that “it would be just as bad to neglect this gift, as it would be to abuse it by getting bogged down in irrelevant questions.”

    And so, I will… continue to pray for you, that is – as I hope you do me.

  2. Roger Green  

    I was saved when I was nine, fell away from Christianity in my late teens, and been working my way back since the year I turned 29.

    Most of my realizations have been in conversation with those who believe differently than I; either they see faith differently (usually creationists), or claim to have no faith at all. Not one of them has had any idea what I mean if I use the word “epistemology”. So I don’t. Not that I don’t think such study isn’t worthwhile for myself and my fellow believers, but I’ve found it less useful in conversations with people coming at faith from another place.

    Yes, my prayers are with you.

  3. Mike Foster  

    The fact is – we are all theologians. The way we walk, the words we choose, the approach we take regarding the world, life, the afterlife, the here and now – all reflects what we believe about being in relation with God (our choice to not acknowledge that relationship does not diminish God’s loving relationship with humanity.)
    The ways we embrace the stranger and turn from neighbor equally make a theological claim (albeit not the same claim.) Similarly our approach to LIFE and death issues – whether pro life, pro choice, pro death penalty, anti death penalty, – we make affirm theologically what we believe. Most (many?) simply do so agnostic about that reality. Therein rests the rub many have with theologians – you make us think!! OUCH! You make us actually come fact to face with the meaning, consequence, ramifications of our actions. Good or bad, ironically.
    Theology is to be lived in the public sphere of this world. to relegate it to the closet may be the closest thing modern day deism – whether or not we intend to communicate such – it says that God is not present, and well frankly, that simply denies the reality and implications of the Incarnation.
    so, to all you ThA members – live your theological proclivities to the fullest and allow the rest of us to have to encounter and wrestle with God’s faithful presence in this creation we call the here and now.

  4. Simon  

    Interesting. I absolutely identify with you in the opening gambit, I often point out to the religious folk who want to write me off as a heathen, why it is that I would have a faith and religion section on my blog.

    The world make sense to me with God in it, but God makes absolutely no sense to me at all!

    A funny aside you talked about “making a decision to follow Christ” while Roger uses the term “I was saved.” I know they are the same thing, but if you think about it they sound like entirely different processes don’t they. I mean I might make a decision to go for a nice walk in Snowdonia National Park this afternoon, but if the weather changes suddenly and the cloud cover comes in there is a very real possibility I could quickly get into real trouble. At that point I might need to be saved. One was my decision, the other was something that had to happen as a result of my decisions.

    See maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I’ve decided that I could follow God, but I’ve yet to be “saved.” Hmm, but I don’t really subscribe to that thinking either because if we think of the process of salvation as methodology then I would have to say I’ve ticked those boxes. So who knows. Like I said, the world make sense to me with God in it, but God makes absolutely no sense to me at all!

  5. Anthony Velez  

    Kevin – I agree that a good part of the turn off of theology is the use of “25 cent” words, such as soteriology, but every discipline and practice has its shop talk. If I was to pursue this calling professionally, then I would have to keep two audiences and two purposes in mind. One audience would be other professional theologians, and I would likely engage them using the terms of the trade, and my purpose would be to shed a light on key problems and to present or argue for an orthodox perspective amidst a variety of positions. The other audience would be the average church goer or person of faith, and my purpose would be to encourage, exhort, and provide enlightenment. In this context I would be much more judicious regarding my use of “25 cent” terms.

  6. Anthony Velez  

    Roger – I think I agree with you. It’s kinda like I said to Kevin, anytime someone communicates that someone needs to be sensitive to their audience (who they are, where they are at, where they are coming from, etc) in order to communicate effectively. To me, this is particularly Xian, as it is incarnational, which asserts that God reveals himself by becoming human, and thus the revelation meets humanity where they are at. So, the point is, meet people where they are at.

    Mike – I like what you said about theologians making people think. As I said, I can’t stop thinking about such things, and so I might as well afflict others by making them think about such things well. 🙂 And yes, absolutely, we all make theological assertions by how we live, the decisions we make and the things we say, all of which either directly or implicitly express our belief about God.

  7. Anthony Velez  

    Simon – When you said, “the world make sense to me with God in it, but God makes absolutely no sense to me at all!” I thought of light, particularly sunlight. The thing is, because of sunlight we see all things in the world, but it is generally not a good idea to look directly at the Sun. Also, scientists are apparently uncertain what light is precisely, and so something that we are all dependent upon is something that is not completely comprehensible. Perhaps this is why God, and particularly Christ, is referred to as the light of the world.

  8. Jackie Rios  

    I love theology.
    I firmly believe that theology is important.
    And that we are all theologians.

    I also like to think that being a theologian is more “hip” than you suggest… 😀

    But anyway, PLEASE watch this video on you tube:

    Then buy the book, “Dug down deep”
    Then read it.
    Its a super soft read, but it was sooo good for me to read it. 🙂
    That is all.