My own theology, as any particular theology, has been significantly shaped by the contexts, experiences, and relationships which have also molded my very identity. As these factors are constantly in flux – ever changing and growing, adding new layers and dimensions – so is my theology. It is not a static, fixed, dogmatic system. Nor is it an ephemeral vapor, without substance or consistency. Rather, it is something concrete, but ever unfolding. I see my faith and my theology rooted in Tradition, Community, are strongly influenced by Experience. My understanding of my task as a theologian is to allow and encourage the growing process and cycles while attempting to minimize the threat of factors that inhibit growth.
My favorite definition of “Theology” is “faith seeking understanding.” As I see it, this is what the Church has been about from the very beginning. Where understanding has been discovered, it has been passed down. This is the basis for Tradition. We have received Scripture, commentaries, creeds, doctrines, tomes, orders for worship and other services, even particular theologies, all because somebody somewhere found them to be illuminating of these mysteries we call God and faith, and felt that they were worthy of being shared with others. Certainly, the ways in which they were shared varied greatly. Some spread like wildfire, quickly and voluntarily, while others were forcibly instituted by political governments or Church authorities with severe consequences (including death, physical and social exile, and others!) for non-adherents. But, despite the violent underbelly of its history, at its best the Church has attempted to preserve and develop meaningful tools and practices for understanding God and faith throughout the ages.
This is true for all denominations, creeds, and traditions. However, my own theological journey of meaning making has brought me to explore, join, and come to love the United Church of Christ, which I now consider my theological home. The theology expressed in the United Church of Christ is open, diverse, united, and unique. One manifestation of this living paradox is found in the U.C.C. Statement of Faith, which succinctly and beautifully expresses much of my own understandings of faith. It is a document rich in history, full of theology, and pregnant with opportunities for a wide variety of interpretations. Personally, I like it as much for what it doesn’t say, as for what it does.
How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke issued a challenge to all Christians: each of us is encouraged to focus on our embedded theology and to develop it into a mature, deliberative theology. The primary reason for accepting this challenge, indeed the reason for all theological thinking according to Stone and Duke, is to “understand the meaning of God’s message to the world today”. The authors readily explain that theology is the job of all Christians, not just the ordained, because all Christians are called by God to live out their faith in their daily lives, a task made easier by having a working understanding of what their faith means to them. Once equipped with a method for deliberation of theological issues, a Christian can employ this method when making everyday decisions, as well as when wrestling with complex theological questions like those posed by seminary professors. Stone and Duke’s suggested method can be summarized in two broad steps: first, the thorough examination of both the issue and the embedded theology(ies) brought to bear by the Christian-theologian; and second, the systematic questioning of those embedded theologies to ascertain the extent to which they ought to be applied to the particular issue.
After a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion of a basic method for reevaluating our embedded theology, Stone and Duke conclude with the admonishment that we must internalize and incorporate our newly embedded (and now deliberate theology) into daily living. Of course, the benefit of so doing is that once a Christian has internalized her theology, she can readily bring it to bear upon issues at home, church or work. The primary means by which Christians nurture their developing theology include attending worship and practicing such disciplines as regular prayer, reading and meditating on Scripture, fasting, confession, retreat and, for some, spiritual direction. Undertaking both the deliberative and the nurturing work ahead of time, according to Stone and Duke, is critical for all Christians. The challenges and issues to which our theology must be applied frequently present in times of crisis when we do not have the luxury of time to undertake extensive theological examination. Essentially, the authors’ goal is for us to so examine and nurture our embedded theology though the deliberative process that we re-embed a deeper and more informed theology into our souls. Therefore, let us challenge our understandings of the Christian faith against God’s word spoken to us in Scripture, the rich Christian tradition painstakingly preserved for our benefit, as well as our own reason and experience; let us develop and nurture this deliberate theology; and let us live out that theology in our daily lives so that we may ever more effectively carry on the work Christ has given us to do!
Embedded theology points to the theology that is deeply in place and at work as we live as Christians in our homes, churches, and the world. . . . It is rooted in the preaching and practices of the church and its members. It is the implicit theology that Christians live out in their daily lives. The theological messages intrinsic in and communicated by praying, preaching, hymn singing, personal conduct, liturgy, social action or inaction, and virtually everything else people say and do in the name of their Christian faith fall into this category.1
1 Stone and Duke, p. 13