theology and faith

recently, i have been hearing more and more people speak of having, "the right theology," or those who keep saying "look at paul's theology," and i have to tell you, i am so confused. what is what is "the right theology?" what is "paul's theology?" is it different then "your theology?" is it different then "my theology?" is it different the "church theology?" or "baptist theology?" or "catholic theology?" or "any-denominational theology?" why does paul have a theology, yet there is no "jesus theology?" does "paul theology" beat a "jesus theology?"

you see, for me "theology" is the "study of" religion; especially in the relationship of the study of God and of God's relation to the world. faith, is trusting in things not seen, and knowing things that are uncertain, and is a heart reality of how we live in relationship to God, and in relationship to others in community. so, "theology" is man made and "faith" is God founded.

now, that may be simplistic for some, and some might even disagree - and that's all good - but i see a huge difference between people of faith, and "people of theology" or "theologians." i think what i find so "uncomfortable" with the term "theology" is that jesus never speaks in terms of a "theology," or of "theology." to me, i hear the voice of christ speaking in terms of faith, forgiveness, grace, love and acceptance - "theology" is a human term, that defends "rules" of what are and are not words about God. theology sets the tone for what you must believe, while faith sets in motion who we must love - the term "theology" does not even appear in any of the scriptures i have search ability, but faith is all over the place.

now, it could just be me [and some times it i], but i am not motivated by a "theology" - because i believe that is what gets us in trouble :) i see "theology" as the "new law" and "theologians" as the "new pharisee'." harsh? not really, and i do believe this. you see, i do not have a "theology of God" i have a "faith in God." i do not live under law, i live under grace - so, i am not motivated by theology, but i moved into action via my faith. i have found that "theology" gives us "ways out" of helping people and going that extra mile, while faith demands that we act in relationship with God and it causes us to move out of our comfort zone and into action.

i know many people who hold to a "theology" and many "theologians" who do not have a faith. over time, people have pulled the "theological" card to justify war, killing, and keeping certain peoples oppressed. but no one i know of has ever said, "i have a faith in God that teaches me war is acceptable." i have never heard a single person say, "my faith in christ teaches me it ok for the poor to go hungry and it is ok if we do not do anything for them." i have yet to hear the words, "my faith in christ teaches me that i can make as much money as possible and shaft the little guy." but i can tell you of many people who will say, "my theology teaches war is ok." you see, "theology" is this nondescript term assigned to create an idea that suits us and our view - but when we say, "my faith in christ teaches," that means we have a voice to go to to learn, we go to the words of jesus to give us guidance; we become "red letter christians" and we seek to change the world around us - faith says we can, theology tells us we can not.

for me, being christ-like is very important; it is the center of my faith and it is what i see as a very important teachings of christ. if not, if i am not to be christ like, then what? if i am to have a theology, and use that to govern my faith then am i using the law to control grace? if my faith is to move me into action, and a theology holds me back, what should i do? if i am to seek a deeper walk with God, do i seek out a deeper understanding of "theology" or do i accept the mystery of christ and live in that? you see, to me, being a "theologian" means i am more "human-like" and far less "christ-like" and i so desire to be more like chirst, and less like the jerk i am. i have found that theology takes out the mystery of christ and replaces it with disconnected doctrine and rules of what we "must" believe.

to me, livinf in faith and being christ-like means:
i forgive all who harm me, or who seek to do me harm
i love everyone, even the ugly and the unloveable.
i strive to see people where they are, not where i demand they be
i open my heart and life to all people, regardless of... [you fill in the blank]
i share my live with others, and my food.
i strive to live in community, open and expressive.
i am willing to die for others, but i am not willing to kill
i am willing to walk along in the faith walk of others
i must be a servant to all people
i open my home to those in need
i seek to harm no one

i believe that faith is more important then a theology - jesus speaks of faith, but never speaks of theology.


-mike- said...

I think it depends about the type of theology. Over-systemized, academic "theology" that makes its way into so many seminaries... I don't think it's healthy. But a right, practical theology, one that tells the story of God's redemption, that is required of us. It is an essential part of our faith.

My two cents.

Stephen said...

What you call 'theology' I would call 'doctrine' or even 'belief.' And I do think 'belief' or 'right belief' has become a kind of an idol, in the way law had become an idol in Jesus' time.
Theology I see more as an open ended search, what we do when our mind as well as our spirit searches for truth. Some of it does oppress, but some of it does liberate.

Mike and Rachel Whitenton said...


Thank you for your contribution to the stuggle between knowledge and action. You take a good bit of time putting theology down as a whole. I assume that the theology you are putting down is theology as you have defined it in the post (You wrote, "for me "theology" is the "study of" religion; especially in the relationship of the study of God and of God's relation to the world.").

It seems to me that theology is inescapably tied to faith. If we define theology, using the simple words of Anselm, as "faith seeking understanding," then faith WITHOUT theology would be stagnant and . One of my profs has emphasized the need to ask good questions, so I will give it a try.

1. What role, if any, does theology, as Anselm defined it, play in the Christian life?

2. If there ARE positve aspects to theology, what importance, if any do you see in doing GOOD theology?

I would love to here your comments.

john o'keefe said...

mike and rachel,

interesting questions. i am not sure i would agree with anselm - his striving to interconnect faith and theology is not where i come from. so, i am not sure i could answer the first question. you see, it assumes that i find value in "theology" - and what i have found is that "theology" has digressed into being "law" - and i do not believe there is a way to get it out of the law.

i know this will cause my systematic theology prof [tom oden] to go crazy, but i think the absolute down fall to theology came in the form of systematic theology :)

Rick said...

I've heard it said that most folks are followers of Paul and not followers of Jesus.

With regard to theology, I always say that I don't care what your theology is, tell me where God is showing up in your life. I have foun that MANy folks who talk a lot of theology are often the one's who can't tell you about where they find God in their lives.

Ben said...

I see your point about the problems of theology, especially theology that does nothing in one's life. I think the problem is that people focus so much on the ideas (theology), and not on the relationship with God (faith). But I still believe that theology (or how one views/understands God, etc) is the basis for most people's faith. Is this right? Maybe not. But if you want to effect change, I believe you need to address both people's relatioship with God (faith), and how they understand that God with whom they're trying to have a relationship (theology). But in the end, it comes down to people's faith, and what they do with it. Part of my discomfort with theology is that people hold their theology so tight they confuse it for scripture, and die and kill for their theology but lose their faith at the drop of a hat. I wouldn't die for my theology, but I would die for my faith.