I wrote an article this week on the need to put abstract theology to death, or at least dial it back quite a bit. Take a peek if you can.
I received some pushback on the article, both here at the blog and on Facebook. And I welcome the pushback. It helps refine my own thoughts.
My whole point is that, many times when we talk about theology, it is in very lofty, ethereal and abstract terms. It’s not really practical, human, earthy. This happens when we talk about God, Christ, church, salvation and a host of other theological topics.
Today, in conversation with a friend about the practice of the Christian life and theology, I was reminded about some words of the great Eugene Peterson in regards to the Trinity. You see, the Trinity is one of the most abstract theological concepts if there ever was one. It is a mind-exploding topic: God as one; God as three.
But I like Peterson because, in his writings, he does so well to bring theology into our earthy humanity. Consider these words about the Trinity.
“Trinity is a conceptual attempt to provide coherence to God as God is revealed variously as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Scriptures: God is emphatically personal; God is only and exclusively God in relationship. Trinity is not an attempt to explain or define God by means of abstractions (although there is some of that, too), but a witness that God reveals himself as personal and in personal relations. The down-to-earth consequence of this is that God is rescued from the speculations of the meta-physicians and brought boldly into a community of men, women, and children who are called to enter into this communal life of love, an emphatically personal life where they experience themselves in personal terms of love and forgiveness, of hope and desire. Under the image of the Trinity we discover that we do not know God by defining him but by being loved by him and loving in return.”
You see, Peterson situates God within the community of God’s people. We understand God as triune through the relationships we have in the body. And I believe God designed that way. I would even argue that God is not known merely by reflecting upon and studying Scripture, but that that reflecting and studying is only a slice of the pie. An important slice, yes. But a slice. We bring all sorts of conceptions into the Bible because of what we’ve learned from the community of God’s people, whether from a pastor that has taught on a passage or topic, a small group that has studied and discussed a passage or topic, books we have read, denominational background (or lack thereof), etc.
We never read the Bible alone. To do so is to read it in an echo chamber, which would be horrible. But, still, even for those who think we come to the Bible with a clean slate, let me again say that we never read the Bible alone. There’s too much at play that directs our theological understanding of Scripture.
So I believe Peterson has hit on something here. We know about the real triune God through conversing with, eating with, praying with, laughing with, crying with the flesh and bone people.
Now that’s bringing theology out of the abstract and into our earthy lives.