Thursday, 12 April 2007

Theology in the second person

Over at Disruptive Grace, Chris gives some autobiographical insight into the potential pitfalls of theological study: “My theological language has changed subtly from the second person to the third person over the years. As my love for theology has grown, my conversation with God has ceased.” And a recent post at Subversive Christianity (an excellent new blog) makes the same point: “Theology becomes theory. Theology becomes systematic…. Theology becomes comprehensive. Theology, if one isn’t real careful, becomes God-in-a-Box.”

As Schleiermacher tirelessly emphasised, the faith of the theologian is simply ordinary, everyday faith: and it’s this everyday faith that makes theology possible (and interesting) at all. To turn theology into a substitute for faith would be like buying a set of these sheets: it might look like the real thing, but in the morning you’ll still wake up alone.

Although it’s necessary to practise theology in the third person – theology as academic reflection – we shouldn’t forget that theology is always most at home when it takes the form of second-person address. In the best theological work ever written – Augustine’s Confessions – theological reflection becomes indistinguishable from prayer; talk about God merges with talk to God.

This, then, is theology in its most basic and most characteristic form: “Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and so new – late have I loved you! For you were within, and I was abroad; and there I searched for you, and tried to fill my heart with those lovely forms that you had made…. You called, cried out, and shattered my deafness. You flashed, shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed your perfume, and I drew breath, and now I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burn for your peace.” (Confessions, 10.27.38)

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