Wednesday 24 August 2005

The task and theme of theology: a response to Jim West

Jim West has responded to my six theological theses with his own set of six countertheses. Jim’s theses are excellent, and they draw very nicely on the language of the Barmen Declaration (1934). While my theses focus on Jesus Christ as the one theme of theology, Jim opposes this with a focus on the theme of the “Word of God.”

But is there a true opposition here? It seems to me that we are simply saying the same thing in different ways. What, after all, does the term “Word of God” mean? As the Barmen Declaration rightly notes, this Word is none other than Jesus Christ himself: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God....”

So when Jim suggests that the true theme of theology is the Word of God, I can only answer: Yes—and this Word is Jesus Christ!

Still, there is one remaining problem with Jim’s theses. Jim suggests that “the task of theology is to listen to the Word of God.” But here I think theology is being confused with faith. Faith hears and obeys the Word of God. Theology, on the other hand, attempts to think about faith. And theology is therefore concerned with interpreting the Word of God. In theology, we presuppose that both the speaking and the hearing of this Word have already taken place; and we then seek to understand and to interpret precisely this speaking-and-hearing event. In other words, the task of theology is to interpret the gospel.

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