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What Is Theology? – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Mar 212007

I found this fascinating description of theology in Kenneth Leech’s Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality. He begins by saying that the entire spiritual tradition of Eastern Christianity rejects the idea of “detached” theology:

Theology is an encounter with the living God, not an uncommitted academic exercise. The encounter cannot survive if its only locus is the lecture theatre or the library. It needs the nourishment of sacramental worship, of solitude, of pastoral care and the cure of souls. Theology must arise out of and be constantly related to a living situation. Again in Eastern Orthodox thought all theology is mystical.

There is therefore no Christian mysticism . . . it is an existential attitude which involves the whole [person]: there is no theology apart from experience; it is necessary to change, to become a new [person]. To know God one must draw near to him. No one who does not follow the path of union with God can be a theologian.

So there should be no conflict between theology and spirituality, still less should theology be seen as a mere theorectical framework for spiritual life. Rather, all theology is contemplative, a concentrated looking upon God as revealed in Christ, and manifested in lives which are hidden with Christ in God.

It is with the mystery of renewal of human souls that all true theology and all spiritual direction is concerned.

What do you think theology is? What is your definition? Would anything look different in our Christian—both personally and in the community faith—if this is what we believed about theology and life in Christ?

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  2 Responses to “What Is Theology?”

  1. When I was teaching a discipleship class for youth (around age 12), one of my goals was to empower them as theologians and to think theologically about their lives. I would always start the course by breaking down the word “theology” which literally translates “God words”. I would then tell encourage them to tink about the words they used to talk/write about God. The first lesson would always include the comment they they would be teaching me in the course as much as I would be teaching them; that they had experiences of God which differed from my own, and therefore they had something to teach me about the nature of the Divine. And the class was always a wonderful, spiritual, and theological adventure.

  2. My definition is “Knowing God and when done faithfully is life giving and liberating for all of creation.” That last part is crucial.

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