Theological Humility

I have been studying the doctrine and nature of Hell and the postmortem destination of “the wicked,” i.e. those who do not share our hope in Jesus Christ. When I started this study I had many questions in mind about universalism, the morality of God, the Justice of God, etc. What has surprised me is that the richest lesson I’m learning is not an answer to any of these questions. The richest lesson I’m learning is how to do theology with humility.

Among all forms of Scholarship, theology is most the dependant on humility. In theology we are trying to find the fullest, most articulate, and most responsible way of talking about God. If we suspect that we can achieve this task on our own we’re gravely mistaken, and this is where humility comes in. Any genius can articulate deep words about God and argue them in the face of any other concept. But that simply will not suffice in approaching the Living God. We cannot begin to assume that our ideas about God are true until we first of all bring them before God, and secondly bring them before the Church.

We cannot forget that God is not some floating concept or distant figure with a beard. God is personal and He’s right here. He’s engaging in this conversation right now. How foolish it would be of us to speak about Him as if He’s in some other place, disconnected from our conversation. This is why we, as my favorite professor Dr. Okholm often puts it, “pray our theology.” If we can tell God that He is who we’re suggesting He is then we’re at least a step closer to humility. If you can’t pray your theology with reverence and love for God, without offending or disregarding God then there is a problem.

Secondly we must take out theology to the Church—our family, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers. If we take seriously the command to honor father and mother then it must be taken seriously in the theological method. What has our family taught us on a given subject? The ad part about this is that few Christians know how to answer this question. Church history and tradition has been set on the Church’s dustiest shelf. Why is this? There are probably many reasons for this. Among the reasons, I imagine there is the heartbreaking thought that it’s just not that important. Owch! Our memory is so short. We are entering late into an ancient conversation. We should be submerged in our tradition which is our family history. We must appreciate that any theological or Biblical conclusion we come to is in disagreement with a genius. Somewhere out there in space and time there is a scholar or a downright genius who disagrees with you. Of course you’re probably agreeing with another genius but how will we know if we don’t understand our family tradition.

We cannot begin to think we can do this on our own. We cannot think that even if we came together now it would be enough. Being alive is not the only criteria for being part of the Church. We need to enter into community with our whole family, even the ones that aren’t here anymore. The Church of the 21st Century cannot begin to assume that they can do it alone. We need to find identity in our tradition and take the advice of our family seriously.

What does tradition teach? Are you ready to disagree with centuries of people who asked the same questions you are asking? The most appealing conclusion is not always the most responsible one.


Ponderer said…
As I understand the value of "theological humility," for I seek this myself, I was curious about your take on "competing" theologies in lieu of what is believed about God within varying traditions. It is my experience that each family of tradition is limited in their capacity to discern truth to its fullest measure. As a matter of fact, when particular traditions believe that they have the fullest measure of truth, they often end up countering many of the claims of other traditions even to the point of ridiculing them. As important as it is to be involved within a religious tradition, I am not sure it is a good idea to share one's personal findings within one's own tradition (findings which may not align themselves very well theologically within that particular tradition) for fear of not meeting that tradition's theological expectations. My own take on theological humility is that while I value my tradition, I also hold personal convictions before God which others in my tradition would probably take issue with, and so I seek to challange other's points of view in subtle ways in hopes of engaging others in productive conversation that we might all have opportunity to understand God and His ways more fully, that our fellowship with one another might be more open and supportive (as much as truth is valued), and not to the exclusion of authentic Christlike community.
Tradition has a way of suggesting that it has the "real" truth. I think that our culture is still quite closed-minded about "what actually is" (although I believe this is changing), and that we all could benefit greatly in coversation with one another without the fear of being ostracized because of what is normally believed to be true within a particular tradition. I care deeply about God's truth, but I am humbled by my personal ignorance, finitude, and fallible state.

I trust that God is so good that especially He can deal with my smallness, not to mention my over-all fallibility. My hope is to find others who also care deeply about God's truth, but not to the point that they exculde others who hold different points of view, particularly pertaining to Christianity.

My response to your article in no way is meant to be a critique. I am just thinking out loud with another who is sojourning with me in this confounding yet amazing life.