Talking Otherwise

As my author’s blurb will tell you, I’m a Ph.D. student in theology. This means that I spend an inordinate amount of time with books and my laptop. Still, I do talk to people once in a while.

Although I try to keep the topics of these conversations limited to cats and literature, theology inevitably comes up. And then all bets are off. A perfectly friendly discussion can degenerate into an acerbic, and even abusive, argument. A room full of lively banter and laughter can suddenly become permeated by near-catatonic boredom or dire seriousness. My perfectly intelligent, capable, and balanced friends can momentarily forget that I am not an oracle or a walking summa and demand a comprehensive, true, and binding answer to, say, the problem of evil. And then someone will embarrassedly change the subject.

I’ve learned a few things from these conversations.

1) I need to figure out how to talk to people. I don’t mean atheists, Buddhists, or Christians. I mean people – folks who live in this world, just as I do. I need to leave aside the pre-packaged answers, the weird, often incomprehensible, language, the built-in assumptions, and learn how to talk about the gospel, or about why I believe Christ, without making everyone go, “Huh?”

2) My atheist, Buddhist, agnostic, etc. friends are – more often than not – right. They see the craziness, the flaws, and the blind spots of Christianity, just as we Christians see their craziness, their flaws, and their blind spots. They have a point, and I need to take it seriously. I shouldn’t be afraid to say, “Yes, this is wrong,” or, “Yes, and I am really sorry that this happened.”

3) Whatever theology is, academic theology, as practiced in universities and seminaries, is only a tiny part of it. And it’s a particularly convoluted and self-absorbed part, in need of a little perspective, honest critique, and a good dose of humor. I need to remember that most of what I do Monday to Friday is just a bit of Christian philosophizing. It’s got little to do with the gospel, or with people’s lives.

4) Finally, I need to think about the ethics of doing theology. What are we doing when we assert things about Christ, the gospel, the church, or – for that matter – ethics? What are we doing to our readers, to ourselves, and to the world around us? As my favorite philosopher, Michel Foucault, would say, “What is the cost of our speaking?”

This blog is my attempt to do something about these realizations. I don’t have a particular goal or a well-structured plan. In fact, I’m excited about the chance to do theology (whatever that means) “off the cuff” – not in perfectly styled mini-essays or in well-argued, scripturally supported, systematic works.

This doesn’t necessarily entail shallow thinking or a complete disregard for Christian books and history (after all, I can’t evade what I’ve learned over the years). It does, however, mean a certain lightness of touch, a willingness to think otherwise, and an openness to failure.

I’ll be asking a lot of questions. Some of these questions, as you rightly suspect, will end up being thinly veiled answers. Others will be genuine “stumpers.” I will often take something – a text, an event, an anecdote, or a concept – as a starting point. In fact, if you have one that’s been bothering you for a while, let me know about it here – maybe we’re hitting our heads against the same wall. We’ll see where it all goes…

You are free not to take me seriously. This blog is not a collection of watertight truths. It is not a “CliffsNotes” version of a particular theological system or doctrine. If anything, it is my attempt to come to grips with one foolish, weak, insignificant, and possibly even delusional man, whom I have often declared dead, yet who refuses to leave me alone. It is my attempt to tell my friends (and – let’s be honest – myself) why I still trust this crucified god, despite what I know about his people (myself included), his church, and his world.

Are you still interested? Then let’s try this thing…