Monday, November 24, 2014

BookPastor >> "How to Think Theologically" (Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke)

TITLE: How to Think Theologically, 2nd Edition
AUTHORS: Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, second edition, 2012, (142 pages).

This is a primer for anyone starting theological studies. In fact, it is so useful that I would not hesitate to recommend it for any believer wanting to learn to think theologically. The authors believe that "all Christians are theologians" which form the basis of affirming that theology is not simply for the priests or professors, seminary students or professional theologians. Theology is for all people. For those who do not think so, this book will not only explain the central place of theology in Christian living, it shows us how. For thinking Christianly is about thinking theologically. Being Christian is about learning to apply living theology into everyday practice of truth and grace. The authors are professors who had been regularly asking their seminary students to give their theological perspectives on many issues. Over coffee one day, they began to spawn the idea of writing a guidebook to enable not only students, but all Christians to practice the art and science of thinking theologically: Through listening and questioning.

"To be a Christian at all is to be a theologian. There are no exceptions." (2)

In listening, we learn that faith is about seeking understanding and savoring spiritual reflection. The Greek word 'theo-logia' is essentially about logia (sayings, thoughts, teachings) about theos (God). For theology is not about ivory tower school property. It is much more commonplace about how we live our Christian lives. It is also about our awareness of God, both formal and informal, planned and unplanned. It is deliberate reflection and intentional seeking of truth. In fact, theologizing is very much a practice of our faith.

What is theological reflection? Stone and Duke propose three central operations: 1) Interpretation that tries to understand things from what it means to be a Christian; 2) Correlation that links together the gaps we see in this world, and to make a bigger picture out of discrete parts; 3) Assessment that provides appropriateness, intelligibility, moral integrity, and validity from theology to life.

In terms of theological resources to help us think theologically, Stone and Duke make use of the foursome of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience, sometimes known as the "Methodist Quadrilateral." These can be used in conjunction with the theological methods that examine the bases, the ordering, and the norms of theology. Questions about the starting point, how one proceeds, and how one prioritizes the issues. We learn about sequential thinking, parallel synthetic, as well as creative thinking.

Questioning plays an important role in theological thought. Readers get to learn three sets of diagnostic questions:
  1. On the issues concerned, what is the view from the standpoint of the gospel?
  2. What are the human conditions before us?
  3. What are the implications of Christian vocation?
These three diagnostic questions when examined from the perspective of a community and spiritual formation can enable the Christian to think theologically. Some of the quotes I like are:
  • "Wherever and whenever it occurs, theological reflection is not only a personal but also an interactive, dialogical, and community-related process." (4)
  • "Deliberative reflection questions what had been taken for granted. It inspects a range of alternative understandings in search of that which is most satisfactory and seeks to formulate the meaning of faith as clearly and coherently as possible." (17)
  • "Theological thinking involves correlation - the process of bringing two or more discrete entities into mutual relation with each other." (30)
  • "Christians who engage in theological reflection operate with a theological template that sorts and organizes the data of life." (43)
  • "Yet the term experience can be misleading. The report that 'I just had an experience' is not in itself a resource for theology. An experience is always an experience of something. It is this something, disclosed through our experience, that is taken up in our theological reflections." (54)
  • "The starting point for our theology determines where we will go from there, and how we will view even the most seemingly mundane issues theologically." (62)
  • "Lest the church forget or distort the gospel, it has a duty constantly to search the Scriptures, rely on them, live in conformity to them, and test its practice by them." (75)
  • "Christian theologians often have argued that the true character of the human condition can only be grasped by way of contrast to God's message of salvation that comes in Jesus Christ." (88)
  • "From earliest times Christian communities have understood their calling to be at once a gift to be received with gratitude and a duty to be undertaken." (102)

So What?

One reason why many laypeople are not comfortable with the word "theology" or feels the word is foreign or something beyond their normal grasp of understanding is because of misplaced fear. They fear the need to study in Bible school before they can start theologizing. They fear they become the very "complicated theologians" that often speak above their level of comprehension. They feel inadequate in terms of Bible knowledge and anything to do with theology. I submit that these fears are unfounded. Perhaps the fault lies with those of us who tend to use big theological words without adequately explaining them. I believe it is important to explain theological terms in simple language, and not let the term be locked into some big words that only benefit a small group of people. The Bible is for all. Scholars, theologians, and trained ministers ought to do their part to make theologies and the process of theologizing as clear as possible, as simple as possible, and as relevant as possible.

With this book, laypersons, students, even trained theologians can be reminded once again the importance to equip the whole people of God, the need to think theologically. For if we desire to live the Christian life, and be faithful to the Truth of God, surely, we all need to be aware of the truth, and to be equipped for good works from the Good Word. I am thankful to Stone and Duke for giving this resource for us to learn and to recognize the basic frameworks of what I suspect many of us already knew. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle with many pieces, this book helps us frame the process of theologizing by setting the guidelines for us to work the pieces into that big picture.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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