Ben Myers, Faith and Theology, has sparked an interesting conversation by conducting a pole to nominate the “best” living theologian (my man Pannenberg is running a close race for third). It prompted Stephen Holmes to post some illuminating comments on his blog, Shored Fragments. I quote them at length because they are worth reflection.
“I think a good theologian prays well, first. No theologian who doesn’t has even begun to understand the discipline. And then s/he serves the Church, and his or her particular part of it (down to a local congregation) in humility and faithfulness. Theology belongs to the Church; any theologian divorced from the Church is a bad theologian, however brilliant or knowledgeable. A good theologian has a grasp of gospel values, and would swap everything s/he has written to see one sinner repent, or one broken life healed. A good theologian writes and speaks only to help the Church be more faithful to the gospel, bringing whatever knowledge of the tradition, whatever insight into contemporary modes of thought, and whatever native cleverness s/he may possess, all into service of this one end. A good theologian is marked by humility and cheerfulness, knowing how far short of the mystery of God and God’s works his/her best efforts fall, and knowing that in the good grace of God something of lasting worth may still come from them. A good theologian, finally, does know something, and have some capacity of thought, and so can make a contribution through his/her God-given vocation.
I am not a very good theologian.”
Reading Holmes’ comments reminded me of a Rabbinical saying I once heard: “Spending a lifetime in Torah is like dipping a teaspoon in the ocean.”
Perhaps we begin our quest to become “faithful” (perhaps a more apt term) theologians but shoring ourselves against any tendency to lose our sense of wonder, awe, shock, and even discomfort that should accompany our thinking, speaking, writing, and living with the God who confronts and reconciles us in Jesus Christ.