Forgetting God in the Midst of Theology

We have been exploring the inner life of the theologian (and the theological student) from various angles over the last couple months. Most recently, James challenged us to consider Lent a season for ‘setting aside’ areas of our calling in order that we might take them up again in renewed awareness of their dedication to God. Toward this end, James is setting aside scholarship (and TF) for Lent because, ‘I can sit and think all day about God without ever really thinking about God.’

divinehoursvol3_150For the same reason, I began praying the daily offices, or ‘divine hours’, at the turn of the year (Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Compline). I found the rythms of my days dictated entirely by my research and writing and, like James, I could almost entirely forget God in the midst of theology.  So I began using Phyllis Tickle’s seasonal guide to praying the daily offices in order that a rhythm of dialogue with God might order my day rather than my self-prescribed schedule. I have found it both refreshing and frustrating.

Why frustrating? Continue reading

Should Theologians Be Spiritual? Part 3

For the third part of this discussion, I thought it would be interesting to turn to an Eastern Orthodox theologian. pantocratorsinaiThis will close out our look at more mystically minded theologians. In doing so I will look at Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (and because I wanted to remind Mark that he didn’t buy it for £3 when he had the chance!).

From the very beginning of the volume, Lossky claims that “all theology is mystical, inasmuch as it shows forth the divine mystery: the data of revelation” (7). He admits that there is a strand of mysticism that focuses solely on an “unutterable mystery” to be “lived rather than known.” On the contrary, Lossky suggests,

we must live the dogma expressing a revealed truth, which appears to us as an unfathomable mystery, in such a fashion that instead of assimilating the mystery to our mode of understanding, we should, on the contrary, look for a profound change, an inner transforming spirit, enabling us to experience it mystically. Far from being mutually opposed, theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone” (8-9).

Lossky states that, “Mysticism is accordingly treated in the present work as the perfecting and crown of all theology: as theology par excellence” (9). Continue reading

Should Theologians Be Spiritual? Part 2

After looking briefly at Hans Urs Von Balthasar, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a Balthasar commentator, Mark McIntosh. mystical-theologyI will mainly be referring to McIntosh’s prolegomna discussion in his book Mystical Theology. He starts by addressing some issues in defining spirituality, landing on an understanding which focuses on a discovery of the true self through an encounter with the divine and human other. This lays a platform for a discussion of spirituality and theology:

Perhaps one might think initially in terms of encounter with God as the common ground of spirituality and theology: spirituality being the impression that this encounter makes in the transforming life of people, and theology being the expression that this encounter calls forth as people attempt to understand and speak of the encounter” (6 – my emphasis).

McIntosh pushes away from seeing “experiential phenomena” as the defining features of the spiritual life, because when they are, “spirituality seems to lose its theological voice” (9). Continue reading

Should Theologians be Spiritual? Part 1

There is a sense where this question is obvious. Of course theologians should be spiritual, shouldn’t everyone? hans_urs_von_balthasarBut the question is a bit deeper than this. In taking upon oneself the task of being a theologian under the Word, for the church, is part of the task holiness? In so doing, we will be asking a further question, namely, does personal holiness in any way affect the quality of theology?

I will do a handful of these posts looking at this question as somewhat of a follow up to my previous post on the seven deadly spiritual sins for theologians. In this post, I will look at Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Word and Redemption to see what insight Balthasar has for this question.

The Great Divide: Theology and Spirituality

Balthasar starts his chapter entitled “Theology and Sanctity” with: Continue reading

The Seven Deadly Spiritual Sins of Theologians

My wife and I are reading a book with our small group at church called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The author reminded me that John of the Cross suggests seven deadly spiritual sins in beginners that must be purified. After reading through these, and being reminded of John of the Cross’s never ending existential insight, I thought it might be prudent to direct these towards being theologians. Here is the list as presented in the book (sadly, I don’t have my copy of Dark Night of the Soul with me in Scotland to quote from it directly):

1. Pride: they have a tendency to condemn others and become impatient with their faults. They are very selective in who can teach them.
2. Avarice: they are discontent with the spirituality God gives them. They never have enough learning, are always reading many books rather than growing in poverty of spirit and their interior life.
3. Luxury: they take more pleasure in the spiritual blessings of God than God himself.
4. Wrath: they are easily irritated, lacking sweetness, and have little patience to wait on God.
5. Spiritual gluttony: they resist the cross and choose pleasures like children do.
6. Spiritual envy: they feel unhappy when other do well spiritually. They are always comparing.
7. Sloth: they run from that which is hard. Their aim is spiritual sweetness and good feelings.

To begin a new list then, lets think about the seven deadly spiritual sins for those who seek to serve the church as theologians. Continue reading