In my quest for good introductory material, my attention turns to Mark McIntosh’s Divine Teaching: An Introduction to Christian Theology. For this post, I am particularly interested in his first chapter, “How God Makes Theologians.” To add some further fodder to his provocative title, McIntosh states:
Most of us contemporary theologians, soberly trained in the best scholarly methods, try our hardest to analyze the divine realities by dutifully herding them into the approved pens of dialectical arguments and critical studies. Yet when we open our mouths to discourse of deity, out come skirling parables, hopelessly impossible histories, and such reckless extravagances as the idea of a God who refuses to stay exclusively divine, and a savior who’s such a miserable failure he cannot even save himself” (3).
What immediately impresses me with this text is where he begins. Instead of jumping head first into distinctions concerning the various disciplines dubbed “divinity,” he moves right into the reality of studying a subject who is wholly free, other and beyond. His starting point, in other words, is something like a spirituality of theology. Second, and almost more curious for an introduction to theology (as sad as this statement may seem), McIntosh immediately moves into brief commentary on several passages in Romans. After doing so, he moves into an account of belief in relation to the study of theology, stating,
One needs, in other words, to entertain the idea (which Christians believe) that Christian theology is an expression of an ongoing transformation of the world in encounter with God; otherwise one will not be studying Christian theology at all but only a boringly lifeless taxidermy of it in which nothing unexpected, gloriously unnecessary, or unbelievable can ever happen or be considered. And it is, Christians believe, precisely these sorts of wonder and astonishment that characterize the authentic impact of God on the world, and so on theology” (13).
In the following chapter McIntosh develops the calling of the theologian. Pulling together the strange bedfollows of Augustine and Simone Weil he states, “Theology takes place when the theologian, lured by ungraspable truth, ceases to devour everything and is herself or himself ‘devoured,’ transformed by a reality too real to be, in Augustine’s terms, dragged back into the mind’s manipulations” (17). Commandeering McCabe, McIntosh develops the anological use of language through imagery of piracy. In McCabe’s words, “The theologian uses a word by stretching it to breaking point, and it is precisely as it breaks that the communication, if any, is achieved.” Further on in his section on the calling of a theologian, McIntosh suggests,
theologians themselves have to share in the mystical life, the life in which the hidden presence of God – as the voice speaking all things into existence – can be sensed and acknowledged in all things…theology wants to consider all these things, indeed everything, precisely in terms of each thing’s mystical identity as a character in the play of the universe, or, to use standard theological language, as a creature that is ceaselessly spoken by the Creator” (24-25).
What do we think about starting an intro book this way? If you remember, McIntosh is one of the theologians I looked at in our spirituality and theology series. What are your thoughts about his attempt to merge these so centrally together from the outset?