Theology and Humility

I am currently teaching Christian Theology to seminary students and the first topic out of the gate was the Holy Spirit.  Of course it is nigh on impossible to discuss the Holy Spirit without covering the doctrine of the Trinity, and here we go.  Trying to adequately talk about God is tough enough and then you  have to talk about God as 1 and 3, 3 and 1; God existing as Father-Son- Holy Spirit.  First of all the math doesn’t work, at least my pitiful tenth grade algebra math doesn’t work.  I am still looking for X and wondering where X came from in the first place.  X needs a home and I was never, ever, able to find X a home, thus my D in algebra, but I digress.  I am sure that somewhere out there in cyber-land there is a quantum physicists for whom the math of the Trinity is not a problem at all, but it is for me.

That is why I choose not to dwell on the mathematical language of the Trinity.  Instead I focus on the what I think that the math suggests, that God is in fact a mystery.  Not a secret, but a mystery.  I tell my students that trying to explain the nature of God as Trinity is like trying to describe how coffee smells to someone who has never smelled coffee.  Think about that a moment.

My point is that both our language and our ability to use language is limited, especially when faced with a reality like God.  As I said, God is a mystery, not a secret.  We have the record of God uncovering His hiddenness in the Bible, and  His clearest and greatest revelation was when God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. 

That being said, our task, the task of theology, is to use language to communicate God’s revelation of Himself.  Theology happens when limited people using limited language confront the mystery of God revealed and give their best effort to communicate that mystery to others.  That means that Christian theology is the business of everyone who claims to be a Jesus follower.  Every follower of Jesus who claims to have met the God revealed in Jesus Christ is responsible for telling the story of that meeting to others and explaining how God is Father-Son-Holy Spirit.

Some would say that to do theology well a person needs years of theological training and a PhD wouldn’t hurt either.  Yes, theological training should be offered to every follower of Jesus.  The Church should be proactively preparing all Jesus followers to understand and communicate their faith effectively.  I agree with Karl Barth that theology is the business of the Church, not professors.

Having said that I would suggest that the primary characteristic of an authentic theologian is not education, it is humility.  Education is no antidote for arrogance or pride.  Providing an arrogant, self-serving and prideful person the opportunity to communicate the mystery of God is like handing my 5 year-old grandson the keys to my truck and telling him to run some errands for me.  He could probably get it started and drive it down the street but not without causing some major damage to himself, the truck and other people.  An earned PhD does not guarantee wisdom or humility anymore than refusing to be educated on the grounds that you only need the Holy Spirit to be smart.  

Theology is about humility.  It is approaching the mystery of God with an open heart and a willingness for God to teach and transform us even as we attempt to use limted language to explain to others how God can be 3 and 1 at the same time.

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