More on understanding the nature of Theology
First, I want to thank all of you for your comments on this blog. The comments have pushed me to make things clear and concise. I really appreciate it.
I have been thinking about how to explain why there are different branches of Christian (and when I say Christian I mean those who confess the Nicene Creed) theology and why there seems to be such a wide range of opinions on different subjects. It’s always been my thinking they are not really that different, but I haven’t thought of a good way to explain to people who aren’t believers. I can completely understand why it’s so confusing and I have really worked on hard trying to explain the weirdness.
Then, an analogy came to me when I didn’t expect it. It came as I have been working hard to understand the science and elegance of evolution. I have just finished Ken Miller’s excellant book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for the American Soul. In the book, he talks about evolution has been badly explained both by its opponents and its advocates. This explanation is often presented as either blind chance by its opponents or unpredictable by its advocates.
Miller argues that neither is correct. He believes that evolution has to be viewed in two ways, big picture and details. He conceeds that in the details, it’s often very unpredictable how evolution will play out. However, in the big picture, it’s very easy and that evolution has a purpose to everything it does. Miller shows in his book how evolution in a general sense is confined by a number of different factors, pushed towards “conclusions” if you will. It explores the space given to it by the natural world, but it’s limited by that space to do definite things.
Whether you think Miller’s explanation of evolution is a good one, it’s a perfect analogy for how theology works. In the details, it’s often very unpredictable. For example, why do some Christians drink alcohol and others don’t? Or, why there are different views on the Lord’s Supper? Or, why are there are so many dang denominations? The variety of these questions show how unpredictable theology is because of the individual people who have done it over the course of the history of Christianity.
But, in a general sense, theology is bound by certain rules, rules I have outlined in a recent post. It takes definite shape, no matter who does it and it guides it along a certain path. There is a remarkable amount of agreement of these constraints among Christians who confess the Nicene Creed. Just as in evolution, it explores the space and is remarkably creative, but it stays within the space.
I hope this is helpful.