Sunday, August 28, 2011

On imagination and theology

A conversation with our youth pastor today has me thinking about how we deal with theology in the church. We seem to think of theology as a science, or as legal testimony, as I suppose there is something to that kind of understanding. We want to understand God, and so we describe God as we see God, and we report on our experience of God. But there is a difference between religious testimony--which tells a story--and legal testimony--which must stand up to strict scruitny and requires precise speech.

But theology is not science. Theology is art. Theology is a way of speaking, and it does do some reporting, and some interpreting, but it is unlike any other form of speech in that it proves nothing. In fact, the more specific theology gets, the further away from God we find ourselves.

Theology is painting, not photograph. And yet we get so bent out of shape when we talk about God that we do not even let ourselves imagine. Before long, God is some concrete being we've carved and put on display. We argue back and forth--and get downright angry--over descriptions that are, in the final analysis, not worth arguing about because they do not actually amount to much. We latch on to an understanding of God that fits with our experience, and we assume that everyone has the same experience--even if we do not assume so explicitly, the assumption is inherant in our passionate defenses--and if we hear an argument that does not match with our own understanding, it is as if we are chewing on aluminum foil. You feel a shock deep within you, and nothing else matters. It becomes time to fight.

But imagination is the cornerstone of good theology! The God who imagined the world is the God who calls us to love with all our mind. When did we get the idea that to imaginatively engage the Divine is a bad idea?

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