Friday, February 26, 2010

Bad Theology

Good morning God,
I've been thinking about bad theology and the damage that it does, and trying to think of a way in which we are better able to identify it and stop doing it!
The trouble is that many people dont even know what theology is these days, they think its the 'hard stuff' that people have to do at seminary or university. It never seems to dawn on them that the really telling theology, the theology that changes and transforms most people's lives is actually done by the rank and file membership of the Church by what they do (or dont do) day in and day out as Christians and by what they say (or dont day) in response to what is happening in the world and in their lives.
The first theology that most people encounter comes out of the mouths of their friends when they are invited to attend Church or house-group or something similar.

Theology is nothing more or less than our conversation with, for, and about you - and like all conversation it can suffer from some very obvious problems:

It can be boring when people simply repeat the same old thing time and time again as though it gains meaning in the retelling. This sort of one sided conversation very quickly puts some people off as it presents you as effectively dead or deaf, or perhaps just as boring as you never seem to respond or react to the retelling... On the other hand, some people take comfort from the fact that they know exactly what is going to be said - it means they don't have to listen too hard, and they can feel a part of things because they know the lingo..
A boring conversation can often slide into a shouting match - this is where it is still the same old thing being said, but now the bore is concerned that they are not actually being heard anymore so they start shouting it - as though they can make up in volume what the conversation lacks in substance..  This conversation is often a crowd puller at first, people come to see what all the noise is about, but they seldom stay to listen for too long - its hard on the ears as well as on the soul!
Or the conversation could be rude with people just interrupting what is already taking place, without bothering to take into account the subject matter of what is being talked about. The mistaken assumption that their interruption is either pertinent or welcomed is based on the idea that any conversation with you can be improved by a few stock phrases, or quotations (which you must have heard a million times before). This conversation often begins by being quite interesting, it looks initially as though there is an opportunity for wider dialogue, but it soon becomes apparent that the stock phrases are just another way of forcing the conversation back to being boring..
It is also possible to have an ignorant conversation, this is when people interrupt an important conversation and hold forth without stock phrases, but also without any real knowledge of what is being talked about, what has already been said or even why the conversation is taking place. This conversation can be interesting if not informative. It's always good to hear people's opinion, and there is a real opportunity to engage.. but a lack of the most basic knowledge of the earlier parts of the conversation tends to limit the potential of the conversation and often silences it just as it begins to get really  interesting.
But the most damaging sort of bad theology occurs as a result of insensitive conversations, when people just dont think before they speak.. worse, they presume that they already know what you will say and so attempt to speak for you rather than engaging with what you are currently saying or doing. In so doing, they effectively discount you from the conversation altogether... making it a conversation about you rather than a conversation with you, and it is this that allows them an insensitivity that I suspect you would simply not tolerate.

There are of course, good conversations to be had with you, but I was asked about bad theology..

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