21 September 2010

What makes for good theology?

One of my authoritative others, Robert Jenson, once defined theology thus:
Theology is the persistent asking and disciplined answering of the question: Given that the Christian community has in the past said and done such-and-such, what should it do now? The question may be divided: (1) What has the Christian community in fact said and done? and, (2) What should it say and do in the future? (Story and Promise, vii)
Of course, central to that proclamation and action is the Eternal Love who has created all things and is drawing all things back to Godself.

I have always believed that, if this is what theology is really about, whatever else it does it should fascinate us and challenge us. Recently I discovered that Augustine believed something very similar: ‘the eloquent should speak in such a way as to instruct, delight, and move their listeners’ (doc. Chr. 4.74). And building on that formula for eloquent oratory, he gave the following instruction to would-be preachers (and theologians):
The aim of our orator, then, when speaking of things that are just and holy and good – and he should not speak of anything else – the aim, as I say, that he pursues to the best of his ability when he speaks of these things is to be listened to with understanding, with pleasure, and with obedience. (doc. Chr. 4.87)

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