10 May 2013

The joyful science

No, I’m not thinking about poetry! The other day, Steve Holmes posted a very moving blog entry about Colin Gunton. Among other things, he pointed out the importance of joy in Colin’s practice of theology:
theology done properly must be cheerful work. How can we speak (read; write) of God’s infinite grace poured out without limit in the gift of Jesus Christ, and not find our hearts warmed, our sorrows comforted, our failures rendered into proper perspective? How can we not be basically joyful, if to do this is our life’s work?
And that, of course, immediately put me in mind of Karl Barth:
The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk – taedium [loathing] – in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it. (CD II/1: 656)
That attitude, so effectively inculcated by Colin, is what underlies my own personal rule of thumb for judging the theology I read: There is something profoundly wrong with any theology that is arid, boring or depressing. (And the same might be said of sermons too.)

So theology is essentially joyful work, but I would want to add that this joy is other-directed. Theology, when it is done properly, leads directly to praise. Or, as Evagrius of Pontus put it: ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.’ (Treatise On Prayer, 61). Extending the above rule of thumb, there is something profoundly wrong with any theology or sermon (my own or that of others) that does not make me want to engage in praise and prayer.

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