Nail in the Head Theology

This has to be one of my all time favorite videos –

It also helps illustrate a profoundly important point in my theological formation.

I’ve long had a problem with the form and nature of most Christian theology, but am still working to figure out how to express that problem. I’ve tried twice to say that theology is relationship, full stop (see here and here). I’m also convinced that there is no “I” to do theology prior to or apart from the community and stories that wrote us – which means that any coherence or truth that comes from theological thought is at least as much a function of the time, place, and especially people that gave shape to the life that produced the thought that may in some part correspond to the truth of who God is.

“Nail in the head theology” seems like a more accessible and memorable way to make the same point. Human mortality/sin/brokenness/limitation/finitude affecting a relationally created rationality/language/meaning/life/being is like saying that we can only ever think through the perspective of someone with a nail in the forehead. Most prominent, historically male, mainline/evangelical Christian theology employs words that function analogously to the guy in the video. Defining the nail or strategizing to relieve the pain aren’t bad goals, but, as long as we are not God, doing so can never remove the nail – we can never fix ourselves.

The caricature of feminine relational focus is, almost by default, discounted in search of ‘true’ theological knowledge. But the most important function of Christian faith and life is not to get the words right, but to experience/know/share/witness to the love that God is. If this claim is true, then no amount of words/logic/thought can ever be sufficient for the formation of the god-words that theology seeks to convey. Emotional connection is not secondary to truth; emotional connection the only soil in which words can ever be planted and spring up toward truth.

The deepest call of Christian theology is to find new ways to stare into the reality that we are not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, faithful enough, and whatever-else-it-would-take enough to fix ourselves and remove the nail. But in those moments when we finally learn to give up control and stop thinking we can fix it all, the voice of God utters words of hope and grace – I am yours, you are mine.

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