Theology as Relationship – Take 3

There’s a thread in my previous writing that is hard to adequately name in words. That thread is present in at least the variety of posts below. I’ll offer a link and brief comment on how that thread presents itself in each post.

  • Scripture and dishwashers – consistent fights in a relationship are about intimacy and trust even if they present themselves in the same concrete ways, like how to load a dishwasher. Likewise, words in scripture are about relationship with God no matter what arguments or commands are made.
  • Is it a sin is like is it offensive – what people find offensive is almost entirely subjective. What matters in a relationship is not what an outsider sees but whether those inside are hurt. Likewise, sin is that which harms, not that which looks like something on a prior list.
  • Fundamentalism is like hanger – Christian advice, no matter if it’s technically true, does no good when it is not offered in a way or at a time it can be received or used.
  • Racism rules and rethinking theology – with a complex problem, we often want simple rules. Rules might help but are never sufficient for relationships in the same way doctrines and arguments may be needed in but aren’t synonymous to a relationship with God.
  • Toward a constructive engagement with sin and righteousness – instead of avoiding a list of things we shouldn’t do, righteousness is about building on the aspiration toward loving as God loved us.
  • Sin and trust – trust is built on emotional intimacy, not on doing enough to be worthy of trust. Likewise, sin is secondary because it can only ever be that which breaks intimacy with God or others.
  • Law is like parenting – we can no more rely on a finite set of rules for all people for all time than we can parent a toddler the same as a teenager.
  • Prayer like marriage – getting married doesn’t make a relationship last, just like saying the right words in prayer doesn’t make us trust in God
  • John 3:14 Christianity – the core of faith is not knowing a fact but looking into the heart of what terrifies us most and trusting God rather than try to control the outcome.
  • Intercessory Pony – when a kid asks a parent for something huge, whether or not the request is fulfilled is the least important part of the interaction. Prayer functions the same way.
  • First loved, then love – the entirety of Christian faith and life is a response to and reflection of the way God first loved us.
  • Feeling vs Fixing – God’s clear choice almost every time is to feel with us more than fix it first. 
  • 4 Stories – what we see someone do and how we interpret their actions depends at least as much on our perspective and past as on anything they could actually do.

The common thread of these posts is the way in which relationship dynamics constitute the raw materials for any claims to truth in words or arguments. Words can express a reality already present; words can facilitate the creation of a world; but words do not create anything apart from the lives and relationships of the people speaking and hearing those words. 

To the extent that theology is a specific discipline born in the articulation of words that point to or express truth about God, those words are an essential rather than accidental aspect of theology. To the extent that theology is relationship, words can only ever mean what they mean in the context of a particular set of relationships or communities; words can only ever point to what they point or do what they do in and from a particular point in space and time; words can only ever express truth within the story in which they are told. 

It is the relationship in which words are formed that give life and meaning to those words. The extent to which words can be true is the extent to which they present and convey reality within and around that relationship. Theology, to the extent that it represents an endeavor capable of truth, is inseparable from relationship with the speaker and object of its words. 

In short, theology is relationship.

(This post continues a series of occasional posts trying to zero in on what I believe to be the most significant thing I think I think. This is probably the most concrete and practical way of phrasing what it means to say that theology is relationship. The other two posts can be found here and here.)

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