Avoiding Formulas in Theology

I don’t seem to have many formulas in my theological pursuits anymore.  I used to; I probably still do – unknowingly of course – but I see most theological formulas now as a kind of man-behind-the-curtain facade.  I have seen too many people hurt by the inflexibility of formulas or because someone mistook a formula as God’s will for mankind.

Paradoxically, I find myself drawn to the tradition of the church.  I am not, as David Fitch points out, one of those post-evangelicals who rejects all forms of organization.  In this sense, I stay away from saying something over-the-top like, “God has now rid the world of all systems and formulas,” as that is, in itself, a formula and a system by which some Christians live.

I think what I am decidedly against is any idea or theology that says “God is…” (fill in the ellipses with something you’ve heard someone say before about God).  The word “is” itself is a powerful word which says something about the being and nature of Christ.  I am not saying that Christ is nothing or that Christ is everything, but that saying such things unequivocally usually masquerade  as a mantra for something Christianese rather than something describing Christ himself.

For instance, the most common thing I hear in church about God is that “God is love,” which comes from the first letter of John to his church.  The primary reason John write this, however, comes a second later when he suggests that “God’s love was revealed among us in this way…so that we might live through him…since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

John’s writing to the community, which denies any kind of formula because of the way it would have been lived out specifically within the community John wrote to (about which there is much research if one searches), is about living love in a community, and that this living out of love is the way to God’s love.  Within the passage, there is no way to know this love without living the love out in the community.  Such an embodied way of community, where love of God is known only through love within community, is what I believe I am looking for within theology.

I know talking about such an embodied theology might tacitly reject my original thesis of the “end” of formulaic thinking, but I tend to have hope that this is not the case because such an embodied theology calls us to love within the context of community.  Such a love will be different depending on the community we enter.

Also tacit to such an embodied theology is an admission that one must first listen to see how love is defined amidst a community.  The figuring out of such love may not be what we originally expected, especially if we put our ears close to the source and listen with all our might.


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