Theology Thursday

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Theology of Joy … What is it?

Someone once said to me, “Theology is so textbook … and ‘Joy’ is so confusing.  How can these two ever get together?”

For many people these terms are indeed polar opposites.  Why the separation?  Theology is often thought of as something only for intellectual types, while the expression of joy is sometimes reduced to the feelings of faith. Many Christians end up feeling they must pitch their tents in one camp or the other.

For you philosophers, the divorce between theology and experience seems to go back to Immanuel Kant in the 1700s. Kant’s “categorical imperatives” essentially separated theological truths from the experiences of the five senses.  Those who followed this model of theology tended to see God as sovereign and authoritative but not actually present or personal.

In “modern” expressions of Christianity (which began soon after Kant) the pursuit of faith is sometimes reduced to a rational or theological endeavor. Modern theologians have at times produced very helpful tools for biblical study and wonderful articulations of “systematic theology.”  However, in doing so they often neglected the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing forth a rich experience of faith.

The “postmodern” church has taken on the challenge of “re-experiencing” faith. Postmoderns often looks to the Holy Spirit and worship as critical ways to revitalize authentic faith. These pursuits, of course, are most commendable. The contemporary church, however, is sometimes guilty of over-reacting to its “modern” counterpart by valuing experience over thinking. God is seen as relational (a God of love) more often than rational (a God of truth and logic), as present (with us or very much like us) more often than authoritative (above us or commanding obedience from us).

Theology Thursday will take a different approach. Our goal is to discuss the sort of faith in Christ that truly integrates the head and the heart. Can theology strengthen our experience of God’s presence? Can our feelings or experiences of God (through the Holy Spirit) be means for opening our hearts and minds to the truths of scripture?

Webster’s Dictionary defines “joy” as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Christian theology often evokes the emotion of joy when one ponders its wonderful truths.  As one continues to consider the personal implications of such truths, joy only increases.  We find joy when we realize our “well-being” in Christ, that we actually possess what we desire–abundant life in Christ, and even Christ himself! As you can see, both the “head” and the “heart” are integrated in a true “knowledge” of Christ.

I believe such an integration of theology and joy will have several positive results (perhaps you will think of others):

1. Our joy would be much more consistent or lasting, not based on the whims of emotions nor in any way “dry” or emotionless.

2. Our theology would no longer be simply “textbook” or stiff but lead to a living, breathing, and vibrant faith … a “Spirit-filled theology”, so to speak.

3. Our witness for Christ would no longer be reduced to either emotional sharing about faith or over-intellectualizing its truths, but rather would demonstrate to the world a “whole life” sort of faith — and thus communicate to others that Christ cares about and wants to restore our entire human lives.

Theology of Joy!  I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with you.

John A. Studebaker