Theological reflection always begins in the middle. After all, theological reflection is the work of a people who find themselves on pilgrimage (in via) as a result of being claimed by the address of the Triune God. There is no getting back to square one – to some primal location – for we are historical creatures who cannot escape our positioning in a good, but fallen world that started long before we arrived and, God willing, continue for long after we’ve died. Furthermore, if God is truly God, then God is not simply there to be discovered like helium or hydrogen, mites or mandrills. If theological reflection is to be truly theological it can only be, as Karl Barth famously maintained, a “thinking after” (Nachdenken in German) the reality of God’s self-revelation in the person of Christ.
This “thinking after” (Nachdenken) the reality of God is an essential ingredient of the Christian life of discipleship, which Dietrich Bonhoeffer described in the title of his celebrated book Discipleship as a “following after” (Nachfolge). However, it seems that in many church contexts today Christians have been content to check their brains at the door. Rather than emerging from the waters of baptism with Paul’s injunction “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2) ringing in their ears, it seems that many are content to leave their minds buried at the bottom of the baptistery.
However, I have detected changing currents amidst the shallow seas of contemporary Western Christianity. In my teaching and preaching ministries, I am increasingly encountering men and women who are tired of the banality that characterizes much of the contemporary Christianity. They long to set out for deeper waters of discipleship, in which they can love the Lord their God will all their heart and with all their soul and with all their strength and with all their mind (Luke 10:27). They have discovered that both the vapid slogans of the left decrying “love” and “justice” and the heavily-marketed pop-Christianity of the right have left them intellectually and spiritually hungering for more. Perhaps, even more importantly they have discovered that a theologically unreflective church lacks the resources to even begin to figure out what it means to follow Jesus in this increasingly confusing time at the end of Christendom.
This blog is my modest contribution towards providing resources for wayfarers and wanderers, like the ones I have encountered in the classroom, in the sanctuary, in the café and on the street. The blog title “Thinking After” reflects my desire that this blog will contribute in some way to the church’s work of theological reflection in this time after Christendom. Theological reflection is not an abstract intellectual exercise but has definite implications for the concrete life of discipleship. As Stanley Hauerwas likes to say, “You can only act in the world you can see and you can only see what you have learned to say” (The Work of Theology, 26). As a result, I hope the various musings, reflections, and resources posted will be of service to both pilgrims on the path of discipleship and those wandering in search of the Way.
The claim that theological reflection always begins in the middle dovetails nicely with the genre of blogging. In light of both realities, I intend to offer no systematic account of the faith or fancy prolegomena to the blog beyond this post. Instead I’ll jump right in, posting reflections, sermons, quotations, liturgical resources, links, and whatever other resources I think may be helpful. Since theological reflection is properly the work of a people I also look forward to receiving your comments and sharing in thoughtful conversation. I have no idea how often I will be able to post or where this blog is ultimately going, but such uncertainties are not unusual to the experiences of wayfarers. Let’s begin in the middle!