Theology as Thinking After

Last night, I kicked off my winter semester “Systematic Theology I” course at Tyndale Seminary.  It seems like a quite wonderful group of students called together from a wide cross-section of locales, denominational backgrounds, and life experiences.  Some of the ground I covered last night reminded me of the inaugural post I wrote for this blog a little over a year ago. Since it was posted before things really got rolling on the blog and because it might be of interest to my newest batch of students, I thought I’d re-post a large excerpt from that first post.  The original post was entitled, “Beginning in the Middle.”

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, will 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.”1 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.

  1. Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 26.

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