By Larry Duggins
Thoughts on Our Theological Task #5
Our theological task is essentially practical.
It informs the individual’s daily decisions and serves the Church’s life and work. While highly theoretical constructions of Christian thought make important contributions to theological understanding, we finally measure the truth of such statements in relation to their practical significance. Our interest is to incorporate the promises and demands of the gospel into our daily lives. Theological inquiry can clarify our thinking about what we are to say and do. It presses us to pay attention to the world around us. Realities of intense human suffering, threats to the survival of life, and challenges to human dignity confront us afresh with fundamental theological issues: the nature and purposes of God, the relations of human beings to one another, the nature of human freedom and responsibility, and the care and proper use of all creation."
― from "The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016"
Our engagement with scripture, doctrine and theology has a practical purpose. Our theological reflection is to drive our daily activity and to inform the behavior of the Church. If we conclude through our reflection that God is love, we are called to test the truth of that statement by examining how that conclusion shapes our behavior in daily life. If the words and the music do not go together, we are not living into this interpretive stance. If we say we believe in love, but do not act in the world through love, then we are missing the practical purpose of our theology.
Reading 1 Corinthians 13—the famous passage on love—in this light reveals interesting insights. Paul begins by teaching that words of love without actions of love are essentially worthless. He then explains that love is selfless and does not have an agenda. Love requires maturity and recognizes that we do not have all the answers now. Finally, Paul concludes that, of the spiritual gifts of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest. I wonder if we have incorporated Paul’s teaching into our daily decisions as individuals and into our life as the Church.
The focus of this paragraph of the Discipline is incorporating our theological reflections and conclusions into our daily behavior. We are to look into the world around us and shape our words and actions to address the pain and suffering around us in a way that reflects the good news of Jesus Christ. The last sentence of the paragraph charges us to use the pain in the world as a lens to refine our theological reflection on the deepest of issues, including the nature of human relations and the nature of human freedom. We are all called to struggle with these deep issues individually, not to have a single stance regarding them dictated to all.