My favorite definition of theology ever. It’s from I’ve Been Wondering: Conversations with Young Theologians by Richard B. Steele, a book I stumbled upon years ago and was reminded of this past week (it was published in 2007 and is out of print now, but you can still find copies on Amazon for about $5). The author is Professor of Moral and Historical Theology and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University in, well, Seattle, of course. The books focuses on the questions – and his posited answers – to the questions his undergrads are actually asking him. It’s a good read – largely if not entirely because of how he frames his answers with this definition of the game of theology.
Theology is a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat that isn’t there – and finding it.
Unpacking this definition, Steele highlights four characteristics of healthy theology:
Actually, he lists the first one as “humility,” but I’m totally taking the creative license to change it to “yielding” so that the resulting acrostic is YAWP, which, of course, makes a theologian one who yells his or her “barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the world.”
Oh yes, there is something barbaros in all good theology.
Something foreign. Something rude. Something rough. Something harsh.
As foreign as the Beatitudes.
As rude as Christ eating with sinners.
As rough as Christ rubbing mud made with his own spit in a blind man’s eyes.
As harsh as Christ telling his followers, “You know not what spirit you are of!” when they wanted to incinerate unwelcoming Samaritans.
And, of course, such a barbaric theological YAWP has full prophetic support:
Those are mimicking, babbling words, as Peterson in the Message so eloquently puts it, “Da, da, da, da; blah, blah, blah, blah.” Originally it was a mocking response to Isaiah’s preaching; then it became the language of judgment as foreign Babylonians with raised swords delivered “the Word” to hapless Judeans in 586 BC; then it became, via Pauline twist, the proclamation of Christ in “tongues” in the first century; and by further extension, I would wrap this babbling sheet over all healthy theology, just because, well, because this is my blog and I can.
We evangelicals tend to like our theology thick with erudite diction. But healthy theology is but a yawp, people. Or, to use another word, healthy theology is havering.
And havering begins with a yielding, unassuming, surrendering, humble heart that knows first and foremost one key truth:
I am blind…