What is Our Theological Task?
Put a truck on it
For the better part of two decades, I made my living as a graphic designer / graphic artist. I had the opportunity to work with several incredibly talented people and in several different industries. I have designed company logos for major law firms and corporations, and I have helped to create large scale exhibits for trade shows and exhibitions. At times, the work was like being a little kid again. I was being paid to create artwork and sometimes I would tell people I ‘draw pictures’ or ‘doodle’ for a living.
At other times, the work was less like being a kid and more like working with children, ill-informed children with little to no artist vision. We artists are a bit temperamental and stubborn about the idea of vision when it comes to our work. We latch onto our visions of ideal creations like a bulldog hanging onto a meaty bone and nothing short of unconsciousness or death will get us to let go.
In the last place I worked before I went into ministry; I came home quite often complaining about such things to Heather. “These people have no idea what real art is! I created three ads that would look good in any high-end publication and these morons look at it and say, ‘We’re a trucking company and it doesn’t have a truck on it.’” The complaining would go on a while from there until finally Heather would say something along the lines of,
“Did you get paid this week?”
“And they want a truck on the ad?”
“If they paid you this week, then put a truck on it.”
I would gripe some more about artist vision, being at the time of the temperment that sees things in the ideal sometimes more often than real. I never liked it, but I created a lot of ads with a lot of trucks that I personally thought looked lousy, but hey, I got paid every Friday. The truth of that matter was I had a task to do and I was getting paid to do it a certain way. I didn’t always agree with it, but it was my task to do anyway.
The United Methodist Theological Task
We as United Methodists have a task to do as well, a theological task. Often, we think of theology as some difficult task of academics and theologians, but the truth is that theology is nothing more than our efforts to reflect on the grace-filled action of God in our lives. By reflecting on this grace, we “seek to give expression to the mysterious reality of God’s presence, peace, and power in the world” and in doing this we are trying to speak more clearly about the interaction between God and man as a way to participate in the work of God in the world.  We have the task of testing, renewing, elaboratig, and applying our theological understanding as we answer the call “to spread scriptural holiness over these lands” and as United Methodists we are encouraged to make serious reflection about the nature and person of God.
The reason for thinking in this way is to have something to say about God that is worth hearing. Thinking theologically should lead us to lives that speak this faithfulness as much or perhaps more than our words do. These thoughts, these ideas, should be the things that lead to active lives of service to God and help to bring about the Kingdom of God in our community.
Our theological task is both critical and constructive.
Our task is critical in that we ask critical questions of it and for it. We look at the things we are considering theologically and ask questions like, “Are they true? Appropriate? Clear? Cogent? Credible? Are they based on love? Do they provide the Church and its members with a witness that is faithful to the gospel as reflected in our living heritage and that is authentic and convincing in the light of human experience and the present state of human knowledge?”
It is also constructive in that we must take the wisdom passed down to us and find a new way to express and think about it. Issues like “God, revelation, sin, redemption, worship, the church, freedom, justice, moral responsibility, and other significant theological concerns” must be understood not only by the church but expressed in new ways to help others understand them as well.
Our theological task is both individual and communal.
The image above is a good image of this idea: a house within a neighborhood. It’s an individual house but part of a larger community. Our theological task is something that we do individually. At heart, we must become diggers, those who are willing reach into the soils of our rich theological heritage in Christendom and find nuggets of truth buried within. We must take the time to read the scriptures, pray over them, read what others have written about them, and allow the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us to the truth. But this digging is both a solitary and a communal task.
We bring these nuggets before one another in our local community of believers. We test these ideas with one another, shape them, fashion them, so that like raw stones brought from the earth, they become gems to be held onto and shared as precious wisdom and knowledge. But this dialogue is not limited to just the local church but to the districts, annual conferences, and even the General Conference of the church where we try these truths beyond our walls to see that they are universal.
Our theological task is contextual and incarnational.
The theological task we have is also grounded in God’s supreme mode of self-revelation—the incarnation in Jesus Christ. God’s eternal Word, the Word of John 1, comes to us in human form within the bounds of time, and in full identification with humanity. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able embrace and live into the Way of the Word as the Spirit makes our hands and feet the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing to life the truth of Jesus in the lives those around us. We do this in our own and time and place as an expression of how and where the church has grown. We recognize that the incarnation of Jesus has to interpreted from its time to our time, something that we as the church do when retell the story of Jesus to new generations.
Our theological task is essentially practical.
As cars go, the Smart Car is about as practical as it gets. It is designed to move you from point A to point B with a limited amount of complication. While theology has many ideas and expressions that sound academic and complicated, the goal of theology is to be practical, useful in the everyday life of disciples. The truth of theology should be weighed by its practical significance. in relation to their practical significance. Can this be used in the everyday life of a believer? Does it lead us to do no harm, to do good, to attend to the ordinances of faith? Can I explain it to someone who knows nothing about theology, like St. Patrick using the clover to teach the idea of the Trinity?
Getting the Job Done
Earlier I talked about my job as an artist and the idea of artistic vision. Vision is good, it helps us to see and think creatively. But vision is only useful if it leads us to a practical expression of itself. When it comes to the United Methodist theological task, we have the greater vision of Jesus teaching as our vision, but we must take that vision and make it real in our time and place. Ultimately, I think that is what theology, real practical theology, is all about. We are bringing the Kingdom of God to reality by reflecting on the grace-filled action of God in our lives and responding to that grace through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.
And that is where we come in as a congregation, as the people who call themselves Zion United Methodist Church. We need to be serious about our reflecting and responding and make theology real for the community around us. We must find the great truths that God is teaching to us, find ways to express them that connect to the community at large, and share those truths with the community in voice and in witness.
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.
Campbell, Ted A. Methodist Doctrine. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2011.
Hamilton, Adam. Creed: What Christians Believe and Why. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016.
The United Methodist Church. The Book of Disciple of the United Methodist Church. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2016.
Willimon, William H. United Methodist Beliefs. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
 (The United Methodist Church 2016, Kindle Loc. 2113)
 (Willimon 2007, p.61)
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