My Life in Theology

Karl Wallenda, the famous wire walker, described his time on the wire as that point when he was really living and everything else as waiting. This comes close to describing my relationship to theology. Theology is simply talk of God. As I see it, two things make up the key elements of the Christian life – the walk (or following Christ) and the talk of God along the way. Though the walk and the talk cannot be clearly delineated, it might be said that the talk is at once the impetus for the walk and what informs the walk. When I am talking of God as I am walking along the way I feel that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do. It is my equivalent of being on the wire. This is not something peculiar to me or to a certain class of Christians; rather I think this is precisely where the deep joy of the Christian life enters in and it is to be the feeling and attitude of every Christian.

In the story, The Fiddler on the Roof, Topol dreams of sitting in the synagogue discussing the finer points of Torah with the rabbis – he dreams of a life in which he did not have to milk his cows and go about the business of making a living. It is not that Christianity relieves us of this responsibility but milking the cows and making a living are no longer definitive of who we are and what we are about. Christianity is not a supplement to our main activity of earning a living but has become our main activity. “Doing theology” is one way of describing the content of this activity.

The writer of Hebrews describes the activity of the Christian in the way Topol dreams. The Sabbath or seventh day activity is not simply one of the days in the week for the Christian but we have entered into the Sabbath – Today we have entered into His rest. Our life is no longer defined by the six days of work which make up ordinary time but we have entered that special time in which God has ceased His labor so as to take up redemptive activity – the very point of human history. So too, we are to cease one kind of labor and activity and we are to enter into redemptive activity. In this time the Words of life fill our conversation and our thoughts and are definitive of our relationships. “Redeeming the time” does not mean we become frantic to accomplish more work. It means we have entered into Sabbath time and we have been relieved of the heavy burden constituting the work and life of those outside of this time. Deep conversation about God (and the various modes that conversing might take – witnessing, teaching, preaching) – or taking up the Word of God and walking is the Sabbath activity we are to be about. “Theology” describes this process (for me it is a verb or practice – it always contains a doing).

The question of whether one needs to do theology to be a Christian is like the question if one needs to eat to be human. You can go without for a while but the fact that you are here means you have already dipped into the bowl. You may be living off of the processed, manufactured, or synthetic stuff. You may be consuming and passing along undigested material. Milk demands no awareness on the part of the infant that consumes it. The meat requires serious preparation, lots of chewing and digestion, and is best done with a host of companions around a large table. Theology is the feast which binds the fellowship together and it is that joyous occasion in which we partake in the meat of the Word. We might have our popcorn friends with whom we discuss entertainment (the perennial inanities of those consumed by hoops and goals). True friendship forms around the meaty sustenance of the Word.

Theology, as the dialogue which is our primary engagement as Christians, speaks of the necessity of a dynamic synthesizing (of Old and New, apostolic teaching and tradition, of Jew and Gentile, male and female, and ultimately of all things). Theology was once known as the “Queen of the sciences” as all knowledge was brought together in the foundation of Christ. The University was formed with the understanding that there is a uniform theological understanding into which all knowledge can be integrated. Theology is the means of integration and the point where the synthesis is realized. As Nicholas Lash has described it,

To think as a Christian is to try to understand the stellar spaces, the arrangements of micro-organisms and DNA molecules, the history of Tibet, the operation of economic markets, toothache, King Lear, the CIA, and grandma’s cooking—or, as Aquinas put it, all things’—in relation to that uttering, utterance and enactment of God which they express and represent. To act as a Christian is to work with, to alter or, if need be, to endure all things in conformity with that understanding.

This synthesizing point ultimately involves the synthesis of persons into a unified understanding and united body. As the Word is exegeted we are drawn together through conversing over the Word into the Word. The first theological conversation demonstrates the process.

In the case of the walk to Emmaus, Christ is the exegete, the means of exegesis, and recognition of the resurrected Christ is the end of the process. The law is made to come alive as it is synthesized or understood through the person and work of Christ explained by Christ. Christ is not absent from the exegetical synthesis taking place. He is not a static object added onto the Old Book. He is there with them in the walk and the talk and who He is becomes clear when they break bread together. So too in the present; who He is becomes clear in the walk and talk that unfolds between us and the promise is that He is there in our midst. We are joined together as friends through the Word in the Body of Christ. As we break bread together, the real presence of Christ is there in his Body constituted through the brothers and sisters on our right and left.

The great joy of my life (I do not mean to sound as if it is coming to a close) has been the friendships that have formed and which I continue to enjoy which are focused on a continual exegesis of the Word. The conversation constitutes the deepest of relationships as we are joined together in an unfolding of who Christ is. My vision of heaven – the move from glory to glory in Paul’s description – would be friends setting out together on a walk which would be filled with conversation burning with the recognition that another was there in our midst. The expectation would be that at the end of this walk we will break bread together and we will definitively recognize the One on whom our conversation has centered.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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