by Brian Hayes, Staff Writer
Divinity school is a time of theological deconstruction. Many of the beliefs I held to be true much of my life have been challenged and upended. Although difficult, the process of analyzing my opinions and viewing issues from various perspectives has given me a much-needed fresh spiritual insight. My divinity school education has offered me language to describe unconventional understandings I already held but did not know how to express. The process of theological deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction has been quite a journey that I know is only beginning. I am extremely grateful for the altered views, new beliefs, broadened perspectives, and descriptive language I have gained through my divinity school experience.
In theological terms, changes in my conceptual ideas about God, Jesus, the Bible, humanity, and creation can be described as changes in my formal theology. Allowing the stirrings of God’s spirit within me and among the Wake Div. community to alter deeply held ideas about these concepts has been incredibly difficult. This has not been the hardest part about rebuilding my theology. For me, it is most difficult to translate my new formal theology into action. Theology in action is often called functional theology, referring to how understandings of God are practiced and embodied in the world. Several times throughout this divinity school experience, I have recognized a disconnect between my formal and functional theologies. While it has been a major step for me to claim new beliefs, it is an even bolder one to act on those beliefs.
In reality, theology is practical in its nature whether we realize it or not. As Elizabeth Johnson states in Abounding in Kindness, “the symbol of God functions” (133). The way we understand God and God’s role in the world directly shapes the way we live. If we claim to have new perspectives, but those perspectives never become expressed in our behaviors, then those new perspectives are not firmly rooted in us. We are faithful when we allow our theology to function.
For example, if I claim to believe in gender equality and resist gender essentialism, then this must be embodied in my marriage through washing dishes and doing the laundry. If I claim to believe in the full affirmation of LGBTQ persons, then this must be embodied when an LGBTQ student approaches me about her sexuality. If I claim to believe God does not cause or allow suffering but is present in the midst of it, then this must be embodied in how I approach a person who has just lost a loved one. It is all too easy to retreat back to perspectives that are familiar and comfortable to us when the rubber meets the road. It is in our ministerial responses that we find out where we really stand.
In these situations, I believe God is calling us to take risks with our beliefs by putting them into practice. After all, if we do not put action to our theologies, how will we ever know if they truly work? Acting on new beliefs is certainly uncomfortable and takes a great deal of courage. But I think this is what it means to be a minister on the cusp of a changing world. We are not called to perpetuate harmful beliefs of the past but to reimagine God and the world for contemporary life.
We must prepare for the reality that people will not like many of the things we say and do. But may we be reminded that many people did not like what Jesus said and did either. While adopting new perspectives and embodying them may put distance between us and people who have formed us in the faith, we are called to be authentic to where God is leading us. So let’s allow the theology blossoming within us to function in the world with the conviction and passion Jesus expressed through his life and ministry. In so doing, we just might transform the world for the better.