Archives For Theological Reflection

Reagan quote


In other words: with the increase of power, so comes a potential decrease in intelligence.

Think of the game total war. With the increase of lands and territory comes the difficulty of being able to govern it all. There’s the inevitable unrest as one area complains about higher taxation than the newly acquired lands. Attempts to balance these out are futile. The end result is that I either send in a highly paid army (that I can barely afford to re-position from the borders of my total war campaign) and implement total control or I side with the rebels. In which case I lose power and choose total, civil war.

To be true, the game mechanic is structured to keep things interesting. It bends against even the most kind among the known world’s rulers. All of my glorious intentions to keep my glorious nation (I mean glorious empire) together fell on the sword of the quest for ever more glorious power.

Still, I can’t escape the implication: with the increase of power, so comes the potential decrease in intelligence. Intelligence does not increase with an increase of power or privilege. In retrospect, my glorious leadership of this burgeoning in-game empire was, as I saw it, benevolent. Why on earth would my subjects want to oust me? I improved their material wealth, even though I may have drained other areas, refused a crusade, jihad or two and squashed a few ”insignificant” uprisings, in order to make more and more glorious my conquests. All done for my glorious peoples.

The point is this: even the most utopian of glorious leaderships will fall. Complex politics reflects humanities complexes. It’s what C.S Lewis outlined when talking about the tyranny of self; something he pinpoints sharply in is, 1948, essay called ‘The Trouble With “X.”

‘I said that when we see how all our plans shipwreck on the characters of the people we have to deal with, we are ‘in one way’ seeing what it must be like for God. But only one way. There are two respects in which God’s view must be very different from ours. God sees how all people in your home or your job are in various degrees awkward or difficult; but when He looks into that home or factory or office He sees one more person of the same kind – the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself.That is the next great step in wisdom – to realise that you also are just that sort of person […] Unfortunately, we enjoy thinking about other people’s faults: and in the proper sense of the word ‘morbid’, that is the most morbid pleasure in the world.’ [i]

Lewis’ advice on how to combat this is,

‘Abstain all thinking about other people’s faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them […] Not even God with all His power (for He made it a rule for Himself not to alter people’s character by force. Although, He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him) can make “X” really happy as long as “X” remains envious, self-centered, and spiteful.'[ii]

Jesus enters this discussion with the words,

‘If anyone would come after me, let him [or her] deny [themselves], take up [their] cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’ (Luke 9:23, ESV)

Total War may just be a simulation. Nothing but pixels and a few hours of harmless interaction with history. However, the message of its experience extends out towards knowledge of truths that have been heard and acknowledged here in the comments of Reagan, the admonishing words of Lewis and instruction from God Himself.


[i] Lewis, C.S 1948 The Trouble With “X”…, 2000, Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church, Harper Collins (pp.357-360)

[ii] ibid.

Helmut Thielicke To Young TheologiansSome months ago I picked up Helmut Thielicke’s, ‘A little exercise for young theologians’ (1962).

In cautious sympathy with the church, Thielicke presents a range of caveats for theologians. His ultimate aim is to remind theologians-in-training that ministry and theology are interlaced and reciprocally connected[i].

This concludes with Thielicke lifting up the importance of ‘theological reflection’. Which is, simply put, the necessary tension between theory and practice; how what we think theologically {embedded theology}, is challenged by how, what we think is actually applied, or could have been applied {deliberative theology}.

These thoughts are reinforced by a preamble-like evaluation by Martin E. Marty in the introduction:

‘I have tried to think what are the enemies of theology in America.
First is the pervasive unbelief that makes its way into ecclesiastical circles.It motivates the counsel to avoid theology, counsel which says: the Christian faith cannot pass intellectual tests; therefore keep busy, do not subject Christian affirmation to analysis and scrutiny, and it may survive.
Second is an apathy or low imagination extended to many crucial ventures of the church.If something does not immediately seem to affect what goes on within the walls of my church tower, the confines of my parish, I do not often care.
Still another enemy is the idolization of the “doer” as opposed to the “thinker.” The Big-time Operator or the Good Joe somehow builds more buildings, raises more budgets, and preaches louder sermons than does the craftsman who pours over his Greek New Testament.
It is of little consequence to some that he contributes to a greater divorce between Christ and the meaning of life, between the faith and other verities. So long as his engines puff and his and his wheels roll, all is well.[ii]

Ministry in these instances is overshadowed by fear, inflated egos and jargon. As a result theology is abandoned, no longer seen as having anything to say to the Church or society.

As Marty outlines, Thielicke acknowledges the timidity (anxiety) of most Christians with regards to the theological task (read: anti-intellectualism). Balancing this criticism with the observation that the academy and its esoteric narcissism (read: academic arrogance) stiffens and hides the accessibility of theology behind a veil of self-importance, ironic ignorance, yardsticks and insensitivity.

For example:

‘If the theologian does not take more seriously the objections of the ordinary washerwoman and the simple hourly-wage earner, and if he then thinks that the spiritual proletariat is not aware of the delicate questions and must have nothing to do with them – {which is just the way of that esoteric club} – surely something is not right with theology.[iii]

For Thielicke, ‘theology has to do with life[iv]’. However, theology is threatened by what he identifies as “theological puberty”. Defined as the overbearing delivery (bulldozing) from young theologians towards non-theologians about theological concepts.

This problem occurs when pride (or insecurity) permeates good intentions. Overbearing corrections can ‘smother the first little flame of an inquirers own spiritual life and extinguishes a first shy question with the fire extinguisher of the young theologians erudition…For instance: the inquirer becomes too embarrassed ever again to launch into a “naïve” exegesis in the presence of those profoundly knowing ears’[v]

Thielicke is a little heavy-handed, still he shoots straight and for good reason. He is challenging young theologians to stop and think before they comment.

‘It is possible – and laymen have a very exact perception in regard to this – that theology makes the young theologian vain and so kindles in him something like gnostic pride. The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined.
It is also possible to say precisely why. Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, understood it. Knowledge is power. I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this and that.’[vi]

In many ways this is Thielicke excavating Paul’s exhortation for us to rein in any ego built on cognitive ability alone; restraining ourselves from any association with special/scholastic – super spiritual – self-serving human ‘knowledge that over-inflates, and instead lean on the love (and truth) that builds’ (1. Corinthians 8:1).

In a similar way Barth touches on these same caveats in his discussion on the ‘Veracity of Man’s knowledge of God’:

‘Theology can of course, be sheer vanity. It is this when it is not pertinent, and that simply means – not humble. The pertinence of theology consists in making the exposition of revelation its exclusive task.
How can it fail to be humble in the execution of this task, when it has no control over revelation, but has constantly to find it, or rather be found by it?
…Our thinking, which is executed in views and concepts, is our responsibility to ourselves. Our speech is our responsibility to others’[vii] 

There is always going to be the danger of excessive introspection, however, by the willingness of God, though the aid of the Holy Spirit, with teachable hindsight, like good wine {or so I’m told}, Christian theology (and the theologian) can improve with age.

As Thielicke brilliantly articulates:

‘Whoever ceases to be a man of the spirit automatically furthers a false theology, even if in thought it is pure, orthodox and basically Lutheran. But in that case death lurks in the kettle.
Theology can be a coat of mail which crushes us and in which we freeze to death. It can also be – this is in fact its purpose! – the conscience of the congregation of Christ, its compass and with it all a praise-song of ideas.
Which of the two it is depends upon the degree in which listening and praying Christians stand behind this theological business.’[viii]

Christian theology does not belong to the museum of superfluous thought or singularly to the upper market echelons of Western society.

Thielicke’s final warning might thus read:

For the serious Christian theologian who becomes detached from a concern for responsible ministry, an “ivory tower” becomes a sterile and lifeless “padded cell”.


[i] Marty phrases this as Practical Churchmanship and Scholarly Inquiry. For example: ‘Thielicke argues that every minister of Jesus Christ must be both a disciplined theologian and a practicing churchman.’ in Thielicke, H. 1962 ‘A little exercise for young theologians’ Wm.B Eerdmans Press Kindle Ed. (Loc. 62-63)

[ii] Ibid, 66-70

[iii] Ibid, 112-114

[iv] Ibid, 97

[v] Ibid, 182-184 & Loc. 134-135

[vi] Ibid, 194-198

[vii] Barth, K. 1940 CD. II.2 The Limits of the Knowledge of God; The Hiddenness of God Hendrickson Publishers, 1957 (pp.203 & 211)

[viii] Thielicke, ibid, 332-335

Related post:

On Entertaining Angels & Academic Arrogance

I happened to find this statement from Karl Barth intriguing and wondered what implications it might have for Christian bloggers. Particularly those who are not theologically trained, yet bring their theological acumen to bear, as they broadside their readers with content so theologically deep that it has the potential to impact even the most qualified.

Speaking in the general zone of theological reflection – I say general zone because they don’t neatly fit – of what we call deliberative theology (questions motivated by experience) and embedded theology (learnt, assumed, taken for granted), Barth writes:

‘It has happened, of course and this was especially true in the age of orthodoxy, that the scientific character of academic dogmatics has had to be vindicated against free-lances. BUT it has also happened that the scientific character of dogmatics has had to be vindicated by free-lances against the dogmatics of the schools. Naturally it cannot be denied that the aversion to the dogmatics of the schools which may be found a little in every age has often rested on enthusiasm of some sort and not on solid Christian insight, that it has had little or nothing to do with the seriousness of the question of dogma, and that it is not, therefore, a sign of scientific concern. BUT it is also impossible to deny that the transition from irregular to regular dogmatics – when perhaps the school has ceased to be aware that it had to serve life, i.e., the Church – has often been accompanied by a decline in the seriousness, vitality and joyfulness of Christian insight, by lameness in the enquiry into dogma, and therefore by a loss of the true scientific character of dogmatics’ (Karl Barth 1936, Church Dogmatics 1.1:278)


Sometimes academic questions are answered by the seemingly not so academic. For example: if you’re a Christian blogger responsibly writing with, for, about and to the Church (read: The Commonwealth of Christ) don’t give up because you think that you are theologically unqualified.

You may just be providing an objective insight that joins a serious answer to an even more serious question. (and the added bonus is, it appears that Barth would approve!).

Related reading:

Duke, J.O & Stone, H.W 2006 How to think theologically, 2nd Ed. Augsburg Fortress

Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church o...

Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. Portrait (1700) with the true effigy of the Saint by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650-1732), (painted after a statue in Clairvaux with the true effigy of the saint) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years back I spent a semester studying Medieval Church History. One particular outcome of this course was a bourgeoning appreciation for what my lecturer called, ‘the discipline of emulation’ (Gray).

This is an area of meditation that falls closely near  the ‘discipline of study’ [1].

Engaging with this discipline meant copying out verbatim, Bernard of Clairvaux’s, ‘In Praise of the New Knighthood’.

The task was to rewrite, by hand, the entire treatise.

This process allowed me to see how participating in spiritual disciplines require endurance and, how working through a discipline can uncover areas of our lives that we would otherwise be ignorant of.

I was not displaced from the spiritual significance of the exercise, nor was I disconnected from the insights gained by focusing completely, both mentally and physically on the text.

Taking the time to carefully reproduce an accurate hand written copy of the text required solitude and silence.

I was powered by a solid commitment to the task at hand. As a retail manager by trade, I have had the proverbial, ‘time is money’ engrained into my subconscious, cognitive behavioural stimuli.

At that time this ludicrous measuring stick became a serious obstacle for me. Through engaging in this discipline I was shown how rushed my life had become. I also discovered that I struggled, psychologically and emotionally, to give myself permission to relax and not feel guilty about it.

I am grateful for moving through this unique form of ‘experimental archaeology’[2].

The intense focus, helped re-enforce a spiritual reading of Bernard’s treatise. On completion of the project, I found that I had become more concerned with understanding the text.

My purpose was no longer just to complete the task, but to genuinely listen to what Bernard had intended to convey to his readers. My whole approach was effectively transformed. Subsequently, so was my appreciation for the form, content and context of the document as a whole.

Scribes filled libraries with accurate copies of valuable information. They preserved material, which has become a primary witness that would have otherwise been lost to modern society.

The challenge to carefully reproduce the information before me, made me aware of how modern society could benefit from the example of scribes.

Scribes took their time to get it right. They did not want to bear false witness by making errors of transposition and translation. For the scribes this emulation was a product of worship.

To copy a text is to cherish it and move closer to the author and his or her subject. When mistakes were made there must have been a constant tension between pushing on or giving up.

For a medieval scribe, emulation as a spiritual discipline, was sincere Christian worship. Perhaps blogging is a spiritual discipline that follows closely in line with emulation.

Such awareness may allow those of us who blog, to apply what we do as a method of worship, motivated in similar ways as that which motivated the scribes. Consequently, presenting ourselves and our work, as a living sacrifice, offered up in Spirit and in Truth (Jn.4:24)[3].

2 Cor 11_33_12_9

An example: the work of a scribe: 2 Cor. 11_33_12_9 


[1] Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline: the path to Spiritual Growth, Hodder & Stoughton, London UK.

[2] disclaimer: I understand that this activity would not be completely  considered experimental archaeology. We did not use materials such as ink, parchment or vellum Nevertheless,given the task I view this exercise as a participation in a form of experimental archaeology.

[3] John 4:24 ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship the Him must worship in Spirit and truth’

IMG_0415#004 thought of the day.