Trying to define theology will always be perhaps the biggest theological task that theologians undertake. More often than not major disagreements in theology often come back to central divergences in the self-understanding(s) of what theology is. While this “wrangling over words” will certainly never come to an end, I have a proposal for how theology might be helpfully understood, or at least helpfully described.
I believe that theology is the suspension of disbelief in light of God’s action in the world. Skepticism and demythologization are the essence of atheology. To be a theologian, one must respond to what seem to be miracles in this world as though they truly are miracles for which no other explanation can be given. In fact theology is the absolute refusal to offer a final “explanation” of anything at all.
Theology suspends “rational” disbelief by doxologically exulting in what God has in fact done among us. Theology is what Ricouer would call a form of “second naivete” in which we passively allow ourselves to be drawn into the post-critical joy of doxology and feasting rather than attemping to assimilate the wonders before us into an atheological “explanation” of our world.
As such, theology is the absolute embrace of an enchanted view of the world in light of God. Theology requires us to respond to God’s action in the world in faith and thus, we must confess the world as the location of the riches of divine grace, life, and abundance. Theology forbids us to ever enter into mechanistic calculations or formulations that could render the miracles of God intelligible. Theology requires, rather that we suspend our refined and cultured disbelief and join with the trees of the field in clapping our hands for joy at what God has done.
Theology calls us to believe in a world that defies calculation. A world in which the barren woman becomes the mother of children. In which enemies feast together at a table of peace. In which the dead are raised. In which the things that are despised and rejected bring to nothing the thind that are high and lifted up. In which those in the ash heap are lifted up and seated with the princes. Theology calls us to believe that every mountain shall be leveled and every valley raised up. It calls us to abandon our management of the world on the basis of an epistemology of domination and control. It presents us with mysteries - the mystery of resurrection and exodus – which cannot be explained or assimilated. Not if they are, in fact the happening of God among us.
Theology is the refusal to disbelieve. It insists that water runs downhill because it loves running downhill. That birds sing to each other because they cannot stop laughing. That apples fall downward because the world is magical. This is the world into which theology invites us to come and play, to eat and be satisfied.
It may be that this is far too stupid and nonsensical a vision of theology to do the heavy lifting that we all think theology should do. But I don’t care. At the end of the day, all theologians ask the world to believe in miracles. No matter what syllogisms and summas we construct, at the end of all things we either end up apostatizing into atheism or expositing the Song of Songs on our deathbed. All theology, no matter how rhetorically brilliant and philosophically compelling ultimate asks all people everywhere to believe that God is not the explanation for all things, but the end of all explanations. Theology is the call to suspend our disbelief, throw off our cultured despising and be drawn into never-ending singing and dancing.