In most theological interchanges the thing that seems most clear to me is the haste in which theological discourse, rejoinder, and response takes place. This is perhaps magnified in theological discussions through mediums like blogs, but it also appears throughout the history of theological discourse. In most theological discussions, when someone objects to a statement put forth by another, I often find myself looking first, not so much at the content of their of objection(s) but rather at the speed as which such statements are made. It seems to me that most theological debates have little or no space or time for lingering to consider the force of alternative claims and construals that may confront us in the the theology of others.
A great example of this is the way in which white affluent Christians in America tend to engage liberation theology. Lately this rather stark and shocking quote from James Cone has been trotted out in the media:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
The responses to this statement are always immediate and rapid. This is racist! This is ideological! Where is forgiveness? The objections to a theological statement that is so clearly other to the experience of white Christians are instantaneous and without hesitation. However, this is precisely where actual theological discourse is shut down. Because there is not space to linger and allow the intrusiveness of Cone’s statement to potentially impact us or call us into question, there is no actual dialogue. In fact, I would go even further and state that the very haste in which we rush to shut down statement such as this actually diminish our ability to proffer truly constructive objections, questions, and critiques. By not allowing these statements to linger in our consciousness, to upset us, to call us into question we lose the ability to meaningfully critique, argue, and discuss them helpfully.
So, if this is the case then it would seem that an essential mark of fruitful and indeed, truly Christian theological discourse would be that such discourse allows the statements and protests of the other to linger, the persist and to to take root in us. Only by entering into the the thought of the other may we then have the kind of meaningful disagreements that make up fruitful theological disputations. In evaluating theological discussions, then, we should perhaps look, not so much to what objections are lodged, but rather at the haste and the ease by which such objections are put forth. The test of authentic theological discourse may well be our willingness – or not – to practice the patience of making it difficult to objecting to one another in our pursuit of right doctrine.