to keep its story straight

"Theology is the delicate art necessary for the Christian community to keep its story straight. That story consists of beliefs and behavior that are actions required by the content of the story. The work of theology is, therefore, never finished. The work of theology can never be finished not only because we live in a world of change but, more important, because the story we tell resists any premature closure. That story, the seven words of Jesus from the cross, forces us to acknowledge that the past is not the past until it has been redeemed, the present cannot be confidently known except in the light of such a redemption, and the future exists only in the hope made possible by the cross and resurrection of Jesus."

- Stanley Hauerwas ("Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words", p. 17)


  1. I thought I would add two further quotations on theology. Thge first one is from Karl Barth. In the Church Dogmatics (I.1), he states: "Theology guides the talk of the Church to the exent that it concretely reminds it that in all circumstances it is fallible human work which in the matter of relevance or irrelevance lies in the balance, and must be obedience to grace if it is well done" (p. 4). Theology, for Barth, is concerned with our "talk about God." One question this raises is whether our "Christian utterance" arises from Him.

    The other quotation is from Daniel Migliore, in Faith seeking understanding: an introduction to Christian theology. He observes: "When theology becomes mere theory divorced from Christian life, it is indeed questionable. But the criticism is one-sided. If theory without practice si empty, practice without theory is blind. How are Christians to know whether this or that action is 'for the sake of Christ and the coming kingdom of god' if they impatiently shrug off importrant questions: Who is Christ? What is his kingdom? Mindless leaps into action are no more Christian than thinking for thinking's sake" (p. 9).

    So, theology, done well, helps us as Christians to think our practice into existence. It also cracks open limited ways of imagining our faith.

    Michael Welton

  2. Karl Barth looked at the marvelous early 16th century painting of the crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald. The portrayal of John the Baptist pointing in an almost impossible way, captures Barth's self-understanding of the theologian's task. He can only point to the Crucified One. He can only seek humbly to emulate John the Baptist, who "stands so notably at mid-point between the Old Testament and the New, between the prophets and the apostles. In this connexion one might recall John the Baptist in Grunewald's Crucifixion, especially his prodigious index finger. Could anyone point away from himself more impressively and completely?" (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 112).

    The prodigious index finger pointed Barth to his work. The only reason to write so prodigiously was to wonder in amazement at the one who lowered himself into our disfigured and dismembered lives to redeem us. All Barth wanted to do was to speak better and more clearly about this One. But he knew he could never succeed but he knew he had to try.

    Michael welton