Wright on Why Theology Matters image

Wright on Why Theology Matters

Since we started this website, the words "theology matters" have appeared on the homepage (despite the fact that we have never actually called the blog that, which has been the source of much confusion, but that's another story). But we've never explained why theology matters, taking it somewhat for granted that it does, and that all our readers will also assume that it does. Well, very helpfully, Tom Wright has addressed that question in two quite superb paragraphs from his Paul and the Faithfulness of God, which I've been posting excerpts from over the last few Fridays. Here's his explanation:

Jewish writers have often commented that ‘theology’, as that word is now understood, is largely a Christian construct, and they are right, for just this reason: that a fresh, reflective understanding of God, the world, the human race, and so on grew and developed to fill the vacuum left by the departing symbols of Judaism. It had to if the new worldview was to have any staying power. It is no accident that we have seen, at the very moments when Paul is hammering out the nature of his new, symbolically freighted community, that he reaches for his reworked Jewish-style monotheism. It wasn’t just that he needed some doctrinal stiffening, and found that particu- lar doctrine useful for the task. Prayerful reflection on God, God’s ways, God’s work, God’s purpose, and ultimately God’s faithfulness – that task we loosely call ‘theology’ – had, quite suddenly, to take on a new role ...

‘Theology’ was not of course invented by the early Christians. We see it in the Psalms, prophets and wisdom traditions of ancient Israel. We see it, sometimes agonizingly, in the writers of the second-Temple period. We see it, in their own mode, in Plato, the Stoics, some of the great classical poets. But the Christian mode is not only different in content (christology, pneumatology, justification by faith, a fresh vision of ‘salvation’, the reformulation of eschatology and so on). It is different in the job it has to do, in the shape within the worldview which it has to fill. It is as though an instrument (the clarinet, say) which has been content until that point to let the strings and trumpets play the main tunes, and to fill in the harmony half way back in the orchestra, is suddenly called out and given a new, spectacular part, which bids fair to become the central motif for the whole performance. Paul’s radical reworking of the Jewish worldview for a global context was just such a moment, calling the sometimes shy, speculative, mystical and not very practical instrument called ‘theology’ to its feet, transforming the music into a concerto. This is, of course, why any attempt to understand Paul that begins by bracketing out ‘theology’ is doomed to failure, however many important points it may bring to our attention on the way.180 The reason we study Paul’s theology, I suggest, is that it has had to grow up quickly, to learn its new, complex, leading part within the music. Theology is the lifeblood of the ekklēsia, which is itself the central worldview-symbol. Without it – as any church will discover, to this day, if theology in general and Pauline theology in particular is ignored or marginalized! – the chance of the central worldview-symbol standing upright and supporting the rest of the building will be severely decreased.

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