I’m reading lots of systematic theology at the moment. And I’ve noticed a worrying trend.
Sophisticated theologians, particularly systematic theologians, like to re-imagine God and redefine God (as well as other religious and spiritual terms). Tillich’s God isn’t Barth’s God. And neither God is the God of Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, or the Pope.
I wrote last week about this tendency among writers on Religious Naturalism. It is particularly pointless there where the notion of a God is redundant, but it is pernicious in Christian theology too.
In my current research project, I’m trying to take the beliefs of believers seriously. On their own terms. The implication of this is that one cannot build a systematic theology around a single concept of God. One has to articulate a theology that can incorporate Pat Robertson’s knowledge of God alongside Paul Tillich’s knowledge, alongside Fred Phelps even. To do anything else is to invent yet another concept of God and attempt to paint over the diversity of belief in a shade that the theologian finds pleasant.
I am (very tentatively) calling this approach ‘objective theology’ – though I understand the problems with the term.
When I first studied theology, Tillich was a white-hot intellect that zinged off the page. I read Tillich’s systematics now and I find a clever and intricate description of a God that I don’t recognize from anywhere except Tillich. Doing systematic theology that way strikes me as intellectual masturbation at best, and at worst extreme narcissism.