Relational Theology

<%image(20050302-microscope 2.jpg|78|141|microscope)%> “Theology” sounds like such a professional term. It smacks of the academy and makes me squirm a bit when I think that we are “studying God.” I think of myself in a white lab coat with a scrap of the Bible under a microscope, a chart at my side, and a sharp pen which will record all of my “data”.

Is it irreverant to say that we can “study God”? It sounds so cold and impersonal. I tremble at the thought of becoming so detached from God that I can study him. Would I ever think of “studying” my wife. Fine specimen that she may be, to say I am “studying” her misses the point. We are in a relationship that transcends the subject/observer relationship of a specimen and scientist.


My discomfort is amplified as I glean some of the theology books from the stacks at my seminary and cautiously peer at titles such as, “The Science of Biblical Interpretation.” In fact, one previous professor of my seminary made a statement that compared the interpreter (or technically, “exegete”) of the Bible to a scientist, using tools (such as history books, lexicons, Greek and Hebrew, etc.) to determine the meaning of scripture. What is our language saying about how we approach God, and perhaps even who may approach God? Professionals only?

I digress for a moment. C. S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled, “On Obstinancy In Belief” where he compares the approach of a scientist in two very different situations. When confronted with a scientific theory, his approach will veer toward the instruments at hand and will entail his best attempt at an objective evaluation. On the other hand, if confronted with his wife’s unfaithfulness, one simply cannot expect him to approach her in the same “undetached” manner.

So as we approach God, do we find ourselves in a situation that calls for study or relationship? Perhaps I have constructed a false dichotomy here, but I think that relationship must drive everything in our walk with God. I have written far too many exegetical papers in college and seminary that have seemingly zapped the life out of me. My study about God and the Bible did very little to advance my relationship with God. It’s as if God and I sat down to watch a movie-marathon together, but never had any “quality time”. Our theology needs a relationship that drives our approach to God.

The funny thing at this point in my life is that I find myself addicted to relational theology. I am fascinated by God and want to learn about him, but I find myself edging away from calling myself a theologian. I fear the technicality that such a term carries with it. I also believe with all of my heart that the entire church must participate in relational theology. In our relationship with God, we should strive to know him intimately and personally. Perhaps tacking the word “relational” to theology does not go far enough, but it at least helps me keep my motivation and goal in mind.

Is it OK to say that we are “studying God”? I’m not sure about that. At this point I don’t feel like I can say I study God. Perhaps I study Him more than I would like to admit. I hope that I am deconstructing and reconstructing my relationship with God and what I know of him in order to know him better. Perhaps it is too fine a line to draw between “study theology” and “relational theology”, but it is a tension that I find staring in my face each day.

Update on this article: February 23, 2005

I had a bit of a brain storm today regarding this topic. Perhaps the word I am looking for to actually replace “theology” in my nomenclature is the word “reflection.” Reflection implies deep thinking upon a subject, but also the sense that you become what you are reflecting upon. In this sense, reflection upon God results in us reflecting his image. This seems to get away from the academic and unpractical sound of theology and moves thinking about God to the proper sphere of intellect and application to life.