We Are All Doing Theology All The Time (by Alan Cross)

by Guest Blogger on May 17, 2013 · 5 comments

Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift.

Preaching on the Ministry of the Spirit this Sunday for Pentecost and I picked up the massive and exhaustive God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul by Gordon D. Fee. He talks about a “Theology of the Spirit” and makes a great observation about how Paul did theology and how we are to similarly do theology each and every day in all circumstances. Sometimes, when we think about “theology” we think of learned academicians sitting in a dusty study pouring over obscure works and pontificating on things that do not really have relevance for daily life. But, true theological work simply deals with what we think about God and His interaction with the world He creating, including us and our place in His plan.

Fee says,

“Yet theology is what Paul is doing all the time. But it is seldom the reflective theology of the academy, dealing with how the various matters we believe about God and God’s ways can be put into some kind of coherent whole. Rather, it is what has been called ‘task theology,’ the theologizing that takes place in the marketplace, where belief and the experience of God run head-on into the thought systems, religions, and everyday life of people in the Greco-Roman world at the beginning of the second half of the first century CE. Such ‘task theology’ is the more complex because it takes place in an extremely heterogenous environment. In part, therefore, the issues raised for Paul have to do with what the God of the Jews (the one and only God) was doing in history through Christ and the Spirit, for him within a particularly Gentile context.

“Into this kind of setting Paul came preaching, experiencing, rethinking, and re-articulating old and new truths, as he wrestled with what it meant for Jew and Gentile together to be the one people of God at the turning of the ages ushered in by Christ’s resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. In the process he was continually ‘doing theology,’ grappling with how the gospel works – and works out – in this new context that was so radically different from that in which it first appeared in history.”

Fee is saying essentially that the mind of Paul and the early Christians was fully consumed with what God wsa doing in the world and that all of their interactions with the Greco-Roman culture of their day was influenced by God’s plan and their part in it. There participation in God’s plan and their reconcilation to God through Christ was by the Spirit of God and it is the Holy Spirit that empowered and animated their experience together.

Fee continues along these lines:

“Here was how the early church came to appropriate the salvation that Christ has brought; and here was how believers came to understand their own existence as essentially eschatological, with the Spirit as both the evidence that God’s great future for the people of God had already made its way into the present and the guarantee that God would conclude what he had begun in Christ. Thus the Spirit is absolutely presuppositional to their entire experience and understanding of their present life in Christ; and as often happens with such presuppositional matters, one rarely looks at them reflectively. They are simply part of the ‘stuff’ of ongoing life; and what one says about such matters is often off-handed, matter-of-fact, and without considered articulation.”

Fee is saying that the work of the Spirit in the life of the Christian, the church, and the world was a given for Paul and thus, it should also be a given for us. God is always working. Our understanding of the world and our place in it should begin and be based in the work of God in bringing salvation and reconciliation to creation and in calling us to participate with Him in His great restoration of all things though Christ. In trying to understand who God is and what He is doing in the world by His Spirit, we are all doing theology all the time and are all, thus, theologians of one kind or another.

Worth thinking about today and we go through our daily ups and downs and routines. As Christians, what kind of theologians are we and what kind of theology are we doing?

 

1 Bart Barber May 17, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Indeed! And for those who do both, if our “task theology” differs from our academic theology, the former is a more reliable indicator of what we really believe.

2 Dave Miller May 17, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I was in a study/discussion group based on some Fee materials. Formative in my view of the workings of the Holy Spirit. Great stuff Alan.

3 Clark Dunlap May 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

Fee said: “Thus the Spirit is absolutely presuppositional to their entire experience and understanding of their present life in Christ; and as often happens with such presuppositional matters, one rarely looks at them reflectively.”

I think there is some good stuff here, and I think there is a place for task theology. But I can’t help but be suspect of the way he looks at this pre-suppositional approach to the Spirit and how it plays in the present due to his theological framework. We don’t do theology the way the apostles did. Same Spirit but different outworking. They had apostolic authority and calling, we don’t.
I’m a little wary of learning about the work of the Spirit from Fee.

4 Alan Cross May 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Why is that, Clark?

5 Dwight McKissic May 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Alan,

Thanks for reminding me that I have this book in my library and need to continue to consult it as a review Pauline text on the Holy Spirit. Fee clearly affirms the gifts of the Holy Spirit including tongues. Yet, I know in previous years his writings were used by Dallas Theological Seminary and SWBTS. I found that interesting.

Dwight

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