Theology never should begin with a concept, but with an experience. Of course there is feminist theology and African American theology, even as there is a white Anglo protestant theology. Our theology flows from where we are, from what we have experienced and who we have become. Even as every ethic written by humans is a human ethic, even so every theology is encased in culture, events and life understanding.
The university is a faux culture, separated from the nuts and bolts of life. In the university the intellect is separated from raw emotion, life-changing sorrow, deep bitterness or revenge. The university encases sperm, viruses, hormones, murders, starvations and even death itself in numbers, charts and tight text columns like lifeless cubicles. And there is a place for the organization of life into picture books where it can be grasped by experiential toddlers. But this knowledge must go back where it truly belongs: on the street, in the ghetto, on social media, in the bars, in the bedroom and on the toilet. Medicine is pointless if it does not assist the victim of AIDS. Psychology is but types and tables if it does not ease the suffering of the mentally ill. Economics is feel-good headiness if it does not alleviate poverty. Literature is dusty volumes unless it helps us experience life more fully. And theology is but a pastor’s library unless it alleviates human suffering.
The application of theology is not for the church, if by “church” we mean the assembly halls of Christians. Some may say that a church is a hospital, but this is simply not true. The main purpose of a hospital is to diagnose and treat specific illnesses. A church rarely, if ever, accomplish this task. Certain churches are like quarantine centers so that everyone knows where the most ill are kept and can remain at a distance. Churches, in general, have three main functions: worship, education and the care of feeding of professional clergy. In other words, a church typically follows a university model, where the worship of God replaces sport, where a very few talented participate and many observe and cheer. And the center of this activity is not God, necessarily, but theology. The only difference between the university and the church, for the most part, is the theology is popularized and given entertainment value.
And how does this alleviate human suffering, enact God’s redemption to human slavery? It perhaps provides a spiritual pause in the midst of a world that is becoming less and less dependent on the spirit world. But church almost never provides a spiritual connection, a deeper dose of reality than one’s rebellious children, faithless spouse, unmanageable bills, awkward relationship with the police, chronic illness or ostracism from one’s friends.
Theology is dead and has been for millennia. God is not dead, nor is He silent, but theology has become disconnected from God and from human reality and so speaks to almost no one anymore.
And by “theology” I mean that taught in seminaries and universities, and, to a lesser degree, that preached in sermons ad nauseum. Theology is still alive in social media—vibrant and powerful, full of new ideas and experiences. Theology is still alive in the homeless camps and the slums and the refugee camps and in every fundamentalist group. The Bible is still living and powerful as ever, no matter how beaten it is by theologians. But the Bible must be separated from formal theology, and placed in a context again. Even as it was in the Bible, originally.