Thomas Oden on the Joy of Studying Theology

People don’t always understand why I geek out over theology. They don’t get how I can spend hours and hours reading it, sifting, thinking, talking to friends, stroking my luxuriant beard in deep thought, and reading more about what I just read about. Thomas Oden quickly cuts to the chase in his systematic theology Classic Christianity (as of 12/12/2012 on Kindle for the stupid price $3.79):

You are invited to the quiet joy of the study of God—God’s being, God’s power, God’s insurmountable goodness, and God’s unfailing care of creation. Over centuries this subject has been the source of contemplative happiness, intellectual fascination, and moral guidance…The most intriguing questions of the introductory study of God can be stated in plain, uncomplicated words:

classic 2Is God uncreated?

Is God free?

Is God personal?

Is God compassionate?

Does God exist?

Does Jesus reveal God?

Does God care about us?

Why are we born?

Why do we die?

How do we draw closer to God?

How may we participate in God’s life?

Does scripture reveal God?

Does the reception of revelation call for reasoning?

Oden, Thomas C. (2009-07-23). Classic Christianity (pp. 15-16). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Theology is fascinating because at the end of the day, theology is about God, the source of all joy. If none of these questions even mildly interest you, if you never engage with them, if you never are drawn to think or meditate on their truth, you will miss out on joy. It’s that simple. I love theology because it leads to joy.

3 thoughts on “Thomas Oden on the Joy of Studying Theology

  1. For me, it’s an anguished joy. It’s sort of strange because I enjoy the anguish. I was feeling depressed yesterday so I went to the Summa Theologica to read about original sin and because of how Aquinas describes it (in non-forensic terms ;-)), I was uplifted. I’m not sure what it would be like to think about theology without a sense that the prevailing assumptions are wrong, the king is in exile, an imposter is on the throne, and we must fight the revolution to restore the rightful king to His throne, etc. To some degree, it seems like it’s always been that way except in that amorphous, ambiguous time of medieval scholasticism (just because I don’t know much about it). It’s just that we all have latched onto different prevailing assumptions to attack (whether fundamentalism or liberalism or bourgeois vanity or political correctness). Hopefully we’re all secretly on the same side, part of God’s coordinated, multi-front attack on falsehood and impurity.

    • Lewis talks about joy as a special, unfulfilled longing. It’s never fully satisfied but it points you on towards what your heart was truly meant for. I don’t think any of my theological reflection is pure, unstained delight. I too know some of the anguish of that exile. I get it when I read something truly excellent and I see the crap that the people of God are being fed on a regular basis. I’ve been reading a bit about Bavinck and his understanding of Theology being for the Church and the way that bad theology in the pulpit ravages congregations. Still, theology is what give the hopeful edge to joy as well, when I know that God is King, and as Tolkien reminds us, he is returning to make all things right, even our knowledge of him which leads to blessing and wholeness.

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