This Thing Called Theology

I’ve recently acquired this little book by the Met. John Zizioulas, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics. One of the important points made by Met. Zizioulas is that (Orthodox) theological thinking often is just a paraphrasing and restating of what has been already set out and stated by the Fathers. In his words, 

It is unfortunate that much of today’s Orthodox theology is in fact nothing but history — a theologically uncommitted scholar could have done this kind of ‘theology’ just as well or even better. Although this kind of ‘theology’ claims to be faithful to the Fathers and tradition is in fact contrary to the method followed by the Fathers themselves. For the Fathers worked in constant dialogue with the intellectual trends of their time to interpret the Christian faith to the world around them. This is precisely the task of Orthodox theology in our time too. 

So, with that in mind, I’m going to begin reading through this book and discussing some small points I encounter on the way (as time permits). Met. Zizioulas begins by defining and discussing what is meant by these terms. What is Theology? How might we define it. He begins:

Theology starts in the worship of God and in the Church’s experience of communion with God. Our experience of this communion involves a whole range of relationships, so theology is not simply about a religious, moral or psychological experience, but about our whole experience of life in this communion. Theology touches on life, death and our very being, and shows how our personal identity is constituted through relationships, ans so through love and freedom. What makes man different from any other creature? Can humans be truly free? Do they want to be free? Can humans be free to love?

Theology is concerned with life and survival, and therefore with salvation. The Church articulates its theology, not simply to add to our knowledge of God or the world, but so that we may gain the life which can never be brought to an end. Christian doctrine tells us there is redemption for us and for the world, and each particular doctrine articulates some aspect of this redemption. We have to inquire how each doctrine contributes to knowledge of our salvation. Rather than isolating each doctrine, we have to set each doctrine out in the context of all other doctrines. Theology seeks a living comprehension of the Christian faith, of our place in the world and relationship with one another. It does not just want to preserve the statements of the Church as they were originally made, but also to provide the best contemporary expression of the teaching of the Church.

Well, that is quite a bit to chew on. What might be offered to start. One thing might be said right off. He goes on in the following to define what he means by doctrine and dogmas. On reflection this begins not so much by defining what theology is, but of what the process examines and consists. What questions does it address, what concerns does theology approach is what is posed here. 

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