Saturday, July 9, 2011

Neighbours and Fences

I sit on theological fences. I wish I didn't. I wish I had a stance on every issue. I wish I had a side. But I think my wish is misguided. Stanley Hauerwas said something remarkable in his memoir. He said he isn't bothered about what he believes - he cares only for what the church believes. 

What the church believes, however, is often in tension with, well, what the church believes! In this light, sitting on fences is not necessarily a sign of indecisiveness. It is a sign that we see through a glass, darkly. It is a sign that we know in part and theologise in part. It is a sign of the time we live in - a time of incompleteness; a time with a future that will surprise us and our systems.

Perhaps what the church needs is precisely more people who sit on theological fences, who live in the tension created by what the church believes.

Incidentally, it seems to me that a lot of recent theology is done from the fence. "Third Way Theology" it might be called, whereby the author seeks to open up a third option in the Barth-Brunner debate, in the liberal-conservative dichotomy, or in the evangelical-emergent struggle for example. It remains to be seen whether this approach will tear down fences or erect new ones. Each case will be different, I suppose. The questions to ask are, Is the theologian genuinely trying to bring neighbours together? or is she merely trying to mark out a plot of land that she can call her own for the sake of academic notoriety or position? Our natural inclination toward Frost's "Good fences make good neighbours"  dies hard. I guess a primary task of the theologian is to remember that we're all playing in the same field, and the person we are playing with -- or rather, who is playing with us -- owns the field. Moreover, the fences that we erect in this field, and the fences we sit on, are temporary.

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