When we last were together, we had worked through the distinction between our embedded and deliberative theological understandings. Though there’s nothing wrong with the embedded theological understandings that we carry around, a problem arises when life crises challenge these beliefs. We have second thoughts and sometimes, doubt about what we know. A new crisis of faith is added to our current troubles, burdening the believer rather than giving them the answers they seek.
Before crisis arrives, all Christians should be involved in developing a foundation for their theological understandings. This does not mean that we start from scratch and create a new, personal set of theological tenets that the world has never seen. Theology is our calling to process all that we can gather about God and to craft a strong base of knowledge supporting our embedded beliefs. At the crucial moment when we are seeking to understand how God could allow a child to be taken from their parents a solid and unshakeable foundation is necessary. Those pillars are only built from a deliberate effort.
Theology is said to be crafted as it utilizes raw materials to fashion an end product. In the case of theology, the end product is a new or more substantial theological understanding and our raw materials are the scriptures and the thinking that has preceded our own efforts. These materials are subjected to a three step process of interpreting, correlating, and assessing an idea that stretches and works our theological muscles and, in the end, through this effort supplies us with a new, better, and stronger way of understanding our God and our relation to Him.
We interpret the meanings of things all day every day. Words, images, sounds are all interpreted by each of us and we all bring a unique perspective to the process. As our interpretations become relatively stable, they begin to form our views. Collected together, the views form a viewpoint that allows us to interpret things on a larger scale. For the Christian, interpretation is performed from the perspective of faith. God and our belief in and understanding of who He is influences our perspective on everything. For example, abortion viewed through a perspective that includes God as Creator is much different than a purely clinical view. Recognizing our perspective and its depth, or lack of depth, is the first step in crafting a theological viewpoint.
Correlation is the act of discovering the relation between two things if it exists. If it does not, the word can take an active sense as well as we bring two things into relation. A Christian in the process of theological reflection will often be called into the give and take of correlation as he seeks to bring the perspective of God’s people into correlation with other perspectives. These might come from outside of the faith community or they might be an opposing point of view from within the larger Church that differs from your own.
This process is not without conflict. Ask yourself first if you are able to see things as others do. Are you able to fully understand their perspective? Responsible theology requires that you do so. This is a source of much strife within the Church as proponents of one theological view refuse to make the effort to understand how the views of another believer have come to be or why they are supported.
When one of your Christian views or viewpoints becomes relatively stable in your mind as representative of truth, there is one final step that occurs in order to set it. An assessment of the position you have crafted pushes it through a series of filters so that you can judge it to be good or bad. The four most common questions asked are:
- Is it valid?
- Is it understandable?
- Does it have moral integrity?
- Is it appropriate from a Christian standpoint?
Each of these is not equally applicable. A Christian may not be in the position to state whether or not an idea is valid but the plethora of documented positions can certainly aid us in evaluating whether or not we are in the ballpark. Moral integrity, on the other hand, is easier to assign. If your proposed view dooms all babies to death, contrary to centuries of Christian belief, the morality of a god who makes this proclamation would certainly be in question. A view impeded by this filter would likely be a candidate for reformation or to be discarded.
Being a Craftsman
Reflecting on your faith and what you believe requires the same love and attention to detail that a craftsman applies to a piece of furniture that she creates. It requires the ability to examine a view from all perspectives and to have a framework to evaluate different aspects of the position. Experience and maturity round out process, resulting in a pronounced ability for the Christian to understand life and humanity in a way that honors and upholds God and their faith.