How to Reflect Theologically?
I have spoken about the whys of reflecting theologically. But how can we then reflect theologically? What are the tools that we can use? The reason why we ask this question is because a significant amount of sources that we will read are not theological pieces. But they either contain theological implications in our immediate context, or represent something theological in nature.
So to answer this question, I point to the teachings of Dr Simon Chan, who had taught me this in a class on Asian Theological Issues. In the materials that follow, Dr Simon Chan outlined three ways which we can reflect theologically about various social, psychological, economic and political issues. And I would add – this includes theological and biblical issues as well.
1. Be precise and specific in our theological analysis
When we read any sources, be it online or physical, we need to be specific and precise in our analysis. This means that we look beyond the surface issues that the source is addressing and ask what it is symptomatic of. Take for example, there was this piece of news sometime back on Chinese government asking their Christians to trust in their president instead. The news reported that the Christians were asked to “switch allegiance” so that they can get out of poverty.
When we read such a piece, a few assumptions on the part of the Chinese should surface:
- Wealth and material well-being matters a lot to the Chinese.
- Salvation is equivalent to escape from poverty.
- The saviour in this case is not Jesus Christ
- The Chinese Christians think the same way too.
Digging even deeper, we can actually trace the theological issue down to the first day when Adam and Eve sinned. They disobeyed the prohibition to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In doing so, Adam and Eve actually decided not to trust in the leadership of God and decided to trust in themselves. This is the first case of humanism as we know it. The lack of trust in God in our circumstances even led mankind to trust in inanimate objects such as money or wealth. And the news report simply reflect this human trait in us after the Fall.
2. Understand the problem theologically
The next step is really to understand the problem theologically. Take our case example – we have identified that what we are reading reflects the lack of trust in God in our circumstances. But how is this problem to be understood in relation to the total framework of our Christian theology?
I have short-circuited this by directly identifying the theological issue – that it is a lack of trust in God. So we can say that the issue is not merely an economic problem. It is not the case that Chinese Christians were persecuted and therefore could not be well-off. The key issue behind is whether the Chinese Christians were able to trust God enough to not even buy into what their officials told them.
We then need to reflect on the theological explanation behind the issue. For example, in this case, God’s eternal purpose is for us to trust in Him and follow His leading. For a person to decide to stop following Him on account of getting out of poverty is equivalent to a lack of trust that God is in control of his life.
3. Respond to the problem theologically
Moving on from explanation, we will then need to respond to the problem theologically. It needs to be specific to the problem, and should not be just practical solutions. For example, in our case, the response cannot simply be that Christians from overseas provide relief to these Chinese Christians so that they will not relent. Perhaps it is also insufficient to say that these Christians need to trust God more.
So in this case, the problem lies with the Christian understanding of what trust in God really entails. Our theological response might then ask the following questions:
- What is the nature of God’s guidance and providence in our lives?
- What does trust in God look like?
- How do we demonstrate our trust in God?
In addressing this issue, there is a call to single-mindedness towards God. Christians cannot serve two masters. There needs to be total trust and single-mindedness when it comes to our relationship with God. This calls therefore for a proper understanding of what God will provide for us as well as a clear understanding on our mission as Christians.
Going even further, I might even say that this calls for the affected Christian community to come together and support one another, so that they can at least alleviate some of their poverty situation. This was exactly what Paul did when he asked the Philippians not to do anything out of selfish ambitions. Practically speaking, the church has to close rank and support one another even more.
4. Reflect theologically on your present context
If we move even further into our immediate context, we may also ask how these issues affect our individual local church. For example, in Singapore, the concern with trust and single-mindedness applies as well. This is despite the fact that we are different. Christians in Singapore are similarly bothered by materialism and wealth issues. The issues manifest differently but what will happen if Singaporean Christians are required to choose sides one day?
So, these are some pointers on how we can reflect theologically. How do you do it and what are the differences? Comment and let me know.