If I Speak with the Tongues of Angels…

There is something I’ve been wrestling with in the theological and vocational aspect if my life for a while: How should I “do” theology?

I am almost done with my masters in Systematics, and God willing, will get my Doctorate in it. I have a relatively sufficient philosophical background, probably an above average vocabulary, and when I put effort into it, the ability to write with a grandiloquent thickness often valued by the elite of academia. And indeed, this is the pull I feel from the institution at which I matriculate and most of my peers who are in the same field. My general perception is (and please tell me if I’m mistaken) is that those who are educated in theology should practice a “high theology” that celebrates theological distinctions with infinite regress and jargon “up the wazoo”. And I’ll admit, there is a necessary place for that–among the high-minded academics who’s job it is to discuss these issues. I am occasionally one of these, and I’m honored that I am gifted enough to be able to do so when needed.

However, most of what I write, especially online, is simply worded and simply put. This leaves me with somewhat of an interior dilemma: am I doing a disservice to my field if I remain simple and clear in my teachings?

An answer to my own question, and in an explanation as to why I prefer to speak on the level of the theologically “less educated”, is because I believe that good theology that properly evangelizes is spoken only in love. This includes meeting the audience where they are at and speaking to them in ways they can understand.

Jesus exemplified this by tailoring his teaching to his audience. When he was speaking with the priests and scribes he would use the passages they were familiar with and speak with their jargon. And he had the ability to impress them with his wisdom even at the young age of 12. However, the majority of the time he spoke to the “masses” and he used parables-simple analogies that used everyday life to communicate a basic truth. And while a different method of communication has been used by Greats like Aquinas, Rahner, and pretty much any church father (and rightfully so), other “theologians” whom I would consider influential spoke mostly with simplicity–the Gospel writers and C. S. Lewis to name a few.

Perhaps Lubac said it best: “Complication does not always indicate progress in thought…Obviously one must not…systematically reject every analysis, every distinction, every new precision which results from the need to avoid errors…But it must be admitted that often the force and even depth if a doctrine are more diminished than increased by over-enthusiasm.”

Regardless of whether you tend to speak “high” or “low” (and I cannot stress enough that both have their merits) what is essential is that when you speak, you so so with love. We speak not to praise ourselves, but to praise God and uplift our fellow believers. This is why theology and ministry/evangelization are so closely linked, and why the value of simple words or actions can not be mitigated.


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