Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Driving the Prototype
Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with concept cars and prototypes. Imagine that you have the ability to design whatever your ability and talent will allow, without the restrictions of practicality. No need to worry about fuel economy or saleability, no need to worry about whether or not the vehicle is street legal or safe. We're talking about unrestricted freedom to design and build, how could anything be better.
Then it comes time to road test the prototype, this is where all the fun comes to an end and reality comes crashing back down upon us. In fact, this is where the expression "the wheels came off" comes from, and it is a genuine possibility that the wheels will actually come off during the testing. You see, design is limited by certain physical laws, and no matter how the prototype looks in the shop, until it performs on the track, you can never know if the prototype will ever be more than a just an idea or concept.
Each time you drive the prototype, you identify new problems and issues and go "back to the drawing board" to tweak the design just a little to correct for the problems. Each time, the final product is a little more refined and a little more practical. Each new variant on the original design, at least in theory, has fewer and smaller problems until the final product is arrived at. Often, the end result looks little like the original concept, and in many cases, the original design is abandoned altogether in favor of more practical ideas.
Theology is Like a Concept Car
The development of Theology is a lot like the process for taking a car from prototype to showroom, or at least it should be. You see, we spend years sitting in classrooms developing theological constructs and ideas. We research them, study the bible, find scholars who agree with us, write papers and defend them. We sometimes forget that the classroom, the cloister, the seminary, is a theoretical setting. In many cases, it seems, that the development of the ultimate prototype, the most theoretically perfect theology is the end goal, and we forget that Theology was never intended to end in the classroom, or even at the pulpit.
Driving the Prototype
Theology was never meant to be then end in itself, it was always meant to lead somewhere. Our learning about God was not meant to only give us a perfect picture of who God is, but also to conform us to that image. If we learn that God is love, for example, and we see in the Bible how God shows that love, and then we develop this amazing Theology all about God's love so that everyone can read about how God loves, we have missed something.
Lets go back a little; We learn that God is love, and we see in the Bible how God showed his love, and so you go out and determine to love those around you in the same way that God loves them, then everyone around is able to see God's love firsthand lived out in your life. You see, now we have moved away from the realm of the purely theoretical Theological construct that "God is love" to the more practical application of that concept; we took our concept out for a spin if you will. The Bible tells us that the reason we were chosen was to be conformed to the image of Christ, who is the exact image of the Father, and the reason we were created was to reflect the identity and character(image) of God. So the natural result of theology or learning about God should be to make us more like God, not just in theory, but also in our actions.
What if "The Wheels Come Off"
As is the case with the prototype car, there is some risk involved with "road testing" our theological concepts. We may get out into the real world and the natural laws may make our theological ideas completely impractical, or we may find that some parts of our theology need to be tweaked and changed. We may find that instead of letting everyone know about the love of God, our theology actually makes people feel unloved, then we need to go back and adjust things a little. We may have to risk coming to the end product that looks very different from the carefully crafted classroom theology, and in some cases, we may have to abandon some of our ideas altogether.
For those who object to a pragmatic theology, I would ask, what other kind of theology should there be. Theology and all of its constructs are intended to give us a clearer picture of God, but to what end. So that we can say we finally have the ultimate "prototype", the final most correct ideas of what God is like. Then what? What do we do with that picture, enshrine it in a museum do everyone can come look at a correct picture of God under glass. I would argue, that theological constructs, no matter how "Biblically" correct, are nothing more than a pretty concept if we never take them out and road test them. Until they are measured against their ability to conform our lives to the ultimate prototype, the firstborn among many brethren, the express image of God, Jesus Christ.