Why Theology Must Take on Flesh and Bone and Breathe into Everyday Life

We live out theology everyday that we would never affirm with our minds or state with our mouths. On a lived level, we all have deeply faulty theology that has become habitual.

These habits have serious ramifications, and so need our attention.

Christians can sometimes inspect and analyze the words we say when it comes to theology—what if we were just as careful to assess not just the theology we speak, but the theology we live? Christians can sometimes inspect and analyze the words we say when it comes to theology—what if we were just as careful to assess not just the theology we speak, but the theology we live? Click To Tweet

Two Ways We Demonstrate Our Value For Spoken Theology Over Lived Theology

To illustrate, let me describe two situations I’ve seen (or been guilty of) on many occasions:

1. What Our Posture Toward the “Wrong” Spoken Theology Reveals About Our Lived Theology

Imagine this: A well-read theologian discovers faulty thinking in a fellow Christian leader and begins to comment on that leader’s social media accounts. Soon his civil tone deteriorates into vitriol. The theologian is convinced that the leader is twisting the minds of those he leads, that it’s vital that the leader be challenged and persuaded for the sake of Christianity. Soon the theologian finds himself referencing this Christian leader in his classes and blog posts, questioning the leader’s orthodoxy, faith, and right to lead. The Christian leader then finds herself wrapped up in a torrent of controversy, her job in the balance, having to spend weeks quelling the fears of her own constituency.

As onlookers, we might watch the situation unfolding and choose a side based on whether or not we agree with the theologian’s points. We might remember Jesus’ words, “By their fruits you will know them,” and decide that since the theologian’s approach has become personal, it’s hard to imagine he’s working with the Spirit.

But at no point in this all-too-common scenario have I seen the theologian’s theology of confrontation and reconciliation challenged. The same Bible that the theologian is using to pick apart the teaching of the Christian leader also says:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Isn’t this also theology?

Here Jesus is teaching a theology which not only creates exhaustive systems of thinking—but knows how to live as if the ideas are true.

Sadly, I’ve found that the longing to bring theology to life often is met with derision, as if making theological ideas livable makes them less serious. But I would say it shows a more rigorous attention to theology to trust that if a concept is true, it will be true in every way a human lives.

2. What the Anxious Frenzy of Our Ministry Reveals About Our Underlying Theology

Imagine with me again: A Christian pastor takes his calling seriously and applies himself faithfully to his ministry, to the point that he regularly answers texts during family dinners and on his day off finds himself answering emails. It begins to affect his marriage and health, and the folks he leads begin to worry about him. So they get together and plan a wonderful vacation for him and his family. They find preachers to fill the pulpit for a few Sundays and send the pastor off with their blessing.

But he is hurt that they don’t need him. He’s angry that they would ask him to stop working and threatened at the thought of someone else in his pulpit. Don’t they know how many things will fall apart if he’s not there?

We might feel sorry for this pastor who is so overworked and encourage him to make some life changes. But in these all-too-common scenarios, do we ever challenge the leader’s theology? Isn’t there something about this lifestyle which is practical atheism? The same Bible which has prompted this pastor to be perseverant and selfless also says:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

If the pastor preached in a way that questioned the deity of Jesus, we would challenge his theology. Would we dare to challenge the faulty theology that his life teaches—that he, as pastor, is our hope?

The Healing of Our Fractured Faith and Selves

My primary interest here is not to create more opportunities to challenge one another, but to find healing. My longing is to bring our thinking faith and our reading faith and our walking and weeping and working faith together again. To heal the rifts between the academy and the Church, between professional Christians and laity, between hearts and minds and bodies and spirits.

It may stretch our systems of thinking to test them in our daily lives. And it may stretch our own hearts and minds to find ways to bring our theological ideas into life so thoroughly.

I’m fascinated by one particular moment in the disciples’ discovery of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They’ve spent the day together, walking, eating, discussing events and Scripture, exploring truth—a thoroughly theological day. And when they finally discover the Truth that’s been walking with them all along they verify it in a strange way:

Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?

Their physical, intuitive, emotional experience of Truth does not undermine their acceptance of it—but only adds to its veracity.

It seems fitting that Jesus then goes on to reveal the Truth of his resurrection (something we’ve shaped entire theologies around) by showing the disciples his wounds. It really is possible that Truth can be embodied.

It’s time to end the old dichotomies of rational vs. experiential faith, of objectivity vs. subjectivity. These dichotomies ask us to choose one part of ourselves over another part—a kind of violence against the integrated beings God has made us to be. What I want to leave behind is partial engagement with God to embrace whole person engagement.

Wouldn’t we claim that our theological ideas are big enough to encompass all of human experience? If so, is it possible that intuitions and bodies and emotions are places where theological ideas can be tested and learned? We know that theology can reason and articulate. Can it feel and breathe?

We fear this might diminish theology. But what if it expands theology? What if it teaches us about a whole God who wants to engage us as whole beings, in every part of our existence? What if it shows the bible to be a living, active Word again and the Spirit to be comfortable in human skin again?

In the end, how sincere we truly are, how desperate and committed we are, will be demonstrated by how hard we are on our discipline, how willing we are to break with academic fashion when fashion mutes the polyphonies of life, how willing we are to be honest and accept difficulty. . . . [L]ived theology emerges from the movements, transactions, and exchanges of the Spirit of God in human experience.
Charles Marsh, Lived Theology


Word of mouth and word of body. It’s the thing that gets passed down over generations.
Kyra Gaunt, TED Talk

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