Why aren't you writing your paper?

My wife likes to yell at me for not doing my work, when I'm doing three different pieces of work at the same time. This reminds me of my childhood, when nobody understood me reading three books at a time. But the more I study theology, the more I realize that this discipline, "systematic" or "dogmatic theology," is like a limb of the body. It isn't the brain, it isn't the heart, and if I keep going with that analogy, I'm tempted to say it isn't the hands or feet. Maybe it's the arms and legs. Disconnected from scripture and the Spirit, it can do nothing. And yet it is capable of binding and shaping the ministry of the church, whether well or poorly.

("Nicely done, Matt, you've just wedged Faith and Order in the middle of Life and Work.")

Well, that may be a necessity. And maybe it's a sign of the brokenness of creation, and maybe it's cross shaped, but maybe I'm just pasting pretty pictures over the problem. The problem is that we've disconnected dogmatics/systematics from exegesis, on the one hand, and bound ministry to it firmly on the other. And the one is trying to reconnect, and the other is trying to escape. And I think it's because we make dogmatics into its own, autonomous and superior thing.

This is not the old way of doing things. My advisor suggested that the entrance board didn't recognize what I wanted to do because theology isn't done this way anymore. Nobody is both a New Testament professor and a Systematic Theology professor. Barth was, Luther, Calvin and their era all were, but we aren't any more. And we recognize the need for "fundamental theology" to build under us and support us, but not so much the need to do it before we can build. Rahner says as much in TI1. So we do theology from the imperatives of theology, bootstrapping ourselves on structures whose foundations we have not checked. And then we ask someone to go down and make sure the foundation will hold. (Or that it exists at all.)

Lindbeck gives me part of the answer, in the idea that theology should be intratextual, and in the more basic idea that it is a language. Screw Wittgenstein. He's not wrong, if you understand him correctly, but if you read Lindbeck, read him after Saussure. Then, you'll avoid the whole set of mistakes around his Sprachspielen Gedankenversuch. That way lies Chomsky and grammar-dominance. Languages are intimately bound up with speaking communities. They stand over the current constituency as an externality that enables communication and common life, but they belong within the community as part of that common life. And they change and flex because the longer life of the community changes and flexes. Extrapolating the rules of the game is always and only secondary to playing the game.

But I digress. The reason I'm "not writing my paper" is that I'm ripping apart the Gospel of John so that I can study it intensively. To be sure, I'm also reading and studying Barth and Rahner. And Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. But fundamental theology is something I have to do, if not first, then at least at the same time. Comes with being a Barthio-Lutheran. Got to keep "theology" in its proper theological place, so it can live, and enable life in others.


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