Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 5

“One of the most valuable things I gained from Mr. Holmer was an understanding of intellectual work as investigation. It is so tempting to think you need to have a ‘position’ if you are to be a ‘thinker.’ Positions are also useful if you are to make it as an academic. Theology in modernity, moreover, has been position driven. Thus you are a Tillichian, a Bultmannian, a liberal, a conservative, a Barthian (if you can ever understand what that might entail), a process theologian, and so on. That many theologians think they need to have a position is, I suspect, the result of the loss of ecclesial identities. But reading Wittgenstein with Mr. Holmer helped me see that positions far too easily get in the way of thought.

“I realize that it may seem quite odd for me to speak of not having a ‘position,’ given the fact that many of my theological and ethical colleagues would characterize me as someone with a strong position. This characterization is not entirely unfair; nonetheless, it is wrong. It is true that I am a pacifist, but that does not mean my pacifism is a ‘position.’ Positions too easily tempt us to think we Christians need a theory. I am not a pacifist because of a theory. I am a pacifist because John Howard Yoder convinced me that nonviolence and Christianity are inseparable” (60).

“‘Positions’ can give the impression that our task is to present something ‘new.’ I believe that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth we live in a new age, but that is why theologians do not have a position. Rather, our task is to help the church know what it has been given” (134).

I find Hauerwas' comments about positions particularly helpful, because the further along I go in my studies, the less positions I have. I have learned from diverse figures, from Irenaeus to Thomas Merton and Augustine to Karl Barth. I appreciate their differences and strengths. While I find myself agreeing with people associated within different theological circles and denominational backgrounds, I hope I can find a way to defy those limitations and make room for thought.

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