Creative Theology: Introduction (Part 2)

creative theologyIt is my contention that within the boundaries of orthodoxy there is a kind of theological creativity that is essential to Christianity. Last week I began exploring this idea by pointing to the first of two benefits of theological creativity: it helps us better understand doctrine. Looking at theological concepts from a different angle, or through a different lens, allows us to see with fresh eyes the truths before us. Theological creativity is also essential because it helps us to apply the truths of Scripture in fresh ways. With each changing generation and cultural shift we are required to think afresh about how the unchanging truths of Scripture connect with our massively shifting lives. Theological creativity is essential if we are going to rightly apply the Scriptures.

The application of Scripture to our lives requires contextual creativity. So, for example, applying the Pauline command to “flee sexual immorality” is not going to look exactly the same as it did for believers in the 1950s. Television, the internet, and cultural fashions have changed the landscape so significantly that if we don’t adapt our application of the Biblical principles about purity and sexual ethics to this age we will not be relevant or helpful.The application of Scripture to our lives requires us to consider carefully the variety of questions being posed by our world and seeking to faithfully answer them according to the unchanging Word of God. This requires us to think beyond what the theologians and churchman of yesterday have said. That is not to say that we ought to think apart from them. We will yet see the importance of tradition in this equation, but we ought to recognize that if we only repeat what they have said we will not be answering the questions of our modern context.

Consider, for example, a question Dr. Russell Moore posed to an ethics class I was in years ago. What do you say to a woman who becomes a believer in your local church and tells you that she used to be a man, and that now she and her lesbian wife have adopted a daughter together – a daughter who has only ever known her as mommy? She comes to you at the end of the service and wants to know what the next step is for her life? What will it look like for her, in this context, to follow Jesus? That is not a simple question and there are no past theologians whose work will be particularly insightful here. This requires theological creativity. This requires taking the unchanging truths of Scripture and applying them with sensitivity, care, compassion, and clarity. This was a real scenario that Moore encountered and was challenging us to consider how the changing shape of our culture is impacting the way we do theology. Such cultural trends do not change the truth, but they certainly affect the way we communicate truth, and the application of truth to new situations.

The Bible does not outline for us what we should do in every single situation. You cannot turn to the back of your Bible and look up “iPhone use” and make sure that you are conforming your social media habits to God’s standard. To be sure God has guidelines for helping us think about our social media consumption, but we must be creative with the Biblical principles to determine the answers to such questions. The lack of one-to-one correlation means that the application of theology to life necessarily involves some creativity. We cannot escape it.

Every new age requires us to consider afresh what the Bible has to say about how we live our lives. If we are unwilling to recognize this we will fail at doing theology, which is, after all, the application of the Word of God to the world. Sadly there are those who are unwilling to do this.

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