Theology of Joy
1/21/09 at 05:54 PM 1 Comments

Theology of Joy ... What is it?

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After writing my first article on this "Theology of Joy" page I received a very interesting email from one reader. Part of her response: "Your title is a curious one. Theology is so textbook and the word Joy is a very confusing word in the Christian community."

How informative! For some Christians, these two terms are polar opposites. However, when theology ("thinking" about faith) is divorced from joy (a feeling or experience of faith) Christians end up feeling they must pitch their tents in one camp or the other.

Why the separation? In "modern" expressions of Christianity (1700s to 1900s), the pursuit of one's faith was sometimes reduced to a rational or theological endeavor. Modern theologians did at times produce very helpful tools for biblical study and wonderful articulations of "systematic theology", but in doing so they often neglected the Holy Spirit's role in bringing forth a rich experience of faith (For you philosophers, this divorce seems to be tracable to Immanuel Kant, whose "categorical imperatives" separated theological truths from the experiences of the five senses; as a result, Kant and other "enlightenment" thinkers tended to see God as sovereign and authoritative but not actually present).

The modern world got a bit annoyed at this, since God was often presented in such static and rational terms that people wondered how they could develop an intimate relationship with God.

The contemporary "postmodern" church has taken on the challenge of "re-experiencing" faith. It often looks to the Holy Spirit and to worship as critical ways to revitalize authentic faith. And these pursuits, of course, are most commendable. Postmodern Christianity, however, is often guilty of over-reacting to its "modern" counterpart by valuing experience over thinking. Some churches, for example, now tend to view almost any spiritual experience as a valid one, without checking to see if this experience is guided by biblical parameters (as expressed in orthodox theology). God is seen as relational (a God of love) rather than rational (a God of truth and logic); God is present (with us or very much like us) more so than authoritative (above us or demanding obedience from us).

This column, however, will be taking a different approach. Our goal is to talk about -- and even illustrate at times -- what it might be like if we strove to develop the sort of faith in Christ that truly integrates the head and the heart. That is, can theology be a way of strengthening our experience of God's presence? Can our feelings or experiences of God (through the Holy Spirit) be means for opening our hearts and minds to the truths of scripture?

Webster's Dictionary defines "joy" as "the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires." Our Christian theology evokes such an emotion when it is pondered. We find joy when we realize our "well-being" in Christ and that we actually possess what we desire--abundant life in Christ (in the present and eternally). As you can see, such an experience results when both the "head" and the "heart" are integrated in the knowledge of Christ.

I believe such an integration would have several very positive results (and perhaps you will think of others).

1. Our joy would be much more consistent or lasting, not based on the whims of emotions nor in any way "dry" or emotionless.

2. Our theology would no longer be simply "textbook" but lead to a living, breathing, and vibrant faith ... a "Spirit-filled theology", so to speak.

3. Our witness for Christ would no longer be reduced to simply emotional sharing about faith or over-intellectualizing, but rather would demonstrate to the world a "whole life" sort of faith -- and thus communicate to others that Christ cares about and wants to restore their whole lives.

Theology of Joy! Since its something I'm learning a lot about myself lately, I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation with you!

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