The ‘holy grail’ of physics has long been the ‘Unified-Field Theory’ — a description that would encompass all the basic physical phenomena of the observable world and explain why they are as they are.
Recently I have been thinking that we could do with something of the same in Christianity — a ‘unifying theology’ that both draws together different aspects of the faith and explains why they are as they are.
Quite apart from anything else, it would surely help us face and respond to new challenges, whether individually or collectively. I remember some years ago being asked by someone studying elementary theology what should be our attitude to ‘the Sabbath’ and thinking to myself, ‘You ought to be able to work this out for yourself, given where you’re up to in your studies.’
Somehow, although this person had a tolerably good grasp overall of the Bible and its message, and was learning to preach and teach, they were stumped by a question which is answered by biblical theology itself (see Col 2:16-17).
It was as if their theological ‘framework’ was not so much a framework as a loose collection of bits — atonement over here, law over there, Christ’s nature in a drawer in the kitchen, and so on.
But then this person was no different from many of the rest of us. Take, for example, the ‘five marks of mission’, on which the Anglican Communion has drawn for so many years as a summary of what we should be about.
• To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
• To respond to human need by loving service
• To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
They look comprehensive — and I suspect the reason for that is precisely that they were drawn up to include ‘something for everyone’. But what is the underlying rationale? What holds them together? What decides that there shouldn’t be six marks, or fourteen? What is the connection between responding to human need with loving service and baptizing people?
Recently it has been suggested that the five marks are really one mark — to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom — and four other ‘manifestations’ of that mark. This may be disputed, but at least it has the merit of ‘unifying’ the marks.
Yet of course the theological task is far more complicated than that. At my 7am men’s Bible study group this week, we actually got onto the question of why we are here, and why did God make the world this way and not some other way, including the propensity for sin.
To some people, such questions will seem childish, because they suggest there might be ‘answers’ we could comprehend. But though they may be posed ‘naively’, they are asked justifiably. Why should we not seek to understand all we can of the ways of God and the nature of the world?
Furthermore, if there is a ‘unified’ theological ‘field’ available somewhere, the answers to these big questions will be related to the answers to much smaller questions, like ‘What about the Sabbath?’
I think, therefore, that the task is well worth attempting and that though we may ultimately be as (un) successful as physicists have been in their area so far, we might make some progress which would stand us in very good stead, given the problems facing the church both from without and within.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: