"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Scripture and Theology

This summer for the New Wine, New Wineskins conference, I got to read Fr. Robert Barron's Priority of Christ. Barron claims the epistemic priority of Christ for all theological work, and he suggests that this requires looking at Scripture. Barron's own method of doing this is choosing what he calls "icons" of God, that is particular images from the gospel stories.This approach raised several questions for me as I think about how to relate theology to Scripture. Certainly there is a primordial unity here between the two, but in academia there is more often a great divorce, made all the worse because the separation seems rarely felt. Given my husband's obsession with this topic as well as my own experiences, it's no wonder that I've been thinking about this lately.
My concern about Barron's use of Scripture is that these are the images that he chose to highlight, and, of course, they contribute to the rest of his argument. In the end, I think I can grant Barron his chosen "icons," but I'm not sure I would be as comfortable with other theologians and the "icons" they chose. And then I wonder, so is that the way this should work-- we should all just choose our own icons? To every theologian, his or her own images of Christ that support his or her argument?

It struck me that perhaps Barron has an unfair advantage here... Although he chose particular images of God from the gospel, Barron is also a priest who preaches regularly and works with seminarians. His vocation forces him to sit with the daily and Sunday Mass readings. I think this affected how he chose his icons.

Most theologians today have very little time to reflect on Scripture in a theological manner inasmuch as Scripture generally plays a small role in one's academic theology program and publishing career. It is no wonder that we are more drawn to proof-texting, choosing examples here and there to suit our purposes. Doing so provides such odd claims as Jesus' being "anti-family." We tend to start with issues - marriage, for example, or war - and then scour Scripture for soundbytes to include.

For two years now, I've been writing Scripture reflections on the Monday and Thursday daily Mass readings for my parish's website. I can't deny that at times it has felt like a burden. Especially in the midst of taking three classes, studying for an exam, and being a full-time mother of an infant, I've thought to myself, "I don't have time for this," or "This isn't what I'm supposed to be doing now!" Imagine that, a theologian saying she doesn't have time for reflecting on Scripture...Thomas Aquinas would be apalled!

Yes, because these reflections don't get graded or give me credit toward my Ph.D., I've often discounted their importance. But, at the same time, I've often thought, as I'm writing one of these reflections, "Now I'm actually DOING theology!" or even "This is how moral theology SHOULD be done!" The readings for the day are provided to me by the Church, so I do not "choose" passages that suit my purpose or support my arguments. Sometimes it is challenging to find a way to reflect on the readings in a way that is meaningful for a popular audience. Not to mention the passages are often personally challenging (the ones I struggle most with usually seem to involve materialism). Sometimes, a theme for the readings just seems to stand out, and the writing comes easily.
Regardless, when I look back over this discipline of thinking and praying about daily Mass readings and then having to write about them, it seems clear to me that this has contributed just as much or even more to my theological education as my coursework has. At the very least, I will say that the two activities are certainly complementary. Like Barron (though not to the same extent, I'm sure), my theology is being shaped by my active engagement with the liturgical reading of Scripture.
Every once in awhile, someone will find me at Sunday Mass to tell me how much they have been appreciating my Scripture reflections. Although I never cease to be shocked that people actually read them, this helps to remind me of my work as a theologian in service to the Church. Whereas a class paper has a few readers who look to it with a primarily critical eye, the Scripture reflections average about 40 hits each.

1 comment:

LKF said...

Thank you so much for this reminder about how all of our work in theology must continually be grounded in Scripture. I'm working on a MDiv degree, and I too write a bulletin reflection for my parish each week - and I can't tell you how many times I have had the same thoughts! "I don't have time for this; I have too much reading to do, etc." Your reflection gave me a great jump-start to remember how important this small ministry is: even if just a handful of people actually read the reflection, that is still many more than will ever read my latest exegetical paper. Opening up the Word for others is really what the work of theology is all about, and I think it is wonderful that you continue to do this even through your doctoral work.

(btw: I am a friend of your brother, which is how I got to your blog; I have loved reading your reflections on life as a mother and a theologian - good food for thought as I consider my own future in these vocations! Thank you.)