Monday, May 4, 2009

Coffeehouse Theology

I was really prepared not to like Ed Cyzewski’s Coffeehouse Theology, Reflecting on God in Everyday Life. I don’t even really know why. I guess I just wasn’t in the mood to read a theology book. Theology literally means “words about God.” Theology books come in two main types: books that tell you words about God and books that help you with a framework for your own words about God. This is the latter. I wasn’t expecting that and I have to say I was pretty impressed. The author has not broken any new ground in this book, but he does a pretty amazing job of introducing the concept of contextual theology in a way that I believe is understandable to the average lay person.

Contextual Theology makes some people nervous. They believe that it has to do with changing the message of the gospel and scripture to match the current context. Cyzewski clearly points out that we can’t help but contextualize our understanding of God. We all see God through some “cultural lens” and if we better understand that lens, we are better equipped to understanding how it shapes and/or distorts our image of God.

Many of us want to read and trust scripture as it is, but we fool ourselves if we don’t believe that our understanding of God and our reading of scripture is affected by the fact that we are Americans living in 2009. If we truly want to do justice to what God is trying to teach us; if we really want to do theology, we need to come to terms with what we bring to the table. We can’t just expect to leave who we are behind while we enter God’s presence and then pick it up on the way out. “Christians who claim to be separated from culture face the danger of not noticing its influence on their thinking.” (p.122)

I don’t know if the author would agree, but I see his methodology as very Wesleyan. As United Methodists, we believe that we bring three things to the table when we study scripture: tradition, experience and reason. Cyzewski speaks instead of a “web of beliefs.” (p 104.) He mostly focuses on the tradition part and experience and reason, in his model, become context. The main point of agreement here is that we never do theology or study scripture in a vacuum. Theology is a conversation with voices past and voices present.
There is a discussion guide available for the book. I think that would be a fantastic group study. Theology is a conversation. This would be a great conversation starter.

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