I cannot get enough of it. Theology. I am willingly drowning in it. I lose sleep over it. I am sacrificing a great deal of money to learn more of it. The “tolle lege” that rang in Augustine’s ear echoes in mine. And the more I take up and read, the more intrigued, mystified, entranced I become.
This is not, as best as I can tell, pious boasting. I am not intrigued with fanciful, populist platitudes easily emblazoned on mugs displayed among Christian bookshop trinkets (or easily chanted to signify piety amidst the pews). The theology that has caught my eye and held it, that has seized me and to which I am now captive, is far from user-friendly. The pleasure is more like the thrill from standing dangerously close to a precipice than the delight from a warm cup of tea on a cold day. The fascination is inspired not so much by some touching, sentimental scene but by the sight of of some swirling maelstrom tearing at the sea.
My captor is a theology of tender beauty but not without grim brutality. Gospel Theology. Theology that comprises the nailing of a naked Jew to a timber beam. Theology that refuses to silence a raucous death-howl that—for St. Mark, at least—sounded like a demon in flight (Mk 15:37). This theology also sings about holes exploded in sky and in stone, one a gash in the cosmic veil and the other a tomb now vacant. Theologia Gloriae… et Crucis.
I am more textual than aural, but I listened to two audio clips this weekend: an excerpt from a lecture by Karl Barth on “Evangelical [read Gospel] Theology” and an interview of Lauren Winner about her new book Still. The former a 20th c. theologian known for his incomparable sophistication in writing about the Cross and Empty Tomb, the latter a young 21st c. theologian writing about clutching onto something divine and holy in the midst of divorce and spiritual disillusionment. Dogmatics and the daily grind of faith are inseparable. Theology that cannot deal with the dull blankness of depression or the very real horrors of the night is a theology alien to Christian Scripture. I write about this in my book:
[If the Gospel we preach] “cannot speak to Auschwitz, if it cannot speak to marauded villages in the eastern Congo, if it cannot speak in the ears of abducted children, if it cannot make sense to mothers digging for children in earthquake rubble, then it ought not send forth from polished pulpits in carpeted suburban sanctuaries” .
I am not trying to link Barth and Winner (and myself) together, necessarily. I am just thinking about those sound clips along with my theological reading, thinking, praying, writing… and struggling. Gospel Theology is theology that clings to the gasping breath of Christ Crucified (Mk 15:39) as well as to the recreating breath of Christ Resurrected (Jn 20:22).
This is the theology in which I am drowning. Its mystery and strength intimidate and haunt me. But only a theology so mysterious and strong encompasses ex-Eden reality and pre-Parousia hope. The “Theos” of Gospel Theology is the only God who suffices for maelstroms at sea as well as those warm cups of tea. Gospel Theology is about the “Theos” who hurled himself toward Death’s throat and then climbed out of the hole he exploded in Death’s bloated gut.
Tolle Lege. Take up and read….
 Faith Without Illusions (Downs Grove, IL: IVP, 2011), 39.