I was super excited last week to have my post about being a female military chaplain published on The Junia Project (a site I discovered - yes, after naming my baby Junia - that is dedicated to equal opportunity for women in ministry and in the church).
One of the commenters on the post questioned whether my inclusion of Liberation Theology as a lens through which I view my role and experience as a chaplain was necessary. The commenter’s contention was that Jesus himself tells us to liberate the captives, to fight against systems of injustice; we can go straight to scripture without looking to theology for guidance.
In this view, it seems, theology is caught in the middle between us and our relationship with God. It’s weighing us down, creating an unnecessary list of things for us to consider when we could (should?) just be going directly to the source. We don’t need a theology to tell us what to do.
Oh, but how desperately we do.
This way of looking at things - this idea that we can go “directly” to scripture - is itself a theology. It’s a theology of biblical primacy, a way of understanding God that requires the believer to continually point back to scripture. One of my favorite fallacies is when people say they “believe what scripture says” about a topic; or they “just believe scripture.”
No one “just” believes anything; you don’t really “just believe scripture.”
So not only is sola scripture a theology of its own, our belief about scripture doesn’t exist in a vacuum (it’s also why there are four other “solas,” but we don’t hear so much about them …). It’s impossible to simply believe what scripture says because we are not simple. We bring with us our experience, our baggage, our assumptions. We use these things - consciously or unconsciously - when wrestling through how humanity relates to divinity.
This is all theology. Theology is a tool to help us make sense of this mysterious divine/human relationship. Theology is acceptance of ourselves as made in a divine image. Theology is the struggle for all to gain recognition of their worth. Theology is bringing Christ’s presence into the world through our humanity. And all the fits and starts along the way: the discussion, the reading, the changing our minds, the transformation to ourselves and our wold? That’s theology too.
It may not surprise you to find that theology is the lens through which I see the world. But even if it’s not your lens, it’s impossible for theology not to come between us and God. And this isn’t a negative thing. It’s what St. Teresa of Avila means when she says:
… All we can touch, or swallow, or say
Aids in our ascent to God.
We (inevitably) come in contact with theology, and (if we let it), it raises us closer to God. And this is divine success.