Welcome to Meta-Theology Quarterly, where I aim to develop a theology of theology and post at least once a quarter.
A brief history of this blog
I started my WordPress.com blog nearly three years ago under a different blog title. I used to write about Christian apologetics, addressing arguments for and against God’s existence and various objections to common Christian beliefs. The blog was largely philosophical back then. My interests and viewpoint have since evolved.
Along the way I chose to talk about theology proper rather than languish in preliminary apologetics. Unfortunately, as a part-time seminary student, I had (and still have) more questions than answers. So although I was reading very provocative and enriching books, I often felt to shy to write for fear of offending other Christians. It can be difficult to bring up problems that I don’t know how to solve, especially when my questions concern widely accepted foundations in my religious community.
Even so, I ought to pose my own critique to my own tradition rather than defending it. If I’ve learned anything in my studies, it is that Christianity is a big place with diverse perspectives. All of those perspectives pose a healthy mutual challenge within the church as we discern together what Christ requires of us each today.
What is meta-theology?
This leads me to my blog’s new name: Meta-Theology Quarterly. Suppose that theology is the task of articulating what God says to the world, and indeed what God says to various individuals in different times and places. Meta-theology articulates how God would have us articulate God’s word to us. It discerns what God says about how God speaks. It is a theology of theology, the study of theological method, an exercise in theological culture building.
Why do theology at the meta-level? I searched for some back-up online and the results were sparse. Even so, I did find some rare discussion of meta-theology worth sharing.
First, in his influential book , Lewis Ayres argues that modern theologians differ from their ancient pro-Nicene counterparts at the level of theological culture. The gulf between ancient thinkers and their modern counterparts is a methodological gulf.
Therefore, if we want to understand the fundamental creeds of the Christian church, we need to read them through the eyes of those who crafted them. We need to appropriate, or at least appreciate, their theology of theology. If the church of ages past is to bless the church today, we need to do meta-theology.
Second, John T. Granrose proposes a distinction between “normative theology” and “meta-theology” in a . Normative theology, he suggests, addresses the nature of God and the role of Jesus, etc. Meta-theology addresses the nature of religious language, precise meaning of certain theological terms, and standards for whether a theological claim is justified.
Granrose thinks that his theology is orthodox whereas his meta-theology is likely non-standard. Indeed, complains elsewhere that Christians lack a meta-theology. They may officially share a common orthodoxy, but that orthodoxy is variously interpreted. There are no clear standards, he claims, as to which interpretations are acceptable and which are not. This seems right to me, and seems like another good reason to do some meta-theology.
Third, missiologist puts meta-theology to work in his vision of a globally diverse Christianity. When Christianity is planted in a new culture, does the new church craft its own theology or import a theology from elsewhere? Hiebert asks, “Do young churches have a right to read and interpret the Scriptures in their own cultural contexts?”
Yes they do. Hiebert argues that global Christianity requires meta-theological unity rather than theological uniformity. The global church needs a meta-theology that guides young churches as they each discern a local theology for themselves. A global church is necessarily a theologically diverse church. Global church unity belongs a the meta-theological level.
So there you have it. Meta-theology can be understood roughly as:
- a theology of theology
- theological culture
- theological method
- standards against which to measure theologies and theological claims
- analysis of theological language and notions
- a tool to unify Christians of different theological persuasions
Because it sounds cool (to me) and I’m pretty sure that I can post at least once a quarter. Hopefully I’ll do better.
Also, the blog title makes it sound smarter that it probably is. If you’d like to help me out, I am open to guest posts relevant to meta-theology or otherwise interesting to me. Please get in touch via email@example.com or hail me on Twitter (@BNasmith).
I am experimenting with Medium.com, so most of my posts here will be re-posted on .
Lastly, the views I share here were my own at the moment when I pressed “Publish”. They are not necessarily mine anymore, or those of any institution with which I am or have been affiliated.
Thanks for visiting!
Image: Flickr (credit: mariusz kluzniak)