Public Theology

Theology in the middle ages use to be called the queen of the sciences. When it was called that, what they meant was that theology, what you said about God, was both the bedrock and the capstone of knowledge. Christ is the alpha and the omega; the one through whom all things were made and the one to whom we are being conformed. The reason I include that prolog is that while most people today don’t think very much of theology, if they think anything of it, the fact hasn’t changed. Our theologies are constantly slipping out, even if we say we don’t have one.

1) This is Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the DC city school system, pumping her book and talking school reform. Ms. Rhee confronts the golden rule. That speaks well of her that she could both a) change a position potentially to her disadvantage and b) put herself if positions like the one described. The typical benefit of high office is insulation. It is really easy to treat other people as yourself when the only people your know are like yourself already. They don’t ask troubling questions.

“But we didn’t get in. I was devastated. So now I don’t know what to do. I went to DCPS. My parents went to DCPS. I believe in public schools, but I simply can’t send my child to the local school. Can you help me?”

It was a painful experience for me, each and every time. My instinct was always to tell the mother that I’d let her kid into Mann or Key and make the school make room for one more child. But honestly, it just wasn’t doable. Or fair. There were so many parents who visited me with these requests and so many more who were on waiting lists for those schools who had followed all of the rules.

Oh, I could have found a spot for them at another D.C. public school, perhaps marginally better than their home school. But that wasn’t what they wanted. They were looking for the exact same thing that I wanted for my two girls: the best school possible”

2) This is David Brooks talking about Big Data. Do you have any free will, or are you simply a complex machine responding to stimuli? The underlying theology of Big Data is a complex machine. With enough data, we can figure out what stimuli to apply to make you by a new car. Of course a Lutheran Theology might say complex machine as well (at least pre-baptism) and the only thing they are doing is creating ever finer harmatology – the science of sin. Think Screwtape with a super-computer profile of his “subject”. Mr. Brooks doesn’t like being boxed in.

If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I’d say it is data-ism. We now have the ability to gather huge amounts of data. This ability seems to carry with it certain cultural assumptions — that everything that can be measured should be measured; that data is a transparent and reliable lens that allows us to filter out emotionalism and ideology; that data will help us do remarkable things — like foretell the future…I confess I enter this in a skeptical frame of mind, believing that we tend to get carried away in our desire to reduce everything to the quantifiable.”

3) A short interview with Mark Driscoll. Now, Mr. Driscoll is usually publicly painted as both a neanderthal and a troglodyte. He too is hawking a book, but the interview actually shows you some of the reasons people actually listen to him. Here is a clear concise paragraph on identity, practical parenting, discipleship and modern idols.

Our oldest daughter is 15. When it comes to identity, the pressure is immense on everyone in general, but especially for young women—from how much you weigh, to the friends you have, your grade point average, the music you like, the hobbies you enjoy, the sports you play, the clothes you wear, and the technology you own. All are identifying markers of who you are. On social media we create an identity only to have it scrutinized. Much of parental work, then, is knowing who we are in Christ and then helping our children understand who they are in Christ. In that sense, parenting is discipling.

Who we believe we are, and whose we believe we are, are foundational statements for how we respond to the world. The bondage of the will, the freedom of the christian, the responsibility to the other and the family (identity) you’ve been adopted into, think the bible and Luther might have something to say about those? Nah, theology is just boring stuff with no relation to real life, right?