On the importance of taking theological sabbaths
In a recent post, Kyle Strobel offers an important reminder of three critical dangers that face anyone who pursues theology as a vocation. And, as a bonus, he uses John Cusack’s High Fidelity to do it. Although he says it quite well and I’d encourage you to read his post for yourself, I wanted to echo some of his thoughts here.
The first danger that Kyle mentions, and the one that undergirds the whole post, is that of adopting a ‘works’ approach to theology. All too easily we can get lost in the never-ending pursuit of more knowledge, more publications, more ‘stature’, etc. If we’re not careful, we can easily delude ourselves into thinking that we’re actually working our way closer to God with our academic prowess. As much as I want to affirm the importance of academic excellence, we must always keep it in perspective. At its heart, theology is doxological. If it does not result in worship in response to grace, we’re doing something desperately wrong.
Second, Kyle cautions against forgetting that theology has to be rooted in ecclesial community. If we find ourselves tempted to slip away from church so that we can do something really interesting, we’ve lost sight of what theology is all about. The theologian can quickly become incurvatus in se without a strong basis in the church.
Finally, and most creatively, Kyle connects all of this to our need for regular sabbaths – not out of duty or law, but because he recognizes that the purpose of the sabbath in the first place was to remind us of our creatureliness and dependence.
Sabbath rest is a practical corollary to the Creator-creature distinction, where creatures submit to their Creator through a wholesale acceptance of creaturliness. Sabbath rest, therefore, as a call to embrace our creatureliness, follows the contours of created reality through an imitatio Dei. It is being like God as a creature, rather than, as the temptation of Eden reveals, being like God as God. The embrace of the fruit of Eden is the continual rejection of creatureliness which fuels much theological endeavour, not the least of which is the temptation to cure our theological ineptitudes and anxieties through brute force and will.
And, this is an excellent place to bring in the role of prayer in the life of the theologian as well. As Barth said, “The first and basic act of theological work is prayer” (Evangelical Theology, p. 160). Whenever we forget that, our theology becomes self-glorifying, self-justifying, and self-defeating.
So, and I realize how hard this is for many of us, I’m issuing a call for everyone reading this to take a theological sabbath some time this week. Stop pursuing, stop performing, stop pontificating. Just rest. And pray.