Universities came to life in the high Middle Ages, driven by their overarching purpose to provide scholastic service to the “Queen of the Sciences”—theology, that is—the study of how we can and must speak of God and things divine. But this definition has fallen out of favor in modern times, as our idea of science brings to mind not religious understanding, but rather understanding of material things in the physical world which can be measured, like quarks, heat, the cosmos and money supply.galaxy_atomic_jet.jpg

One unfortunate result of this shift in popular thought, which no longer views theology as a “science”, is the idea that theology should be relegated to the arena of faith, as if reason and the scientific pursuit of knowledge were somehow foreign to the practice of theology. If this mindset is allowed to constrain our thinking about theology, we end up with an emaciated and impoverished theology stripped of its inherently exciting and necessary desire to seek the truth through every God-given means, including reason, mathematics and the hard sciences.

Here is something the universities of 800 years ago seem to have understood better than we today—theology is “science” in the pure sense that it is truth-seeking.[1] As the ultimate truth-seeking exercise, one characteristic theology shares with the modern “hard sciences” is its experimental quality. Jürgen Moltmann, a leading modern theologian rightly says:

“…it is essential …to develop a theologia experimentalis, an experimental theology which, together with the modern world, faces up to the experimentum veritatis, the experiment of truth.”

[2]

The Bible leaves us no other possibility; theology must be experimental because our vision of reality and of God is imperfect—“for now we see in a mirror, dimly”

[1 Cor. 13:12], and yet in spite of our imperfect vision, we are called to seek wisdom continually.

This begs the question, how then are we to create in our study of theology and every discipline the spirit of hopeful openness and discovery which marks good experimental science? I propose three guidelines—

· Theologians need to stay abreast of scientific developments, be in conversation with all the sciences, and ask theological questions of new theories.

· In conversation within our faith community, we need a spirit of testing theological ideas. This drives the practice of theological research within the academic community.

· Hold our faith securely, but gently, knowing that we do not comprehend God, but apprehend him.

In keeping with the experimental aspect of theology, learning is growth. Some of our conceptions will fall to the ground and die in order to bring new life to our faith and understanding.

[1] Let us not forget the classic definition of theology given by Anselm of Canterbury (12th c) as, “faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum).

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, translated by Margaret Kohl, (London: SCM, 2003), p. 7.

   

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