Theologians Anonymous

1. We admitted we were powerless over our theologies — that our thoughts had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that our thoughts were not God’s thoughts and that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our theologies over to the care of God as we did not understand Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of our theological toys, philosophical prejudices, unjustified opinions, self-important ideas, and defensive gestures.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being that, despite the reality of God’s grace, all our explanations were totally ad hoc and frequently designed to stave off direct exposure to that grace.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all this theology.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove all this theology.

8. Made a list of all the persons we had harmed with our ham-fisted assertions, tidy systems, and undergrad etiologies and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, confessing our boundless ignorance, except when to do so would engage them in more theology.

10. Continued to take personal inventory of our theological hydras and when we started to think we’d really thought something great promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to actually connect with God as we did not understand Him, praying only for enough strength to trade mountains of theology for five minutes of open vision.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to theologians, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

30 comments for “Theologians Anonymous

  1. Very nice, Adam.

    Does Theologian Anonymous have a position on knowledge? Should desires for (or claims to) knowledge be repudiated or embraced, or something else entirely? Thanks.

  2. “praying only for enough strength to trade mountains of theology for five minutes of open vision”
    I love this. I don’t think I’ll even get 5 minutes worth of vision in my life, but those brief, infrequent flashes of pure revelation are worth more than a lifetime of speculation based on other people’s thoughts and inspiration.

  3. Robert, let’s say that in religion knowledge is “open vision.” Everything else is fantasy football.

    Rachel, I can appreciate the sentiment, but I think that we can hope for much more than 5 minutes and I think we can hope for it much sooner than the next life ;)

  4. “saying the unsayable”–he does have a knack for effing the ineffable, doesn’t he?

    Nice work, Adam.

  5. Trust Kristine to get “effing” into her comment. I think, rather, Adam has a knack for offing the unofferable.

    Well put, Adam. I’ll share, hoping others get it.

  6. Not doing theology = not talking about God

    Maybe the model should be Overeaters Anon more than AA: we have to do this thing, it isn’t a substance we can simply avoid. What we need to do is to learn how to do it in healthy, productive ways.

  7. At Faith Promoting Rumor we are trying to figure out how much fun Adam is allowed to have with his posts. By the way, I just noticed that Times and Seasons is feeding the upcoming events and Calls for Papers (from my here on the right sidebar. Cool! And I thought nobody cared…

  8. How can we tell if one is proclaiming such steps from a pulpit or from a rameumptom? I guess the “judge not” response could be given, but who would that response be satisfactory?

    Julie: I’m more in line with your description. Theology as an action or activity, in my view, can be understood as morally neutral.

  9. One of the core tenets of 12 step groups is that you need to acknowledge what you don’t know (but think you do) so that you can learn about God through operational definitions.

  10. Operational definitions are the way things have meaning from context. They are, in many ways, the opposite of theology. God thus becomes operationally the higher power that answers my prayers, the power greater than myself that restores me to sanity. Defined through how I interact with God without anything else.

    BHodges, think of it as having God without definition beyond impact. It is why there are atheists who are twelve-steppers and successful at it.

  11. I like the comparison to OA as well, though people in OA usually need to make amends to themselves as much as they have amends to make to anyone, I’m not sure that goes for theologians.

  12. My sentiments are something like Julie’s. Theology done as it should be done is a process of deconstructed all our ready-made but unacknowledged theologies.

    In other words, your twelve steps, Adam, are less the twelve steps for breaking with theology than the twelve steps of doing theology well.

  13. Joe, I don’t understand. This seems to be a post about walking away from theology. “Doing theology” is actually finding a way out of doing theology and then teaching others not to do theology.

  14. Joe says: “In other words, your twelve steps, Adam, are less the twelve steps for breaking with theology than the twelve steps of doing theology well.”

    Adam says: Yes!

  15. But then you have to admit that “doing theology well” needs a recovery program once again, yeah? Again, Adam, it seems like you are saying that “doing theology well” is actually finding a way out of doing theology and then teaching others not to do theology.

  16. I suppose I’m saying (1) that theology is just a kind of scaffolding, even when done well, and (2) that theology practiced well is practiced kenotically.

    I’ve recently said some stuff like: “Lose theology!” But this, of course, is only half the picture (and, performatively, I’ve said it while doing what is obviously theology). Now, this is true – I do have to lose my soul. But it turns out that this is the only way to save it. To save my soul well, I have to practice losing it (and not just once, but over and over).

    I think this kind of thing is not just a description of how to practice religion, but of how to talk about it – because, of course, talking about religion can be part of a way of practicing it.

  17. Adam, what would happen if you substituted “religion” for “theology” and plugged it back into your above list? Would you feel any differently about it? Would it convey the same meaning?

  18. Good question, “aquinas.” Thanks for the note. As I indicated in the previous comment, I essentially pattern my take on practicing theology on what I understand the practice of religion to look like: it involves the work of losing my soul so that God can save it. Having gone so far as to say that I’m okay talking like this about my own soul, I suppose I’m okay talking this way not only about theology but about religion in general.

  19. My recollection is that Thomas Aquinas got to this point at the end of his life.

    I have always been fascinated by theologians who assert that man cannot conceive the reaality of God, but in the net breath insist on doing exactly that.

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