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Thinking Theologically: Tight or Wide Spiritual Focus

Conference Minister Reflects on Thinking Theologically

Tight or Wide Spiritual Focus I can remember being a wet-behind-the-ears student in seminary taking the first of two required systematic theology classes. I remember the professor emphasized that her class was not about teaching us what to think, but rather teaching us how to think theologically. A part of the "how" was moving the class from a tight focus to a wide focus on the way we conceived the relationship between God and creation. The professor's concern was that a tight focus on one aspect of our relationship with God would blind us to other aspects of the relationship. For example, a tight focus allows us to proclaim, "God protect the faithful now, as God has done in the past." This tight focus blocks out the issue of our own free will and blinds us to our responsibility for the consequences of our actions. A tight focus leads us into the temptation to put God in a box, never allowing God to act in a way that is contrary to the box. A wide focus, however, allows us to honor the freedom and sovereignty of God. For example, a wide focus reminds us that God is powerful, and the power of God is love, not brute strength. Similarly, a wide focus understands that God liberated the enslaved Israelites, but they also suffered for 400 years before God could effect their liberation.

In this time of pandemic and raised consciousness around Black Lives Matter, I have noticed that our reactions (including my own) are toward the tight focus. So, I pass on the understanding of my professor from all those years ago. Once you are tightly focused ask questions such as: "What else does the Bible say on this subject?" "Are there other ways the Christian tradition deals with this issue?" "What am I not seeing because it is outside the periphery of my focus?" David K. Popham, Conference Minister

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