In the hallowed halls of the theology blogosphere, one often reads that a given position “is just bad theology.” The confidence with which this verdict is reached makes me think that there is some clear standard of what counts as “good theology,” and after years of careful fieldwork, I believe I have hammered out the basic rules for writing theology that will be considered “good” by bloggers. The guiding principle is as follows: good theology unashamedly embraces Christian particularity. This principle has the following consequences:
- Good theology acknowledges the indispensability of “the church.” Suggesting that Christian community could take anything other than an institutional and historically continuous form is “bad theology” — indeed, self-evidently so. Even worse is any theological claim that would seem to undercut the need for a distinctive Christian identity.
- Good theology enthusiastically embraces Christian jargon and Christian practices. The interjection of a jargon phrase or a reference to the liturgy is often enough to seal an argument: “But what you don’t see is that this is fundamentally about baptism.” The italics, if not always present, are always implied. It is considered particularly good if one can emphasize the importance of prayer. Requests to explain the same subject matter in non-jargon terms are rejected on principle, because such a procedure would mean reducing Christian particularity to a spurious liberal universalism, etc.
- Good theology dwells in paradox. A key aspect of bad theology is its one-sidedness and its confusion in the face of paradox. Good theology recognizes that apparent contradictions are anything but, and it emphasizes this by piling on intensifying modifiers: “But don’t you see — it’s precisely only insofar as God is radically, immeasurably, indisputably transcendent that he can be so awesomely and non-negotiably immanent.” The fact that such phrases appear to be meaningless is a feature, not a bug.
In short, good theology reinforces Christian identity through the use of familiar terms and characteristic rhetorical flourishes. It is meant primarily to be enjoyed, not argued with — if you want an actual discussion, it might be helpful to track down some bad theologians.