After D. W. Horstkoetter wrote a list of theological words that annoy him and a list of theological words that he really likes, I was inspired to draft my own similar lists. I have combined both lists together in this post.
Five Theological Words I Like
1. Missional. I firmly believe that theology has to be missional if it is going to be truly theological. Missional theology forces us to rethink all of the doctrinal loci around a center in mission. Missional theology grounds our understanding of the gospel in the triune mission of God (missio Dei)—actualized in the reconciling history of Jesus Christ—and the corresponding mission of the church, which witnesses to God’s reconciliation of the world as the contextual and inculturated community of God. The implications of this position are vast, capable of addressing many, if not all, of the theological debates we currently face today. In my opinion, theology needs to become missional or perish.
2. Apocalyptic. The word “apocalyptic” is perhaps on the verge of becoming a word that annoys people, but I still find it deeply useful and meaningful. The word is often paired with eschatological language, which is certain appropriate. However, the word is often limited in its semantic range to the eschatological future, when it has a wider meaning. The word comes from the Greek word meaning “to reveal,” the basis for our word “revelation.” The “apocalyptic” is a moment of divine revelation, a shattering of the old world and the in-breaking of the new, primarily in the eschatological present but also in the eschatological future—or, rather, the present moment is the in-breaking of the future.
3. Liberation. Here I agree with Horstkoetter in using “liberation.” I am both happy and sad that we have liberation theology: happy because we need to be reminded of the politically radical nature of the gospel, but also sad because they seem to have monopolized the word. Liberation is a far more rich concept than one might suppose from the writings of liberation theologians. I find it very helpful in connecting the Exodus event to the Christ event in the cross and resurrection. We are liberated from sin and death just as Israel was liberated from Pharoah and Egypt. We need to recover and explore the depth of this word.
4. Theological Exegesis. One of the happiest developments in recent theology is the emphasis on the theological interpretation/exegesis of Scripture. The notion of “biblical theology” is really problematic, for two main reasons: (1) it assumes that biblical interpretation forms the foundation for later theological reflection, and (2) it implies that other forms of theology are not necessarily biblical in nature. Theological exegesis, by contrast, understands that our interpretation of Scripture is guided by theological presuppositions. Theological reflection and biblical interpretation both condition and determine each other. While Brevard Childs is to be commended for showing the promise of biblical theology, we have people like Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer to thank for showing the promise of theological exegesis, but they are only the beginning.
5. Extra nos. Latin for “outside ourselves,” the phrase extra nos gained currency in Barthian circles, specifically in the work of Eberhard Jüngel. The term is used properly to speak of the reality of the gospel which both exists and comes to us from outside ourselves. The reconciliation accomplished in the cross and resurrection of Jesus exists extra nos, and is thus a reality for us independent of our acknowledgment of the event. As a result, we are disrupted by the grace of God which is extra nos, which comes to us as a word of death and new life, a word of interruption and redemption.
Five Theological Words I Do Not Like
1. Perichoresis/Perichoretic. The word “perichoresis” or “perichoretic” is not problematic in itself, but in practice, the word has come to be used (1) as a way of making three divine persons into one deity and (2) as a synonym for “relational.” The most crude form of the first type of thinking is found in Moltmann’s worst book, The Trinity and the Kingdom, where he throws around the word “perichoretic” in ways that are simply unacceptable, using it to do all kinds of theological work which it is not cut out to do. “Perichoresis” needs to be used in an analytic sense—describing the nature of the unity in the Trinity—rather than in a synthetic sense—establishing the unity among the triune persons. The second use of the word is epitomized by the work of Colin Gunton and other social trinitarians. In books like The One, the Three and the Many, he uses perichoresis analogically to describe human relationality: God’s eternal interrelatedness is analogically mapped upon human interrelatedness. Gunton thus defines “perichoretic” as “a dynamism of relatedness.” This kind of language about the Trinity is far too abstract and watered-down. It fails to acknowledge that perichoresis describes a reality proper to God alone.
2. Biblical. Again, I agree with Horstkoetter here. Applying the adjective “biblical” to something is less a mark of theological content than it is a power-play, an attempt to mark something as “right” over against other things that are “wrong.” The word “biblical” becomes a way to discriminate between what a person likes and does not like, regardless of whether it has any relation to Scripture. It’s sort of like the conservative evangelical counterpart to the liberal’s usage of “fundamentalist.”
3. Orthopraxy. How many times do we have to hear people talk about moving past orthodoxy to orthopraxy? I am sick and tired of hearing people blame orthodoxy for the church’s problems and claiming to solve them through orthopraxy. What this basically means in the end is that they want to toss out theology and doctrine in exchange for ecclesial practices and sociopolitical transformation. I heard this kind of talk repeatedly at the Envision Conference, and emergent types love it. If we’re going to use it, then use it in conjunction with orthodoxy, and always be sure to emphasize that “right action” must always correspond with “right belief” and vice versa. The two go together as a dialectical pair, never one to the subjugation of the other.
4. Doxological. Here I have to be careful: doxological is a perfectly good word. But I feel about this word the same way Ben Myers feels about the word “trinitarian”: that more often than not it “has become an obstacle to real theological thinking.” Doxological covers up a lot of bad theological thinking by ushering us all too quickly into the numinous realm of divine worship. In this sense, it functions similarly to “orthopraxy,” which brushes over the dullness of doctrine to get us into the sexiness of praxis. The word “doxological” often seems to sublate all theological thinking into the warm and mysterious embrace of the divine glory and the heavenly liturgy. Such ideas are trascendent in their aesthetic power, but all too often are superficial in their theological reflection. I’m looking at you, Halden—with a smile and a wink, of course.
5. Postmodern/Postmodernism/Postmodernity. Need I say more?