After a couple years away, I’m back on Theology Corner.
In the past I described my work as a hybrid of postmodern philosophy, Christian theology, and Marxist political critique. In the time since I’ve used this platform a lot has changed. My wife and I moved to Austin to help start a church and are now deacons. I’ve since exited the world of retail and took a staff position with Concordia University Texas. And, starting in August I’ll begin the Master of Education in Instructional Leadership program at Concordia as well.
Looking back at the person I was in that period of time (2012-2018), most if not all of what I wrote and propagated on social media was the result of a regrettably fractured self-understanding. I didn’t know who I really was (or was meant to become) and out of that tension I tried to fashion myself into something which checked boxes I assumed others would appreciate. It’s certainly not a healthy way of living or thinking. I took time away from this platform and social media, and did my best to allow for a reset in all areas of my life.
The reset helped (and continues to help) tremendously. I’m still learning and growing. More than anything, involving myself in the difficult yet rewarding work of local church service renewed my perspective in theology, politics, and education. It restored the wonder I had as a child when it came to matters of faith and livelihood. Tangential interests, such as postmodern philosophy or Marxism, are ultimately not what I hold dear. In all things I do my best to follow Jesus and serve others. It may sound trite or ignorantly simple, but I am a fierce advocate for the local church and out of that restored wonder, and perhaps zeal, I write under the banner Material Theology.
So, what is “material theology”? Here are the essentials:
- Material theology is a reinterpretation of practical theology. In this time, what is practical is not always what is effective. My experience thus far in and outside the church taught me that “practical” is often a guise for lukewarm actions that sound appealing to the majority but in reality changes little. In other words, when we ask what is practical we unconsciously make a decision to ignore that which is radical. Material theology reorients practical theology away from what I perceive to be a “middle of the road” approach into something grounded in a fleshly, positive idealism which yearns for the radical nature of what Jesus taught to be incarnated on earth.
- Material theology is contextual. Contextual to a fault, material theology must adapt to the needs and confines of the physical environment from which it speaks. Centered in the local church, it eschews the often abstract, systematic nature of classical Christian theology and dares to ask what must change in order to be effectual.
- Material theology affirms radical liberation. Material theology focuses on the needs of marginalized and oppressed peoples. While affirming the spiritual liberation inherent to the Gospel of Jesus it also affirms the material liberation inherent to the “kingdom” of which Jesus spoke. If heaven should come to earth it will be a material, incarnational experience which affects the tangible livelihood of actually-existing people. In short, material theology affirms both the spiritual and physical liberation of those oppressed by systemic sin.
- Material theology is ecumenical. While admittedly Christian in its underlying assumptions and practice, material theology rejects the exclusivity of common Christian discourse in favor of radical ecumenism. Material theology recognizes the valuable spiritual and pedagogical perspectives from other traditions and seeks, as best as possible, to not subjugate them under a Christian banner but deferring to and learning from them in areas where Christian thought has limits.
- Material theology seeks to be pedagogically viable. In tandem with a rejection of what I perceive as spiritual abstraction common to most explicitly Christian discourse, material theology recognizes the necessity of pedagogy (educational theory) in order to be effective. in other words, material theology understands that how we educate others is important. This is, admittedly, a yet-to-be-realized aspect of what I hope to research as I begin the M.Ed. program with Concordia University Texas in August, and I will share more thoughts on this at a later time.
In short, you can expect future posts to come out of contextualized, local church experience predicated on a liberative, ecumenical, and pedagogical perspective. My desire is to not be critical but to ask critical questions in order to better serve the local church and others in need. Moreover, I have since learned the lesson, especially when I was more active on social media, that it is almost impossible to express tone through writing online and as such I pray that everything I write or share is tinged with love, compassion, and humility. I do not know everything, thank God, and I will be wrong in many things. Such is the game we all play.
Grace and peace.