Sunday, March 25, 2007


Today I stumbled across a mention of Kathryn Tanner, theologian at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and author of a number of interesting sounding books. She is/was doing a lecture series that was being summarized and reviewed by the blogger at the Fire and the Rose.

I remember sitting beside David Tracy, who also taught theology at Chicago, at a dinner at Sewanee (University of the South) one night. Professor Bob Hughes of the Divinity School was sitting on my other side, and they were talking across me, the public relations person reporting about this gathering and Tracy’s lecture. I swear to you that they were speaking a foreign language that is found only among professors of theology. At some point early in the evening, I asked Bob to change seats with me so they could converse easier. My neck was getting whiplash looking from one to the other as they bandied words that I couldn’t even pronounce much less understand. And, I kept some of them in mind after leaving. Upon checking theological dictionaries, I concluded that they were making up words that were combinations of Greek, Hebrew and ancient Aramaic. Later, I checked Tracy’s books, and the words were there, too.

Now Tanner didn’t seem to be making up words, but the summarizer was putting in terms that just didn’t mean anything to me – and they probably should since I’ve been to seminary. But, “apophatic” was not in my vocabulary, thank you. I finally discovered that it means proving something by stating what it is not.

Martin Buber did that in I And Thou. God is other. And, Buber can be understood by most non-scholars. I don’t know if Tanner was speaking in theologese, but her summarizer was. Her book titles sound interesting. Unfortunately, I know I’m not close enough to any library that would have them; otherwise, I would check out the books to see if she writes in terms that I can comprehend fairly easily or if they would be repeats of the night with Hughes and Tracy.

I do believe in the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid, even as I recognize that some topics do require specialized language. It’s enough for me that humanity is created in the image of God. God is beyond our understanding, but we see God in the faces of our neighbors, near and far. Telling me that humanity is an image of the Image of God, who is the second part of the Trinity really doesn’t tell me much of anything except that we see through the glass darkly. And, that was just Lecture 1. I may try the other summaries of the lectures, but I doubt that they will improve my theology or my faith. Maybe I’ll just play the meeting game and see how many words I don’t understand or sentences that mean nothing to me.

I might even try the inter-library loan program to see if her books make sense to me. Now, I know why systematic theology was so difficult for me.

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