A Thought Exercise for Theology

As you may have noticed, lately I have been consumed by the thoughts of the practice of theology, primarily spurred on initially by Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology, which I hope to write some thoughts on in the coming days. But instead of focusing my attention to specific points of doctrine, my thinking has been devoted to how we get to those points of doctrine. Today’s post follows suit.

John Rawls was a great 20th century moral and political philosopher. He once did an exercise in his thinking in which he imagined doing ethics without knowing whether he was male or female, white or black, rich or poor, etc. In this process, he posited the question whether or not this influences one’s ethical decisions. For example, would one be in favor of national healthcare if they did not know whether they were sick or not or whether they had insurance or not (this is a modern-day example rather than one that Rawls himself used). It is an intriguing question with considerable implications. I have a feeling that such an exercise may dissolve some of our own presuppositions as well as expand ethics beyond our immediate circle of friends or influence.

For me, such an exercise may also hold implications for the task of theology, especially theological ethics and practical theology. How would we interpret the “submit to the government” passage in Romans 13 if we didn’t know if we had a government that was friendly towards religion or one that would persecute Christians for their faith? Would it change how we interpret the women in ministry passages if we didn’t know whether or not we were male or female? Or the harsh comments directed towards the rich . . . how would we interpret these if we didn’t know whether we were rich or poor?

The assumption behind this sort of exercise is for us to get past our presuppositions and in some ways, the baggage we may carry with us in the interpretation process. While we will never get to the point that we can interpret the Bible in a bubble, completely separate from our life experiences, an intentional exercise that follows Rawl’s may provide a way for us to think about issues from a different angle, one we may have never known possible.

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