Strong vs. Weak Theology

Using my previous model of a Modular God, I added the “theology” that links it all together.  The top diagram shows the “God” of a person with an elaborate theology .  The middle diagram shows the God of a person to whom theology is not important except that it holds key expressions to help them navigate the social aspect of their God club.  These people either haven’t really thought things out and/or really don’t care much about theology but it does still loosely bind things together for them.

The bottom diagram is a mix — for some people only hold certain parts of their theology strongly depending on their practical interests in life.  So in the bottom diagram I show a person with essentially weak theology except that they may have spent time and thought on the issue of morality and know all the bible passages relating to the submissive duty of women, the abomination of homosexuality or crime of masturbation or abortion.  So while they could not discuss the various atonement theologies, they can quote readily what their god wants everyone to do or not do.   As Ian, in the comments, suggested, a person with strong theology may not have thought out several areas or care for them at all an thus several of the strong theology God may have thin, lightly colored spirals.

I will be using these models in future posts but wanted to illustrate these “Strong” vs “Weak” theology people.  In these models you will see that the various other gods are there really holding up the picture, the theology acts just as a stabilizer for some people.

Finally, for non-believers, one could imagine the phrase “philosophy” or “worldview” linking their various important internal structures.

So, if you are a believer or were a believer, do/did you have a strong or weak theology?

Strong Theology "God"

Weak Theology "God"

Issue-Focused Theology God



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

25 responses to “Strong vs. Weak Theology

  1. Ian

    I’m enjoying seeing this model develop, though I can’t think of anything sensible to contribute.

    Except, maybe, that even strong theologizers have different levels of support for different modes of God. Their afterlife and morality god may be highly theological, their tribal god more gut-instinct.

  2. darrenwong1859

    When I was a Buddhist, I had a weak theology. I didn’t really care about it, I just accepted its teachings without thought, such as reincarnation, karma, ghosts, hell, and so on. Until I started taking atheism seriously.

    And before someone says that Buddhism is an agnostic religion, let me clarify that Buddhism as practiced by Chinese/Japanese is actually polytheistic, with massive influences from the Taoist religion.

  3. @ Ian:
    Excellent point, I can envision incorporating it.

    @ Darren :
    Indeed, I think most believers have weak theologies. And most internet blog debates are among those with strong theology.

    I think most Westerners have a very purified, sterilized, Beatnik version of Buddhism in their heads. But then, we usually do such with faiths we are not familiar with.

  4. As a believer I had a strong theology. Though I often wonder how deeply I really believed the strong theology, or how much I was willing to accept it without thinking deeply about it. OK, I suspect that I really believed a weak theology, but gave outward consent to a strong theology, partly because of peer pressure, and partly because that was the only way the weak theology held together. Make sense?

  5. strong theology. i’m not sure what i make of your spackle god model either, so i hesitated to post on it. i think it fits, but i’m unsure of the implication. in one way one can say that “that which can be named is by default not God” as is my Tillichian/Taoist understanding of the divine. or it could be that once your spackle goes away you’ll see that there is no god and you made it up. i have my thoughts on which way you lean, but i wonder about that.

  6. “that which can be named is by default not God”

    Many of your OT and NT theologians disagree with you. They name all sorts of traits for their god. They name all his deeds and his qualities. Luke, you need to write your own testament if you are going to pull out quotes like these.

    As for your suspicions, one has to understand what one’s god is before they can really tense up in fear that it will go away. The Taoist god is not spoken of in the OT and NT. Most of the theologians of your Book had a god who was controlling, jealous, and retributive — just like us.

  7. @ ATTR
    Wonderful analysis — as always, your honesty is refreshing. That made lots of sense.

  8. @ Ian
    Thank you for your thought. I have added a third diagram and a paragraph to describe it. See if it captures your thoughts.

  9. CRL

    I think most people do have weak theologies. Most people I know in real life consider themselves Christian or atheist or whatever, but have never really thought about it or taken it very seriously. I was one of these people up until the fall of ’08 when I got confirmed, and left the church a month later.

  10. Earnest

    @ ATTR: agree your comment was great and to the point.

    If we are drowning in life lousiness and throw our arms around the Cross, so to speak, we may evolve a strong theology. We do this to save ourselves, even if we had a weak theology when things were going well. A “foxhole conversion” might be an example.

    I certainly see this in myself. When my life was a shambles emotionally I was fairly devout and thought strong theology was awesome. As my life has come more and more under my (perhaps illusory) control, my theology has weakened and I have become more entranced with atheist concepts.

    I think of myself sometimes as a strong theology poser, truly the worst kind of Christian.

    “a god who was controlling, jealous and retributive” – maybe He knew if He ever let up the Hebrews would drift to atheism!

  11. @ CRL :
    I think you are right to point out that most of us have not thought out our positions half as carefully as we imagine we have.

    @ Earnest :
    Several studies show that (in general) the more economically and socially stable a country, the less religious. Though it is only a correlation, interestingly it correlates to your inner pattern too.

  12. Ian

    Is it coincidence that your diagrams are looking increasingly like the flying spaghetti monster on your right-hand-bar?

  13. Ian

    @Luke, Sabio

    There is a thread in Christian theology that does what Luke claims. It isn’t a majority position, by any means, but it is significant.

    Unfortunately, it always strikes me as self-defeating. A 200 page theological monograph about how God is essentially indescribable, seems somewhat farcical to me, even though I might find the actual content stimulating and well argued.

    I just have the feeling that the opposite of describable should be silence, rather than described indescribability.

  14. @ Ian :

    (1) Damn it man, you blew my surprise! May his noodlehoodness never tickle your underside. 😉

    (2) One of my last stops when leaving Christianity was in negative theology (Apophatic theology). I read St. John of the Cross, Meister Ekhart, The Cloud of Unknowing & Thomas Merton. Though I shared many insights with these mystics, it was clear to me that those who held these views were apostates. For the vast majorities of the theologies in both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures certainly held nothing close to it. And the Christianity crew they still insisted in chumming with, certainly held none of their core values. And consequently, the gyrations needed by these folks to keep their precious bible were aesthetically repulsive to me. So I moved on to Eastern traditions which, at many of their cores, are apophatic.

    When starting this blog I ran into the relatively new “Postmodern Theology” movement folks and read their stuff. It was nothing new after all. They were now doing the same philosophical contortions but now with a stuffy academic air — but it was the same thing I noticed decades ago.

    In the end, these folks always want to make their god loud — they don’t truly value silence and raw experience. They want to march with a banner. IMHO

  15. Sabio: “Many of your OT and NT theologians disagree with you. They name all sorts of traits for their god.”

    many, but not all. and naming traits is not the same as naming God. we can name the traits of you or me or a duck yet still not have the essence of any of these things. they are just adjectives. even Tillich and many of the “apostates” (who are embraced by orthodox and mainline denoms btw) still settled on “God as Love” or “God as ground of all being” even though they couldn’t exactly put their finger on the whole shebang.

    “The Taoist god is not spoken of in the OT and NT.”

    really? for real? Job, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Sirach, Bel and the Dragon, even parts where Jesus questions or states he doesn’t know (no man knows the hours… garden of geth?)? c’mon man. sloppy. 😉

  16. Ian,

    silence would be correct! but that would be in the moment of discovery… then we spend the rest of our lives trying to put words to the experience to capture it, knowing that we will fail, but attempting anyway. could be applied to science or spirituality in general. just listen to ppl try to describe their accomplishment and how they feel about it (from sinking the game winning shot to winning the Nobel Peace Prize).

  17. @ Luke

    I won’t argue to argue. I am sure your theology works for you.

  18. for the most part 😉

    just as i’m sure you’re non-theology does the same. i’m interested in the conflict of ideas and the mutual benefit these interactions have given us… well, i guess i can only speak for me ;-). but what frustrates me to no end is having the title of Christian yanked away from me anytime i appear to step outside of the pop-understanding of what it means to be a Christian. i’m right inline with my own tradition and stream within Christianity itself which somehow has these apostate Christians within it. no one knows what to make of us both inside and outside the faith, but here we are. thank you for your continued friendship, dialog and affirmation of this weird strain that i and many like me are a part of.

  19. Ya know, Luke, let’s say you had not invested 3 years of your life to become a minister and that your future livelihood did not depend on the title “Christian”. I think we could talk more clearly on this issue. For if you hadn’t done that, the conversation could go like this:
    Luke, why do you care if you are called a ‘Christian’? Why do you defend the title so much. I have been called unAmerican many times in my past. I don’t really care. As long as the people who say it aren’t the folks who can revoke my passport.

    You know your mind, you know your actions and you know what you value. the only reason to grab the word “Christian” is for the purpose of community. And by necessity, being religious, it is also exclusive. The struggle for you to defend “My Own Tradition” seems odd for me. There is no ONE tradition. Even in UCC there is not one tradition. There is no such thing as “Christianity”, there are only individuals who call themselves Christian and who fight over what that means and doesn’t mean while they chistle out their community’s boundaries.

    When you say “I am right inline with my own traditions and stream within Christianity.” is the statement a Luke of 3 years ago would not have made. I wager then you were not as attached to calling yourself a Christian (even if you felt you were). But not, you need to convince your employer that you are orthodox in their faith. So a new declarative Luke is emerging and he does not even know it.

    I get your sensitivity, but I view it as artificial, self-created, pragmatic and unavoidable given you career choice.

    What kills me now is your new found desire to defend the Bible, the Faith and much that comes with it that you were not defensive of before.

    You can be a Christian — I don’t care who calls themselves Christians: Mormons, Adventists, Pentacostals, Catholics, Snake-handlers, Healers, Prophets, Jehovah Witness or whoever. But you are defending your “tradition” — that seems new to me. You are no longer talking about Luke.

    BTW — I too value our back and forth

  20. “When you say “I am right inline with my own traditions and stream within Christianity.” is the statement a Luke of 3 years ago would not have made. ”

    because that Luke didn’t know that there was a historical tradition that continues through it to this day. seeing that has helped me reclaim the title and assert that my type of Christian is nothing new and that there are a sea of others like me out there, many whom i have met in seminary. it seems that both atheists and believers with a pop-understand of Christianity seem ignorant of this.

    this involves the acknowledgement that “there is no one tradition… only individuals…” of which you know and acknowledge and that’s largely at the core of my message in ministry. i do hold that there is value in the bible, the faith, and much of this is misunderstood and thrown out without much consideration and i think that sucks.

    a s for “a new declarative Luke is emerging and he does not even know it.” please. i’m fully aware of it and i’ve always been declarative as evidenced by this 2007 post which is extremely declarative and almost polemic, but it was focused against the pop-understanding of Christianity, of which i still fight.

    so you’re wrong that this isn’t artificial or that i’m no longer talking about Luke. i’m seeking not to be discredited by such cheap-shots as i view Jesus as being inclusive and that this whole exclusive thing is really shitty as it denies our common humanity. i think you’re striving for the same thing, however i’m doing it under the rubric of being a theist and a particular sort, of which my “type” can be found historically in the wide stream of my tradition and specifically my UCC denom.

    i’m sick of my brothers and sisters who are both believers and nonbelievers trying to yank the carpet out from under and discredit my view which is spawned largely from their own ignorance and thus be guilty of a genetic fallacy. i claim it, i swim in it, and although i may not be able to articulate it very well, i’m very much Christian. the past three years of debate and study have lead me to take that title very seriously. defensive posture? maybe, but i don’t see it as new. i’ve always had to prove it in some way, i’ve just held it more loosely than now. now, i’m taking it back.

  21. @ Luke:

    (1) There is not “A” historical tradition that continues through to this day. There are many. Just as in evolution, some continue, some die and new ones form. There is not one continuous unchanged historical tradition.

    (2) I do not have a pop-understanding of the VARIETIES of Christianities out there. Again, there is no ONE CHRISTIANITY — it does not exist.

    (3) Sure, you value the Bible. But you also value Taoist text, Buddhist texts, pop and indie American music lyrics, Shakespeare… Do you read them all with the same heureneutics? If not, how do you hold the chosen letters and novels of orthodox Christianity with some specialness? I am not clear on the why except for your “tradition”.

    (4) OK, I am wrong. You are still declarative, you still talk about Luke. Your note confirms your strong feelings about your “wide stream”, your “tradition”, your denomination.

    (5) So, you want to argue against a “pop-understanding of Christianity” — I get that. But you are contending there is a continuous historical stream of true Christianity that allows you to fight with gusto to reclaim the word “Christian”. I say that no such thing exists. (maybe this back and forth has isolated our primary disagreement). All the various Christianities want to say the same and to say they are it. Ask a Mormon. And if your arguments are any different than a Mormon’s in saying why you know the one true historical continous stream in your traditions, let me know how.

  22. 1. there isn’t? i mean, what about all those Calvinists, UU’s, Congregationalists, Presby’s, Buddhists, Taoists, and such? is there no such thing as historical continuation? i mean, sure, i see how they all change and adapt, but that extreme claim would make all history irrelevant. there were worship wars in the 1800s just as today with similar themes and concerns on both sides just like both Great Awakenings mirror the emergent movement in many ways. i don’t think that claim can be supported.

    2. you do not. many do. and i’d have to post on how there is ONE pop-Christian understanding that is a mix of Catholic and right-wing CSN fundie. i’ll gather my thoughts and let you know about the post.

    3. i do not read them with the same hermeneutic as form criticism would apply. however, parables fit into a similar hermeneutic and thus i get a similar spiritual understanding out of it regardless of the tradition. i know how to read it and make meaning out of it. stuff from my tradition speaks my language, so to speak, and i can fit it in my historical memory without as much work as a Taoist and Buddhist script would. i would have to switch my rubric and learn a whole new socio-historic and philosophic world view. i’m working on it, but it’s no where near as fast as my Christian lens. so in that sense, they are special to me. there is also a tribal affect that my family knows these stories… my gpa, for example was named George, so the stories of that saint are remembered in my family system. however, that tribalism doesn’t keep me or limit me from universal action.

    4. thank you.

    5. i am contending that there is a historical stream with many ever-changing denominations and thought patterns within it. sure they want to stay the same, but we agree that is a lie. however, there is a history there, institutionally, culturally, and socially that is passed down… even the WAY it is passed down differs from stream to stream, so i don’t expect a mormon and i to agree on much. you and i are much closer in thought than that, or even with anglican gurl/boy! however, that does not make us the same nor unites our histories. those are different. the traditions of the multiple forms of being an Atheist or Christian (multifaceted they are) are separate and never the twain shall meet, but that doesn’t mean the gulf can’t be crossed. just means we’re starting from other places and hold those labels the variety of meaning behind them with us wherever we go.

  23. I must say I had a strong theology. Not only did I read my Bible and prayed daily, but I also heard at least three Christian radio programs a day, watched about two TV shows a week, went to church twice on Sunday, and every Thursday I made Bible study.

    I knew all the theological cliche answers by heart and was very good at coming up with great explanations of my own.

    What a waste of time!

  24. Indeed, I think most believers have weak theologies. And most internet blog debates are among those with strong theology.

    Well, once in a while you see a weak theology Christian on the blogs. They’re usually “drive-bys.” And since they can’t understand what we’re talking about, they take everything we say as a personal attack. Check out what “Joe” has been saying to me on my blog.

  25. Earnest

    @ Luke: your “Lukianity” (to quote Sabio) is inspiring stuff.

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