Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Joining the Dance

I've recently begun reading Timothy Keller's book King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. His opening chapter presents one of the loveliest, most cogent descriptions of perichoresis I've ever read. As one of my favorite seminary professors used to say: "That'll preach."

Perichoresis is one of those big theological words that tends to make people scratch their heads. It's a Greek term that refers to the mutual love/indwelling of the Triune God, and is sometimes described in terms of a dance. One of the things I love about Keller's chapter is that he discusses the meaning of this concept in a beautifully winning way without ever actually using the five-dollar word. (I know, I just used it...but I'm using it to make a point about how he's not using it. Does that make sense?)

One of the reasons I struggled with the decision to go or not go on into higher (beyond masters) theological studies was precisely this: I think theology is best when it's written so that real people can understand it, learn from it, grow from it. When I was writing theological papers, I worked hard to make them as free from academic jargon as I could. I don't think writing in this fashion means you lack understanding: rather you work hard to have a deep enough understanding that you can write about it in real language. Not dumbed down language, but everyday language. In other words, I wanted to write theology as a communicator, poet, story-teller, teacher -- not primarily as an academic writing for other academics. I still want to do that.

So I'm thoroughly enjoying Keller, because he's actually doing it.

Here's a bit from the chapter:

"The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each centering on the others, adoring and serving them. And because the Father, Son, and Spirit are giving glorifying love to one another, God is infinitely, profoundly happy. Think about this: If you find somebody you adore, someone for whom you would do anything, and you discover that this person feels the same way about you, does that feel good? It's sublime! That's what God has been enjoying for all eternity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are pouring love and joy and adoration into the other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another's glory, and so God is infinitely happy. And if it's true that this world has been created by this triune God, then ultimate reality is a dance....

If this is ultimate reality, if this is what the God who made the universe is like, then this truth bristles and explodes with life-shaping, glorious implications for us. If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about."

There's lots more. But at least this gives you a taste!


Erin said...

I don't think I've ever encountered the word perichoresis before. But what a great excerpt, and what a heartening thought! "Relationships of love are really what life is all about." Very nice...

And I'm with you on preferring writing that is more down-to-earth and not so bogged down in trying to sound academic. I read way too much of that in college!

Beth said...

Perichoresis is one of those theological realities that takes my breath away sometimes. It comes to us mostly from Eastern Christian sources, and it has helped me to see and meditate on the beauty and depth and Triune reality of God in really wonderful ways.

I'm glad you're with me on non- academic jargon. :) I know there is validity to technical language, and sometimes it's even quite useful (when it's not trying to be pretentious) but it's not where my heart lies as a writer and teacher. And it's the place I struggled most in academia (both in literature and theology). Again, not because I felt like I was too dumb to understand it, but because I always found myself wanting to cut through that kind of language, to somehow simplify it and make it real. (And at its best, make it sing and tell stories!) I've been wrestling with this since I was an undergraduate, and it does feel like a real wrestling sometimes because part of me is very at home with scholarly thought. I think one reason I love Jack Lewis is because he had all the precise, technical brilliance one could hope for, and yet he had an ability to write simply, clearly and winningly in ways that all sorts of people could understand. He could take difficult concepts and unpack them for people from all walks of life.