Is theology a map?

As a follow up to my post on theology as architecture, I mentioned wanting to write a post on theology as a map. I’m still thinking through that post, to be honest, and one reason I’ve yet to really write is that I’ve been pondering a provocation from Lesslie Newbigin’s commentary on the book of John.

Reflecting on John 14 and Jesus’ dual declaration that he goes to prepare a place for us and that he is himself the Way, Newbigin says that though we do know the one who is himself the Way, “We do not know the destination. We have no map of what lies beyond the curtain, though theologians—and others—often use language which suggests that we have.” As a theologian I’ve been mulling over this statement and trying to generalize a bit about whether or not I am guilty of the kind of overreach Newbigin mentions. In the immediate context, Newbigin is talking about not knowing what lies on the other side of death, so his comments about not really having a map are truly about what lies on the otherwise of the veil, but I think it has a more general application. Asking what it is theology can and can’t actually do and what it can and can’t accomplish is one of the recurring themes of this blog, and it is certainly one of the recurring themes in my thesis advisor’s work. In fact that’s part of the title of her forthcoming collection of essays, God, Evil and the Limits of Theology.

I wonder if my eagerness to describe theology as a map stems from the same kind of over confidence that Newbigin gently chides in this comment. Until I have good answer for that question, I will hold off on writing that post, and in the meantime mediate on the theme of theology as way finding.

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