jesus teaching

Theology which includes philosophy and dogma as well as a variety of other disciplines is akin to poetry. Neither poetry or theology are easy flowing rivers. Both are fountains from which meaning can be slowly drawn. No two individuals are the same and different ideas or ways of thinking suit different people. Psychology plays an important role in all this. poetry and theology require creative and sustained reading. There is rarely any quick clarity in any discipline that is worth effort and time to assimilate.

Get a group of people together talking about any subject and you’ll discover very quickly that there are no easy answers.

When I was an undergraduate I took the study of John’s Gospel in Koine Greek  as my special subject. It wasn’t too long before I had to cope with views and ideas that seemed to be totally at odds with each other. All seemed to be right and all seemed to be wrong. One had to pick and choose and come to a conclusion. I found Raymond E. Brown’s commentaries on St John to be the most intelligent and meaningful. I still do and his new introduction to the Gospel of John published after his death and completed by Fr Francis J.Moloney is superb. (Fr Raymond Brown died in 1998.) The new introduction was published in 2003.

The entire Bible is closer to poetry than newspaper speak. Theology is much the same. There is no one meaning in any theological debate among a group of Christians. We don’t live in a world to-day where we can claim infallible authority for anything. Every text is filtered through the eyes of the reader, ( the ears of the listener)

As Marilynne Robinson has written in her novel Gilead, “nothing  true can be said about God  from a posture of defence”. We all know how biblical and theological bullets can be fired in debates to score against the enemy. Such vaporized readings and dogmatic utterances will never win souls.

The ultra dogmatic approach to faith fails to recognize something else – that from its very beginnings the human intuition that the world is a gift, that it has a divine origin,  and that life and love come from this same source, was explored and shared poetically. No other language could possibly begin to do justice to the inspiring, daunting mysteries of reality itself. The Book of Genesis is the classic example of imaginative and poetic inspiration that says as much about its authors, (J.E.D&P) as of course “God.”

Ever since priests and peoples of the world’s religions have been aware of the numinous they have opened their arms to invoke the name of God and have done so in poetic scriptures pouring from their lips and dramatized into movement and liturgy. It is also striking that the Holy Texts of the world’s religions, believed by many to be revealed by God as holy wisdom from beyond the human mind,  are often found in poetic form. It is acknowledged by the world’s religious devotees that God is very clearly a poet.


After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d,)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.

(Walt Whitman)

Quoted in Walter Brueggemann’s Finally comes the poet – Daring Speech for Proclomation. (Brueggmannn is Old Testament Professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta.