When I used to teach Theology at the College of Biblical Studies, I would challenge my students to “think theologically.” Every area of our thinking is to have a theological aspect, a grid through which all thoughts are to be filtered. This idea was not original with me, but it was something that gradually crystallized in my mind over many years. It was already there when I was challenged to do so by one of my profs at seminary – Dr. Hook (no kin to the rock singer of the same name, who was popular around that time).
But Dr. Hook pushed us – forcing us to confront popular culture by reading popular books and analyzing the theology of the author. We were assigned to read 3 books of our own choice: a non-Christian fiction, a non-Christian non-fiction and an evangelical non-fiction – and write a paper on each.
The little exercise was life-changing. Since then, I have not been able to avoid doing this sort of analysis, not only on books, but also movies and popular music, as well as in every exposure to the culture: news media, commentary, etc. Though I’ve seldom done it systematically or even consciously, the process usually goes on in the back of my mind.
There are, however, at least 2 ways to go about this process, as I have found out by assigning such papers to my students. The first is to search out the book or movie for the author’s comments on God, reality, good and evil, etc., attempt to arrange them into a coherent system, then finally to critique them from a biblical/theological viewpoint. Though this doesn’t give us the whole picture, or get us completely inside an author’s brain, it will at least help us to understand what theology the author holds and where he is coming from.
The second method, which I have found that many of my students used, is simply to search the book or movie for biblical or Christian analogies and paste them together into some coherent whole. This may tell us little of what the author is thinking, and more of what theology is taken away by the reader or viewer. Though at first I frowned on this method, I concluded that it is as honest as the first. After all, authors write many books and don’t tell all in one book. It took God 66 books to give us a complete theology!
So now, when I read a book, watch a movie, listen to a song, I look for what’s there on the surface, the message that’s being communicated. If I know more about the author, of course, that will color my analysis.
See: DOING THEOLOGY.