Michael Polanyi said that we often know more than we can tell, and in trying to tell about what we know, we often do it badly. His point was that knowing something and reflecting on what we know are not the same thing. I know my wife’s face, but I’d be hard-pressed to describe it to you in terms that are adequate to my knowledge.
You can think about theology the same way. Oftentimes we think of "theology" as something that academics do – it’s the realm of ideas and concepts and doctrines and big words. What they do is important, and it is theology, but it is actually secondary theology. Primary theology is what all of us do. It is the realm of the personal, where we are intimately and immediately involved in the divine-human encounter. It is knowledge of God that comes to us in participating in the liturgy, but also in participating in all of life… so primary theology is the life lived in worship. Secondary theology is us simply reflecting on our experiences, making explicit (to the best of our ability) what is implicit in the worship encounter.
Last Sunday night we had a worship gathering in our home with the community we are working with to establish a new community/expression of the gospel/church service in Fort Wayne. We engaged in a simple service of worship in which we sang songs of praise, confessed our sins together, heard the Word of God read, responded in repentance and prayer, and received the Lord’s Supper together. Up until now we’d been engaging in secondary theology as a community, explaining why we are doing what we’re doing, etc. Last Sunday night we experienced primary theology together, and it was quite moving for me.
And for others. One of the ones who came Sunday night wrote me an email reflecting on the experience; secondary theology again. Secondary theology flows out of primary theology and should never be divorced from it. But primary theology also needs secondary theology if it is going to avoid falling into error. Secondary theology seeks to make explicit what worshipers already know in an implicit way.
I’m excited to move forward with this, seeking to discover how this primary theology can shape us as the Body of Christ for the world, and then engaging in secondary theology (on this blog, and other places) in order to describe what is happening, make sense of our experiences together, and indeed chasten our experiences so they remain true to God’s revealed will.
Thanks for your clarity. I am reading Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology and fin it heavy.
DaveJL Glad to hear it!
Digging into the distinction between primary and secondary theology. Any resources you would recommend? Thanks!
Ben Sternke says
Sorry Jarred, I don’t really have anything for you – wrote this post awhile ago!