Stairwell and Theology
Theology is the study of the nature of God and the beliefs of those who follow him. A stairwell is the place in a building where the stairs are, allowing you to go upstairs and downstairs.
Jesus in the Stairwell
At the heart of Christian theology is the coming together of apparent opposites. Take the first believers for example. The problem faced by systematic theologians from Justin Martyr (c.100-165AD) onwards is that right from the start the early Christians worshipped Jesus and identified him with YHWH. Where the name YHWH occurred in the sacred text they did not hesitate to insert the name Jesus (Stott, cited in Wright, 2006, p.109). Jesus himself had encouraged this: in Matthew 28.18-20 the risen Jesus assumes a position of cosmic identity and authority. What had been affirmed of YHWH is now claimed by Jesus (Wright, 2006, p.355).
Jesus, then, is in the stairwell. He is neither one to the exclusion of the other. He is both and. Both God and man. His identity is a mixing and mingling of divinity and humanity: not half of each but fully both.
Theology in the Stairwell
Theology is created when Scripture and context interact; it “arises out of situations that actually happen, not from broad general principles” (Walls, 1996, p.11). Consider Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Western Theology, Waterbuffalo Theology. Each was born in a particular context for that particular context. All are rooted in the Scriptures, the only source of Christian theology is Scripture. At the same time all are also rooted in a particular situation as God’s people wrestled with what it means to follow Christ faithfully in the time and place in which he has placed them.
Theology, then, is in the stairwell, as it brings together faith and culture. Since each culture is different, each theological stairwell will be different, as different as a stairwell in The Hermitage, pictured here, is from a stairwell in the apartment block in which I live.
Mixing and Mingling
The stairwell is a place of mixing and mingling. It is a creative place as different perspectives and outlooks, different experiences, worldviews and identities come together. On the stairwell differences can be contemplated without fear of judgement or hierarchy. It is where theology is created.
I’ve taken the stairwell metaphor from the post-colonial writer Homi Bhabha, who in turn borrowed it from the artist Renée Green. Bhabha describes the stairwell as an ‘in-between space’ or ‘liminal space’ since it is ‘a pathway between the upper and lower areas’ (Bhabha, 2004, p.5). It is an ever-changing place where new identity is shaped and hybridity is formed.
And so it is a good metaphor as we build our theology in the real world.
Bhabha, H. K. (2004) The location of culture, London & New York: Routledge.
Walls, A.F. (1996) The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
Wright, C.J.H. (2006) The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Nottingham: InterVarsity Press.