The Theological Detective: No Case Left Solved

Justin Heinzekehr

Guest post from…This is Justin Heinzekehr’s  second post for The Femonite. He is currently completing his final paper in his first year of PhD coursework in Process Studies and teaching Bible at the Peace and Justice Academy. He first studied theology at Goshen College. He unwittingly contributes to many more topics and posts than you might think, by virtue of being located in the same apartment as Hannah.

When I first started graduate school to study theology, I thought that my task would be mostly to work on solving some of life’s great mysteries. I thought I would come up with some answers to questions like: What do we mean when we talk about “God”? How does God interact with the world? How can we conceive of God in a nonviolent way? I thought of myself as a detective, digging up clues that others had neglected, finding the answer that would make sense of all these dilemmas.

But now, three years in, I find such answers elusive. What’s more, I don’t even know if I want to find answers. Frankly, we might have more than enough possible answers already.

I’ve certainly unearthed my fair share of clues during my detective work, too many to follow up on actually. I began to suspect that if I looked hard enough, there would be an infinite number of clues, each leading to a whole trail of evidence, and each leading in different (sometimes opposite) directions. I have followed some of these trails a good distance, and even made progress in solving a few tough problems, but I’ve never yet closed a case. There always seems to be more evidence that I just can’t take into account.

So now I believe that theological detectives need to think about their work in a different way altogether. Maybe the problem isn’t the unsolved cases, but the ones that have been prematurely closed. Maybe what we need are some detectives that can help un-solve some of these theological mysteries.

It might seem like this kind of detective work is not in high demand. I don’t recall anyone walking into 221B Baker Street, begging Sherlock to help them become less certain about something they already knew. But if you think about it, we could all use this kind of help, and not just in theological matters. Some of our worst liabilities in any sphere of life are our unexamined assumptions.

I do think, however, that this is particularly true in the case of theology. I’m sure many of us would agree that God is one of the most mysterious and inaccessible concepts for the average human being. Yet with the exception of maybe politics and sports teams, there are few things about which people hold stronger and more rigid opinions. Many people seem extremely eager to put a big red stamp across their theological file: “case closed.”

If I could drum up a decent clientele for a new theological detective agency, I think my slogan would be: “No Case Left Solved.” While my cases would lack the kind of resolution that Hercule Poirot gives you, I think it would be satisfying and honest work. Maybe it’s time to take a look through the magnifying glass and create some mystery out of answers.

Interesting Interactive Note: Yesterday, NPR highlighted a study being done by Harvard that invites people to take a test to examine their “implicit assumptions” about a myriad of topics, ranging from pets to travel to race and gender issues. If you’d be interested in helping with research and in learning more about your own subconscious assumptions, check it out here.



Filed under Theology

2 responses to “The Theological Detective: No Case Left Solved

  1. This is a great insight. Far more of the problem practices of the church and Christians in general come from our “closed case” assumptions than from the issues we admit we’re uncertain about.

  2. This is interesting, Justin. You might know that I “came out” as an atheist in my senior year at Bethany. Recently, I had cause to reevaluate that position. I decided that I wasn’t comfortable saying that I’m convinced that there isn’t a supreme creator deity (God), because I’m not. I decided that it’s more accurate to call myself an apathetic agnostic.

    I got there through an interchange with a good friend (who happens to be a very serious Christian—and another Bethany grad). We’ve discussed religion and faith a lot over the course of our friendship, and my position faith has often frustrated him (while his politics and views on science have often frustrated me). During this specific conversation, we talked about the universe and evolution and creation and the existence of God. At one point, in his frustration, he said, “I know you! You need answers about this stuff, too!”

    And I realized that I don’t. Finding proof of the existence of a SCD will not change how I live my life. And it’s nice to know that, because it means I’m more flexible. I’m open to being wrong (sometimes). Knowing the answers isn’t as important to me as is living in a way that is consistent with my personal values.

    I like it that way.

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