Above all else, theology strives to do all of this coherently – that is, in a way that makes sense. This means that every axiom, premise, argument, proposition, postulation, etc., within a theological framework must be logical, rational, cogent, methodical, consistent, and well organized, which entails that theology must be systematic. Every “piece” within a theological system must unfailingly cohere with every other “piece” within the system. This coherence is the glue that holds theology together. If any part of a theological system fails to cohere with the whole, the glue weakens and the system becomes shaky.
Thus, most of what passes for theological inquiry and debate amounts to little more than system defense. Those who have assumed the soundness and coherence of a certain system of thought about God and Creation are predominately interested in and dedicated to defending the soundness and coherence of the theological system to which they are committed.
Although they claim to be open to ideas that challenge the soundness and intelligibility of their theological model, they actually are reluctant to engage in these ideas beyond the established definitions of their own framework for the simple reason that such engagement might undermine the coherence of the theological system in which they have invested their belief.
Case in point – traditional, classical, orthodox theology teaches that God can create free agents from nothing. It then goes on to construct a coherent system of thought based on that assumption. This is all fine and well, but there is one major problem. The assumption that God can create free agents is just that – an assumption. Nevertheless, it can be assumed to be the case, which has immediate and profound effects on how reality – God, Creation, man, freedom, and all the rest of it -- are perceived and understood.
Yet what if God cannot create free agents from nothing? What then? Well, traditional, classical, orthodox theology simply insists that this would be impossible and illogical. But how exactly is it impossible and illogical? Traditional, classical, theology is more than willing to explain why, but only within the coherence of its own theological framework. It will not address the premise beyond that because to do so would be to challenge the intelligibility and logic of the system of thought.
This approach is easy to see in action. Ask Christians who are committed to classical, orthodox theology about the possibility that God might not be able to create free agents from nothing, and you are bound to get an answer that such a thing is impossible because if it were it would mean the end of God and Creation. Everything would collapse into chaos. Christianity itself would be rendered meaningless. Either that or you will be informed that such thinking is not Christianity but some heresy or error; heresy and error that would destroy the entire story of the New Testament.
The same sort of reaction appears with the idea of uncreated freedom. Grant classical theology its creatio ex nihilio but suggest that freedom precedes being, that it is primordial, that is something that does not come from God, something that God cannot control, and you will be told that such a thing is not rational hence impossible without ever being informed why freedom must be understood as rational. The claim that Christianity would become meaningless and impossible once again resurfaces and we are back to the only “acceptable” view of objective reality enshrined in traditional, classical, and orthodox theology.
Despite the vehement rejections and callous dismissals on the part of those who adhere to traditional theology, coherent ways of thinking about and understanding God, Creation, others, and ourselves can and do arise from the two “alternative” assumptions I have included above.
Yet traditional, mainstream theology refuses to engage seriously with either because they view both as anti-Christian. This refusal to engage does not stem from the desire to defend objective truth. Nor does it come from any love of objective truth.
On the contrary, it originates from fear. Not from the fear that classical, traditional, orthodox theology may be all wrong, but from the fear that mainstream theology may not be all “right”. Thus, the insistence that classical theology is “all right” has more to do with maintaining the coherence of a theological model than it does with any honest and earnest reconsideration of metaphysical reality.
Those committed to classical theology view theological challenges as assaults against the very essence of Christianity when in reality all that is being challenged are "pieces" of their theological framework.
Yet, these challenges are not meant to be destructive. They are not meant to destroy classical theology, but transform it and, dare I say it, redeem it.
The end goal is a simpler, deeper, fuller understanding of Christianity, which classical theology preemptively writes off as impossible.
Yet the fact remains, a simpler, deeper, and fuller understanding of Christianity – and of the big “problems” of freedom, agency, and evil -- is beyond necessary, it is sorely overdue.
If a simpler, deeper, and fuller understanding of Christianity is not considered or “permitted”, Christianity will indeed be rendered meaningless.
In many ways it already has been rendered meaningless. All you have to do is take a look around.