LEGO building blocks are a wonderful toy. My grandchildren love them. Each kit comes with detailed illustrations to show the builder how to create a particular item. The real fun comes, however, when the builder departs from the instructions to develop his or her own creation. The builder takes the designed product apart and reassembles pieces in a unique, personal way.
While teaching a class on theological reflection recently, I realized that this is what we are called to do as Christians. First, we engage in theological analysis, assessing each building block that has been give to us. The second step is theological construction, putting those blocks back together in a way that makes sense to us and enriches our lives.
Now there are certain rules with Lego blocks and there are rules when it comes to theological analysis and construction. Although there may be numerous ways to put the LEGO blocks together, there are certain limitations in assembly. Blocks are connected to one another in specific ways and just because you can connect one to another, the connection may not be strong or lasting.
The same is true when we “do theology.” The way we assess the pieces and put them back together is governed by certain concepts. These processes may be expressed in certain ways, but one of the most helpful is what is called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. This process is built on Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. These components form the basis for the twin tasks of theological analysis and theological construction.
Scripture is our primary authority but in order to use it appropriately, we must understand both what it says and what it does not say. This may require both linguistic and contextual studies. Diligent and reverential study of Scripture provides the basis for all of our theological work.
Tradition provides us with an understanding of how theology has been done in the past, usually in response to challenges to the faith. Beginning with the Apostle Paul, Christians started dealing with how to make sense of their beliefs in a turbulent world. Their struggles and decisions are informative but not determinative in our theological reflection.
Experience often drives both our analysis and our construction. As we go through life with its rich experiences and relationships, we gain new understanding of how our faith perspective informs our lives. I believe this is also where the Spirit of God comes into play as well as the faith community of which we are a part.
Reason comes into play as we strive for consistency in our theology. How do all of the different parts hang together? If we affirm one particular belief, what is the impact of that affirmation on another belief? God’s gift of rational thinking provides clarity as we reflect upon and articulate our faith.
Theological reflection is a necessary part of the seminary experience but it should not be limited to the academy. The church must find a way for this to take place for all members of the Body of Christ. This exercise will strengthen and enrich the life of the church as well as its individual members in their walk with God.
 Stone and Duke, How to Think Theologically, pp. 43ff.