‘Messy’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot in theological discussions – spirituality and theology is said to be ‘messy’, instead of clear, precise, well-defined, etc. This is typically a point made against more systematic forms of theology – but what seems to be the primary motive for terming theology and spirituality as ‘messy’ is an effort to avoid critical engagement and close scrutiny.
To claim that theology and spirituality is ‘messy’ is to absolve the claimant from any responsibility of precision in their theology and spirituality, which removes the claimant from any arguments or criticism. ‘Messy’ spirituality and theology are fundamentally subjective, when you really get right down to it – the messiness effectively locates theology and spirituality away from the objective controlling realities to which our theology and spirituality should conform to. To assert ‘messy’ spirituality and theology is to barricade oneself off from critical inquiry – because how can something inherently ‘messy’ be subjected to logical scrutiny?
What this does, then, is to move theology from the realm of the objective to the realm of the subjective, and once that move is made, the validity of one’s theology and spirituality becomes the same thing as the validity of one’s feelings – and how can the validity of one’s feelings, especially in spirituality be questioned?
An answer to an objection: no, this does not mean that theology and spirituality is a purely objective science concerned with arriving at all of the propositional truths about God – very few people would ever really claim to know every truth about God. However, theology isn’t mere articulation of one’s spiritual experiences, which we can term ‘messy’, and avoid having called into question. Theology, if it is true theology, is done in the service of the church, and so to that extent is authoritative. Yes, there are mysteries, no, we will never know everything about God, the Trinity, or Jesus – this does not mean that we cannot come to conclusions or authoritatively settle certain matters in theology.