The term “lived theology” may be definable in so many ways that no single definition may be adequate. Lived theology may be a philosophical or practical theology. It may be a moral, ethical, pastoral, ecumenical, or political theology, It may be a theological aesthetics or theological hermeneutics. It may be a liberation theology, resistance theology, reconciliation theology, or some other kind of social theology.
Perhaps instead of trying to answer the question, “What is lived theology?”, we each should try to answer the question, “What does it mean to live my theology?” We each may need to ask ourselves: Am I living my theology? Do my actions reflect my theology? Is my theology dying or dead, or is it a living thing? Do I believe in a living God? How am I living my faith?
We may also have to distinguish between theology as dogma or doctrine and theology as daily practice or social action. We may at some point have to think about our own lives differently, and think about theology differently. If we say that God is love, and that we believe in a theology of love, then we each may have to ask ourselves: Am I trying to love others in the same way that God loves each of us? Am I showing love and understanding toward others in the same way that God shows love and understanding toward each of us?
Lived theology is not something that can be done merely individually; it must be done collectively. To really live theology, we cannot merely act as individuals, we must live our theology as members of a (spiritual, religious, vocational, or social) community.
Perhaps we should also distinguish between “living theology” (or expressing in our daily lives what we believe about God) and “living theologically” (or acting according to a rule book or set of doctrines). The phrase “living theology” may also have different meanings, depending on whether the emphasis is placed on the word “living” or on the word “theology.” Living theology places the emphasis on our daily actions and ongoing experiences, while living theology places the emphasis on our religious beliefs and convictions about the nature of God.
Carl R. Holladay, professor of New Testament studies at Emory University Candler School of Theology, explains that “living our theology…is inseparable from having and doing theology.” We cannot really have a theology without living and doing that theology. When we do theology, we are putting our faith into action. Lived theology is faith in action.1
David Dark, professor of religion at Belmont University College of Theology, answers the question “What is Lived Theology?” by saying, “One would think that the “lived” in “lived theology” would in some sense be redundant. But we have our world so divided up, and our God-talk so divided up from our actual lived commitments, that the term “lived theology” ends up being a very helpful provocation.”2
Charles Marsh, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, explains that lived theology as a subject of theological writing, research, and teaching examines the impact of our daily experiences on our theological beliefs and practices. Lived theology may be a unique way of understanding how we feel God’s presence in our lives.3
Insofar as “living” means “living in a body,” “lived theology” means theology lived in a body (or through the body as a medium of experience) or embodied theology. The corporeality of lived theology anchors it in daily experience. It cannot be merely a spiritual practice; it must also be social and communal.
Insofar as theology is a mode of discourse about God, the discursivity of lived theology may be expressed by our capacity to communicate (e.g. by speech or writing) through our daily actions our thoughts and feelings about God.
1Carl R. Holladay, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ (Nashville: Abington Press, 2005), p. 10.
2David Dark, “What is Lived Theology?", The Project on Lived Theology (Sept. 4, 2015), online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Fnf__Ea10.
3Charles Marsh, “Lived Theology: Method, Style, and Pedagogy,” in Lived Theology: New Perspectives on Method, Style, and Pedagogy, edited by Charles Marsh, Peter Slade, and Sarah Azaransky (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 6-7.