I wanted to wait until someone asked to explain the peculiar title of my little blog here. Alas, no has asked.
But that’s OK. I’m happy to indulge without provocation.
When I told Jamie I wanted to start a blog, he immediately suggested this name. (Apparently, he’s given a lot of thought to this—though I’m presently unaware of any blog he runs.) He pointed to two Old Testament passages that mention the “Fuller’s Field” as a well-known spot outside the city walls of Jerusalem. 2 Kings 18 reports that King Hezekiah’s messenger’s met a delegation from the king of Assyria “by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fuller’s Field” (v. 17). This meeting was to secure peace, but it also provided occasion for Hezekiah to proclaim his trust in the Lord’s provision of security in the face of the Assyrian threat (see 2 Kings 19:14-37).
The Fuller’s Field appears again in Isaiah, when the prophet is called by God to reassure King Ahaz of God’s protection (the story from 2 Kings appears in chapters 36 and 37). Isaiah says,
Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remalirah.
If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.
(vv. 4, 9)
These references are very brief, and we ought not conclude too much about the theological significance of the Fuller’s Field to ancient Israel. All we can say is that it was a place of meeting and (from the prophet’s perspective) encouragement in the Lord.
But there are a few more provocative references to the theological significance of the “fuller” whose field it purportedly was.Webster explains a fuller is “one whose occupation is to full, or whiten, cloth.” That is, the fuller bleached and cleaned the linen before it was sewn together as clothing. It was a an act of purification.
Thus we hear Malachi describe God as
like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and regine them like gold and silber, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
This connotation is strengthened by Mark’s use of the Greek form of the term in his account of the Transfiguration:
And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller (gnapheus) on earth could bleach them.
If Malachi and Mark imbue the term with connotations of purity and (especially in Mark’s case) holiness, then the phrase “the fuller’s field” as a whole becomes considerably more suggestive. On a purely theological level, one might go to the fuller’s field (or—dare I say?—be called to the fuller’s field) to undergo purification,to pursue holiness—to encounter the Righteous God.
So what does all this have to do with my blog?
In short, the fuller’s field is about economy—but I mean “economy” in a very special sense. Wendell Berry gives a wonderfully apt definition in an essay titled “Christianity and the Survival of Creation”:
By ‘economy’ I do not mean ‘economics,’ which is the study of money-making, but rather the ways of human housekeeping, the ways by which the human household is situated and maintained within the household of nature. To be uninterested in economy is to be uninterested in the practice of religion; it is to be uninterested in culture and in character. Probably the most urgent question now faced by people who would adhere to the Bible is this: What sort of economy would be responsible to the holiness of life?
My hope is that this blog can be a place not only where a community (oikos) can ask after what an economy (oikonomia) responsible to the claims of Christianity looks like, but also a place where the asking itself is asked after. In other words, I’m not only interested in reflection on economy from a religious perspective (which I imagine is called “theology”), but also in reflection on theology.
How is theology done? By whom? For what end?
In order to revive intelligent theological reflection among the laity (and intelligent theological reflection almost always produces spiritual maturity), the laity must go beyond learning a theology and learn instead to think theologically. To use an analogy from language, this is the difference between learning vocabulary and learning grammar. Vocabulary allows one to describe the world from a certain perspective, but grammar enables one to shape the world.
Think of a tourist who knows the names of various objects in his host country’s tongue, but can only point at them and seek confirmation of his pronouncement. (“Bus?” “Cathedral?” “Downtown market?”) The cleverer tourist, on the other hand, has mastered the semantics of this new language, and thereby enters the world of interactions and exchanges with the natives—as well as the fixtures of their environment. (“How are you this morning?” “Would you like to join us for a walk up the cathedral hill?” “This orange is rotten.”)
If the Church is to be more than a mere describer of the world—if she hopes to be an agent of change and transformation, not just a purveyor of affirmation or condemnation (for that is all the describer is capable of)—then she must learn to think theologically. As many theologians have reminded us, that requires theological grammar.