1.4 — What Is Functional Theology?


I have a new podcast. And it’s got a quirky math pun for a name:

Functional Theology: Relating the Word to Your Daily Life

It’s weird. I’m weird. We all know it. However, there’s a weird connection between math and theology. I kind of embody that bizarre relationship. I majored in both math and biblical studies in college. Interestingly, many of my theology professors in both college and seminary were also math majors way back when.

My math degree basically lay dormant from graduation until last year. A student at church needed a math tutor for pre-calculus. As his pastor, I thought it was a good excuse to build a deeper relationship with him, so I did it. It was pretty fun. Fast-forward to this year: In the oddest turn of events, I find myself pastoring by day and moonlighting as a math teacher by night. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B–I was at my 10 year reunion this past month, and I can’t tell you how many old friends told me they enjoyed these lame Algebra lessons I posted for my students when school was cancelled for the hurricane!)

After+Math, the title of this blog for the past several years, is a nod to this strange connection. Mathematics helps us analyze the world. It gives us symbols and names for relationships in the reality around us. It provides us with problem-solving skills and logical systems in which to solve those problems.

Math gives us the tools we need to do theology. It trains our minds to think after the thoughts of God, to recognize the way in which he works, and to describe his sustaining power in concrete and orderly ways. Theology is not a disorderly discipline. Beautiful theology has a symmetry, a logic, and a Godward orientation–which all proceed from the field of mathematics whether we realize it or not.

Math is the practice of creating symbols, equations, graphs, and functions to interpret the world around us. Theology is about creating words, sentences, symbols, and systems to interpret the world around us. Neither of these sciences is created ex nihilo–out of nothing.

Both theology and math are dependent on the sustaining Word of God. Math is only possible because Jesus Christ upholds this very orderly universe by the word of his power. Theology is only possible because the God who has spoken to us through the prophets has finally spoken to us through his Son (Hebrews 1:3). Math and theology are both dependent on the Word.

Why Functional Theology?

So a few things. First, I love a good double entendre. The podcast logo should at least look familiar from your math classes: ƒ(t). It’s function notation. A function is a special kind of relation in math, taking elements from one realm and relating them to another. That’s where the tagline comes from: Relating the Word to Your Daily Life. It’s my hope on Functional Theology to do what I’ve always striven to do in my ministry–help you love God’s Word and see how it applies and presses deep into your personal context.

I’ve noticed an unsettling trend in evangelical Christianity, particularly in book publishing lately. It seems a lot of the theology we are consuming, reading, blogging, and podcasting begins with personal experience and moves toward the Word. It’s testimonial, then theological. It’s memoir, then meditative. It’s personal experience, then a sort of practical theology on the back end.

This troubles me because it shares an existentialist foundation with the culture around us, where meaning begins with personal existence: I exist, therefore I project meaning onto my world. It begins with the person, then moves to the Word. Just look at the Christian books on the best-seller list recently. So many are filled with Scriptural insights drawn from personal experiences and stories.

I think this is backwards. All meaning proceeds from the Word. Our lives, our experiences, our testimonies are meaningless without the Spirit-inspired special revelation we find in the pages of Scripture. Rather than beginning with personal experiences and then extrapolating some Scriptural nugget from them, my ministry as a pastor and as a writer begins in the Word and then helps us to move into our daily lives and individual contexts.

In math terms, the theology in the Word is our independent variable, our t. Our personal lives are the dependent variable, our ƒ(t). We can’t get these things backwards.

As we do this, our theology becomes functional. It finds expression in our homes, our churches, our thoughts, our hopes and fears. The Word puts in work as the words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” becomes not only a statement of cold fact but of warm personal experience (Galatians 2:20).

Maybe math wasn’t your strongest subject. Then you’ll understand functional theology perfectly. It’s hard work. But my hope is to encourage you to fight like Paul, “struggling with all his energy that He powerfully works within me.” (Col. 1:29)

What Can You Do?

Subscribe! Go check out Functional Theology, and add it to your podcast list. I have posted the first several episodes of this season to get you started and will be doing an episode a week or so. They usually won’t be longer than 10-15 minutes. If you don’t have podcasts, you can always listen to them on this blog.

Rate! If you like the podcast, give it a rating to help boost my street cred. Heaven knows a nerdy math pastor needs all the cred he can get on the streets.

Share on Twitter! Or Facebook! Or both or wherever! One of the best ways you can help an author is to simply tell other people about his work. If you find functional theology or this blog to be of personal spiritual help and encouragement to you, please take 30 seconds and tell your friends about it. This is not about gaining popularity. I serve a 50 member church in the middle of rural South Carolina. My hope is simply to multiply whatever gifts the Lord has given me to benefit the body of Christ.

Give feedback! Let me know what you like, don’t like about the podcast–or this blog for that matter. Maybe there are topics you’d like me to cover, passages you’d love for me to tackle, or practical matters you want me to discuss. Let me know!

Grace and Peace,


Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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