Embrace Theology…It Matters

The other day I was sitting in the Joe Muggs coffee shop in Books-A-Million bookstore doing some writing when I overheard a conversation between a pastor and a young man.  The pastor was telling the young man to ignore theology, saying that theology is nothing but a persons opinion.  This is really unfortunate.  Little does this pastor know but whenever Christians, himself included, unpack the meaning and implication(s) of a passage of scripture or a particular Christian doctrine we are engaging in the practice of theology.  And to be frank, I don’t know of any Christian who refrains from theology.  The question is not whether Christians should engage in theology or not but whether we will engage in good or bad theology.

Good Theology Is…

Good theology is a coherent theology that is grounded in Jesus Christ and the narrative of scripture, as it should help us to understand both the scriptures we read and the Christ we are called to imitate.  Likewise, good theology is mindful of Christian history, namely what has been said by other Christians throughout history as we are part of a continuous tradition and have much to learn from those who have gone before us.

Most importantly, good theology is paramount for the local church seeking to live on mission with God.  Living on mission with God calls us to the frontier where faith encounters questions which may have some similarities to questions asked by a previous generation but are still unique in the fact that the questions emerge in a new context.

This is also why I believe churches are served well by ministers with good theological training (usually some form of seminary studies) who will utilize that education to help the church do good theology.  These ministers, of which I am one, are theologians just as much as they are preacher and pastors.  However, they likely are not the only theologians among the church.  Churches are also served well by those Christians — both men and women — who may not have received any formal theological training but are nonetheless students of scripture, read and learn from other theologians, and are willing to teach others in their church.

While there will always be examples of Christians whose theology becomes so absurd that it no longer serves the church live on mission with God, that shouldn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bath water by disparaging and censuring all theology.   Thus for any Christian to tell another Christian to ignore theology is simply wrong and irresponsible.  Embrace theology because it matters!  Embrace theology as a resource that helps your church live more courageously as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ living on mission with God.

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9 responses to “Embrace Theology…It Matters

  1. Hi Rex,
    Yes, theology matters, and ones epistemology must be theologically grounded as well. There is no warrant for grounding theology in Christian history, unless that history is embedded within the Tradition of the Church and the Church’s reading of history, for the Church, and not history is the ‘ground and pillar of the truth’. Why- the Church is Christ’s resurrected Body on earth, wherein the three witnesses subsist- the water and the spirit and the blood.
    Second, He who prays is a theologian and a theologian is one who prays- Evagrius of Ponticus. Scripture is not elucidated primarily by rational techniques but by the meek and pure heart engaging the ineffable God.
    Third, we don’t do theology from scratch. It is something passed on without addition or subtraction.

    • I agree that epistemology matters as much as theology, that epistemology must be grounded theologically, and that the church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (cf. 1 Tim 3:15). But I believe that is more functional than propositional, having to do with the way the church conducts itself which is the reason Paul was writing Timothy. In other words, will the values and moral/ethical practices of the church bear witness to the truth? That is very different than grounding the truth in the ex Cathedra decrees that any human makes about the Christian faith, wether that person identifies him/herself with the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, any number of Protestant Churches and other “non-denominational” churches including the Churches of Christ.

      I also appreciate your reminder about the relationship that prayer has to theology.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. I love studying about God. Always have. About two years ago I was in a bible study and probing a question, asking new questions and engaging in a lively, respectful conversation about free will and God’s sovereignty. Smack in the middle of this exchange someone turned and said, “How do you spend your time – do you go home and think about this stuff all the time, or what?”

    We were embarking on an unknown theology to me. This placed me in a position to think, “Ok, I chose and dedicated my life to Christ… NOW I have to chose a theology?” I didn’t grow up in the Church. I responded to God’s drawing myself to Himself all throughout my childhood without any awareness of a systematic approach to the things of God. So, for me I do feel I did theology from scratch. 29 years later, God has revealed himself to me and as I delve into sound biblical doctrine my foundation is not rocked but fortified. If you’re not thinking about God every moment of the day, against every choice that comes along, then it’s possible God is merely auxillary. Then something has to change. Enter theology. ~ peace & blessings, Rex!

    • Thank you for pointing out the way in which theology (thinking about God) should shape the everyday choices that we face. That keeps theology real in a practical way, showing that what goes on in the head must also take place in the heart with transformation to the hands and feet.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  3. Rex,
    Theology is imperative to living the way God wants us to. So many people think theology is done by ivory tower professors, but that lofty stuff seldom helps in a given ministry context. For theology to be helpful it needs to be practical and practiced, not only in the life of the Christian community, but in the world as well. In his book, The Shape of Practical Theology, Ray Anderson calls for a weeding of academic theology and mission theology. I think he has a valid point.

    • I know that some within the theological halls of academia have ceased to offer any help to the church but that doesn’t mean that I am ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. I don’t believe the engagement of theology should be left only to those with theological graduate degrees (e.g., biblical studies, historical theology, Christian ethics, etc…) but I believe the church has much to learn from those who have been able to pursue such studies provided that such studies will help the church think about and live out its mission.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  4. What an insane thing for that pastor to say. Ignore theology? Misguided to say the least.

    It is imperative that all believers “know what they believe and why they believe it.” We cannot read 1 Peter 3:15 and Ephesians 4:11-16 without seeing the emphasis on teaching and learning these things, that the whole Body will grow and be equipped for witness, ministry, and the good works the Lord has prepared.

    We should never leave theology to the “professionals” in the halls of academia; and I say this as one who has an M.Div and will be pursuing a PhD. Leaders and laymen alike should be theologians. We all are anyway, whether we know it or not.

    Appreciate your emphasis here, Rex.

    Grace be with you –
    Jr

    • Thanks for you comment. I agree with you completely that “Leaders and laymen alike should be theologians.” I have been very blessed to serve in some churches where there were some “lay” Christians who were practicing theologians – both learners of the faith and teachers of the faith.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  5. This incident doesn’t really surprise me. It’s become commonplace for preachers to denounce the use of certain words (e.g., religion, theology, tradition, Christian) because of the negative connotations it might hold for someone. They end up throwing out the positive and legitimate uses in the meantime.

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