The Minister and Theology

Lately, I’ve ran into some chatter regarding the place and value of scholarship and theology in the church.  Some see value in it and some don’t.  There are certainly examples of great harm done by those with degrees in theology but there are examples of harm done because of the lack of theology too.

I am biased as I hold a Master of Divinity degree and eventually hope to pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree but I believe we need good scholarship and theology in the church.  I believe so because the Bible was written nearly 2,000 plus years ago in different languages than our own, speaking to a different culture with a different worldview than our own.  Understanding the Bible then is helped by understanding the original languages and knowing as much as possible something about the biblical culture.

Over the years questions have been asked and answered of the Bible…it’s something called theology.  Understanding those questions and and answers along with how they emerged in history helps us avoid repeating the same mistakes of the past (since we’ll make enough of our own).  Take, for example, the Doctrine of the Trinity.  This doctrine is a response to the questions of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  The answer to those questions also helped to protect the church from heresies such as Arianism (the denial of Jesus’ divinity).  Understanding the Doctrine of the Trinity also helps us understand something about the church and the mission the church is called into.

So I believe there is a needed place for scholarship and theology in the church.  In the local church, this role falls often to the minister (Preacher, Pastor, Evangelist, etc…) or ministers and should.  This is not  to say that this role is limited to the minister only.  It is, however, the minister who has (or should have) received a theological education, so the minister should not eschew this role.  The question that remains is the question of good or bad theology.

What is needed as we undertake the task of scholarship and theology is to remember our own limitations as well as the limitations of scholarship and theology.  First, we minister might know some things but we don’t know everything.  Don’t be afraid of that.  Furthermore, don’t be afraid of pointing to those who might know more.  I am thankful for those who have used their doctoral degrees to serve the church.  Second, though some questions pertaining to faith might be answered through deep biblical study, not every question can be answered by such means.  Other problems and questions are only addressed through prayer, worship, fellowship, etc…  Knowing when to stop teaching and gather together in prayer is imperative to ministry in a church.

So those are some thoughts I have on the Minister and Theology.  I leave you with this brief video on the importance of theology:

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/8788549]

11 responses to “The Minister and Theology

  1. In our Tradition the word Theology is formally reserved for those who have come to know God by direct experience and is the province of those who pray. He who prays is a theologian. Economia is reserved for thought about the things of God.

    Part of the study of the faith, that which you are calling theology, involves studying what believers in the past have believed and you give as an example, the defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, and also the defense in the first ecumenical council against the Arians. But you do not mention the defense of belief in the Church, which was for 15 hundred years a universal datum of all Believers both East and West, a belief that is attested to in the Creed that was formulated in the defense of the Trinity and against the Arians. Belief in the Church is critical to the faith of those who came before us and is also more fundamental to the proper grasp of Scripture than the rational, and rationalistic techniques that you mention, the use of academic scholarship, historical grammatical, and, if you are more consistent with your rationality, also the various ‘higher’ criticisms, source, form, literary, etc. I say that belief in the Church is more important because it is the Church as the on-going bodily presence of Christ in the earth, defended by the three witnesses in the earth, the Spirit and the Water and the Blood, that preserve the doctrine pure and unsullied. It is communion within that Church that disposes one’s brain and spiritual heart to proper ‘dividing of the Word’. Scholarship, as a philosophical exercise, for it uses scientific techniques and discursive reasoning, has real but limited help, but it is the Church as the Church with its preserving the Tradition without addition or subtraction that is the ‘pillar and ground of the Truth.’ Newman said that unbelief in the Church is the half-way house to liberalism, and the history of Protestantism reveals sadly that such is so, for it was out of the rationalism of Luther and Calvin, that the militant secularism, and post-modernism, of the West emerged.
    Jesus in His days on the earth, incarnated the Truth; in these days the Church, One, Faithful, and Persistent, through time, Incarnates the Fullness of Truth. To access the fullness of Scripture, then, one must find one’s way back from the ecclesiastical diaspora that exists in the West, superintended by the one man who put Himself above the Tradition, the Pope, or the men who all put themselves above the Tradition, the children of Luther.
    You mentioned properly the limitations of scholarship, but those need to be mentioned in a more robust way. There are the apophatic limitations both on the level of reason, and that shape and limit our thinking, and those that apply to the arena of prayer, in the calling to know Him who is beyond all Words and Thoughts, and Who is known in His Unknowing Stillness.

    Finally, the premise that we need good scholarship essentially to recover the faith is based on the false premise, that the Tradition has been lost to the Church and must be recovered from the Text of Scripture, and neglects that the Tradition is not primarily the information but the encounter with Him who was incarnated, died, resurrected and ascended, and who was one of the Holy Trinity. And that the Scriptural criteria for true vision of God, and true knowing of the things of God, is listed in the Beatitudes, ‘poverty of spirit’, ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘purity of heart’. Without those we all miss the mark, and we wind up with a theology that is skewed by the hypertrophy of the brain in its exalting itself against the heart in all matters theological.

    May these pitiable words and thoughts be used by Him who is beyond all thought, to awaken in us all deepened hunger and thirst for righteousness, poverty of spirit, and purity of heart, that we may know experientially, cognitively and noetically the love of God that passes knowledge that we may be filled with the fullness of God. May the eyes of our understanding, our nous, be enlightened, that we may know Him the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, if we may by any means be conformed to the Image of the Son.

    • Geesh…this was only a blog post, not a paper or book. Any ways, we are going to have to disagree on the place of tradition at this point. I value tradition but I also believe that tradition does not arrive in a vacuum but emerges or develops within history. Your view of tradition stops at a certain point within history and making that point static and thus the rule. What makes that particular point right and not the point before it or the point after it, had it’s development been allowed to continue…which it does anyways, which is why (at sounding like a good Protestant) I believe we must also listen to the scriptures asking the constant question of how to live faithfully to Jesus in a contextualized manner.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. Forgive me, another thought direct from the experience of this year’s Lent.
    We are as a Church in the experience of the redemption of time. We are all being drawn into the movement of Christ towards Jerusalem and His passion. We are not just thinking about something in the past, or feeling sad or fond feelings for the Lord who did these thins, but because the Church in It’s Redemption of Time, brings the Eternal forward into the present, so that we live in an inward way, the march to Jerusalem, the Triumphal Entry, and His Passion and Resurrection, and something temporal and transitory in us, is taken with Him to the Cross, dies there so that we experience a Passover into deepened Eternal Life.

    It is poignant that my friend Rex, and my brother Rex, at this time of the year is so alien from this experience in Christ, by his being in the diaspora of the Church, that this his meditation is on the place of scholarship in Theology rather than the anamnesis that takes place in Pascha.

    There is a transforming Christian mysticism at the heart of this, a mysticism whose calling to us is to Theosis…. Lord have mercy.

    • “It is poignant that my friend Rex, and my brother Rex, at this time of the year is so alien from this experience in Christ, by his being in the diaspora of the Church, that this his meditation is on the place of scholarship in Theology rather than the anamnesis that takes place in Pascha.”

      That’s a lot to glean from one blog post that took me about 20 minutes to write and post. There is much more on my mind as I contemplate the coming of Holy Friday and Resurrection Sunday…particularly how in those historic three days, God so vividly demonstrated his love for us as he liberated from sin and death.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  3. About “The Minister and Theology” article, by K. Rex Butts (my brother in Christ) on his web site.

    Well, here I go again, answering and giving my opinion about an article that my brother in Christ Rex Butts wrote, without first checking to read what others have written about it. It is all about time to absorb and write, but I believe that there are pros and cons either way. Of course, I can still come back later. I see pros and cons in what the article, “The Minister and Theology,” states.

    I absolutely agree in the importance of good and through Bible study, and sorting out truth from non-truth, and also in recognizing that which we do not know. The scripture says that we have been given everything we need to know for life and godliness. That tells me that we do not have at our disposal everything about everything that there is, –but what we have been given in the Holy Bible, is good enough for me, everything we need to know for life and godliness. That’s enough! It is all I can handle.

    I also believe that God is up close and personal, (though not limited to just that) and talks to us through his Word (we find in Bible truths) in ways we ourselves are personally capable of understanding, one way or another, (if our heart is right and we are truly searching) even though someone else might not. What I mean is, I believe that God’s Word talks to us each of us in our own language, from where we are at, and who and where we are. My own background is in photography and art, and I am the only one who has lived my own particular life, made up of not only those things, but also of all the other personal aspects; including joys, disappointments, unfairnesses, surprises, tribulations, studies and experiences, and witness. If I were instead an auto mechanic, I believe God would have communicated with me in the things I knew as an auto mechanic, not as a photographer or a cartoonist.

    John Clayton, in his March/April issue of his “Does God Exist?” Journal, wrote a great article entitled, “Does God Micromanage? http://www.doesgodexist.org I loved the article (like all of John Clayton’s writings), but I went away feeling that there was something missing, something overlooked by him and his wife, Cynthia, in their opposing views. Actually, I think they are both right. I think that what would have completed the article, for a fuller answer, would be if Clayton had mentioned the nature and workings of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks,reveals, teaches, guides, mortifies, testifies, indwells, strengthens, helps and intercedes, hears, councils, knows the future, forbids, may be lied to (but not deceived), may be grieved, loves. (Each has a Scripture reference).

    What makes me a little uncomfortable about “The Minister and Theology,” is that the emphasis and power and truth of God’s Word appears, connotes being elevated in today’s world to a few select and young individuals, (seeming to believe that the Scriptures are outdated) and I know that God is no respecter of persons, certainly not in the New Testament That is why a plurality of Elders were chosen, and each congregation was autonomous in it’s own right. This reminds me of a Bible study I almost got into with a priest over the Internet, on my posts at the Daily Record newspaper. He started out by saying that to understand what the Bible says, we need someone (the Catholic Church) to explain it to us. I pointed out, that if this was so, they didn’t seem to be doing a very good job of it, considering the Crusades; and Martin Luther (a Catholic) who pointed out so many things the Catholic Church was doing wrong in light of the true teachings of the Bible. I never heard from him again.

    As far as knowledge is concerned; we should not let knowledge itself become our God. (Remember the fruit tree in the garden of Eden.) The Bible tells us that all knowledge will be done away. What will happen when we lose the Internet and all of our computers, our money, food, and civilization as we know it in modern times? What will be left is faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. We are told to be watchful so that we will not be caught unaware, and unprepared, like we watch the clouds and the weather for approaching storms.

    God says, “My Word is truth.” To me, God’s Word is as true as gravity and the other things we witness as truth. I can’t put the same kind of faith in young theologians, or the college degrees they award to persons they teach. The degree is no better than what the theologian himself believes and has taught the student whom he awards the degree to. What if the teacher was of the Muslim faith? Or, whatever? How good then would be the degree? It is in the eye of the beholder.

    Okay…enough of my rambling. It is 2:10 AM. If I said anything useful here, praise the Lord. If I’m not making much sense, –blame ME! I’ll repent in the morning, after I read again what I wrote. Rex, Keep the faith. Keep smiling. Keep up the great work you are doing, which you indeed are doing.. God bless, –dc

    • Don said, “What makes me a little uncomfortable about ‘The Minister and Theology,’ is that the emphasis and power and truth of God’s Word appears, connotes being elevated in today’s world to a few select and young individuals, (seeming to believe that the Scriptures are outdated)…”

      I don’t know what gave you that impression but for the record, I neither believe that only a select group of individuals have the ability to learn and understand scripture nor do I believe that Scripture is outdated.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  4. Hmmm. Okay, but is God’s Word so complicated that we have to have years and years of college degrees and pouring over the numerous and mind bending complex theologies of men before we can evangelize? (And even after all of that, you say, “How do you know we are right?”) I talk to people all over the internet who are asking good questions, but who is there to give them the practical answers they are looking for? (I do believe in having and using good reference books, as helpful tools, when needed in study.) If we are so “educated” and intellectual that we talk over peoples’ heads, than what good is that? All we are saying to them is: ‘Trust me, I am smarter than you are; believe what I say, and do as I do; I am a professional and my time is valuable.’ I have seen preachers/evangelists with that attitude, leaving lost souls to the wind. I’m not saying that Rex Butts would do that, (I can’t emagine it) but I have seen it used as a stumbling block to actually winning souls to Christ. Maybe there is a time to put the books, theology, and intellectualism aside (leaving the tower of Babel) and actually coming down into the harvest, amongst ordinary people, people of all sorts, rather than focusing on theological college intellectuals and professors who seem to thrive on endless theology ping pong, to see who is the smarter, and seeing how many college degrees they can accumulate. Do we have to keep on searching and searching for something we have already found? There is a time to gather the good seed, and then there is a time to sow. Now is the time to sow. The harvest is plenty.

    Having said all that; I, like everyone else fall short. I certainly fall short. I am just writing and sharing the thoughts that come into my head, at this moment, for whatever it is worth. None of my thoughts here are cut in stone. Thank God, we can take it or leave it, or change our minds, for whatever it is worth. Consider the source. Certainly, it is not my aim to criticise, but mainly just presented as food for thought. One thing here that I really appreciate is that we have this forum to share, which I believe is a real blessing. Different members of the body communicating with one another. We are not all the same, or have the same function, but we all need one another to be whole. God bless,and keep on keeping on, and doing the good work that you do. –dc

    • Don,

      Honestly, I think you’re creating a straw-man argument. I’m sure both of us can find examples of people who’s education has resulted in intellectual arrogance rather than serving God but most of the people I know who have some sort of theological education, whether they preach for a church or teach in a university, are far from the straw man you describe. And to refer to such people with the slur “Tower of Babel”? Remember, the next time you pick up a reference book or commentary that you are benefiting from the work of those who have worked very hard using their theological education to serve God and the church.

      As far as coming down “…into the harvest, amongst ordinary people…” I did that today at the Easter-egg hunt…talking with our visitors, planting seeds, and even had one conversation with a woman that may lead to some Bible studies on the subject of baptism. You should have been there!

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  5. Hi again Rex, Before I get too down on myself, I would like to state what I think is the underlying theme in my answers to this subject.

    I do indeed think that it is a good and noble thing for one to want and strive to become a Bible scholar, reaching for higher and higher College Degrees in that field. However; the subject of the article, I think, is/was about how this affects our congregation. Is this something we need? Can, or should, we be expected to follow and keep up with you in this journey? As a congregation do we really have time to read all the books, follow up on all the college professors, lectures, debates, and sermons focused in that direction?

    Personally, I do not think this is realistic, nor does it fill our true need. Our real need at Randolph is to learn how to effectively evangelize and bring others to Christ. Our membership has not fallen off because of a lack of truth and scholarship, but rather, by a lack of evangelism skills. I believe that effective congregational evangelism has to be more than just making friends and benevolence, which seems to always be our approach. Is it no wonder that we find people leaving the church, who we thought were strong Christians. Obviousely, they never learned or took the faith that seriously in the first place. People come to Church for all sorts of reasons. They might think that we are no different than any other ‘church’ with friendly people, living good lives. They believe, “What difference does it make, as long as I go to a Church that preaches Christ?”

    About, “How do we know we are right?” That doesn’t sound like a strong belief to me. Don’t we believe that we are right? The scripture says that we need to be able to tell others why we believe. And besides, all we are expected to do is show others our own faith and why we believe what we do. It is up to them to consider it, study, ask questions, research, and come to their own conclusions. Everyone is responsible for their own salvation. We are not instructed to force people to believe what we do. However, by evangelizing, our faith is challenged, and that is a good thing. Challenge keeps our faith true and strong. Errors will become uncovered. The light overcomes the darkness.

    And we worry so much about offending someone; but Jesus offended people all the time. They even crucified him for it. Are we not expected to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, carrying our cross daily?

    But Rex, believe me when I say that I think that you are doing a great job as our preacher at the Randolph church of Christ. All of this rhetoric is just about what was presented in the article, and a request for feedback. God bless, –dc

  6. Good stuff, Bro! It is never either/or, but both/and!

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