Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Theology Thursday: "Why Theology?" Part I

Theology: who needs it? Theology: what good is it?

Why should someone preparing for ministry
have to take theology courses?

Who should study theology?

Are average believers called to be “theologians”?

These are legitimate questions asked by many who claim belief in Jesus Christ and who seek to follow His examples set in life, love, service, prayer, and worship. In His book Mosaic of Christian Belief, Roger Olson writes that, “…many persons who are committed personally to Jesus Christ and to Christianity as a way of life have little use for anything approaching formal doctrine or theology. Belief for many of them is slightly more acceptable than doctrine, but theology often sends shivers down the spines of Christians who are convinced-rightly or wrongly- that much of what is wrong with Christianity, and especially Western Christianity, has arisen through formal theological reflection.” He goes on to further quip (on the behalf of these tentative believers) that:

“Jesus unites: doctrine divides!” (Olson, p.17)

The abovementioned witticism, although framed partially in jest, holds a great deal of truth in just four short words. It causes us to ponder other questions, such as:

Is theology necessary- is it a useful tool that we need in order to propound the
Missio Dei, or is it merely a seemingly antiquated endeavor used solely by an elite few
in order to draw lines around who is “in” and who is “out”- or even worse, is it merely a tool used by some to “domesticate” God in order that He be made serviceable to selfish human desires? Can “theology”- used wrongly- impede the Missio Dei?

The answer is “Yes.”

If all of the above propositions are true-and all in some sense are- then it appears that there is some work to be done within the Ecclessia…But where to start? How can such fears, prejudices, and misconceptions be dispelled and corrected?
It would seem that an important task would be to deconstruct the pre-existing popular conception of theology of every-day church-goers. It would seem equally important that every-day believers understand what their fiduciary duty is with regard to theological reflection.

Theology: What is it? What is it good for?

Defining theology is a good place to start. Theology is best viewed as a developmental process which involves scriptural study, historical knowledge, (among other things), and most importantly-a Spirit initiated and mediated examination and reflection; which, when used together can lead eventually to a “knowing of God.” Thusly defined, the next question- “What good is it?” is easily answered. For if theology is defined as a God-given process by which we learn to know of and know God more deeply- then its merits become self-evident. Unfortunately, theology is frequently misconstrued as a science that is mastered by a higher intellect, and is used as a construct by which one can claim to possess a superior knowledge of God. Defined in this way, theology loses its meritorious benefits, and easily becomes just another tool for self-elevation. Hence, theologians are frequently thought of as pompous, bombastic, self-absorbed, head-in-the-clouds people who are “so heavenly minded- they're no earthly good.” This is what detracts, rather than attracts people to theology.

(to be continued...)

Works Cited: Olson, Roger E. The Mosaic of Christian Beliefs Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity. New York: InterVarsity, 2002.

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