Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Theology: The church's boon or bane?

About this time last year I was sitting in an interview. It was for a part-time church ministry position. The interview seemed to be going fairly well. But three-quarters of the way through we started talking about theological training. I assured my interviewers I had a Master's degree in theology. The senior pastor then asked, 'Do you think going to Bible College has made you lose some of your love for Jesus?' Once I heard that question, I knew it was over--I wouldn't be a good fit for that church. I rambled my way through the question admitting that I found studying theology to be an act of worship. I knew God and loved him more as I studied. But that was it. I knew in my heart of hearts this interview was over.

Now that was a year ago. I was young and ignorant and had much to learn about ministry (and still do).  While ministry can be more fascinating, painful and fun than I could've imagined that day what I didn't realise was how wrong I was. I thought I understood theology and the importance of it for ministry. But after a year of it, I've come to realise I need to be more theological than I was at Bible College.

I'm not saying I need to be more academic. Theology is more than just reflections from books and constructing arguments (as good as those things are). I well remember Rod Thompson in my Introduction to Theology Course sharing this quote from Martin Luther:

'It is living, dying and even being condemned which makes a theologian--not reading, speculating and understanding.'

Two recent theologians, Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson, say theology assists the people of God in reflecting on and applying the one faith of the church to the world in which contemporary disciples live and engage in ministry in Christ's name. So theology is not so much a purely academic pursuit as it is engaging Scripture, the church and the world. And if church ministry is to earn its adjective 'Christian' then it needs to be reflected upon, engaged in and based upon the narrative of Scripture and the work of the God named Trinity in the church and the world.

Theology is embodied and lived. It forms the basis of what we do. It's the lens through which Christian ministry occurs.

And that requires us to sit down and do the hard work of reflecting on God's story, chewing over others reflections on God and being theological people.

That's why I need to be more theological than I was when I was studying at Bible College. Because this is God's church and my role as a pastor is to walk, talk and listen to him as I fumble my way through life and ministry in community with others.

So after nearly a year of ministry what would I say to my then interviewers if asked that question again? All theology should be written for the sake of the Christian Church and not merely as an academic exercise. Theology should lead us to glorify God, be good disciples and reach out to our broken world with the hope of the gospel. Academic theology serves that purpose. So what we need are people, pastors and Christian ministers, who can act as interpreters to bring the academic into the life of the Christian church. Or in the words of C.S. Lewis people who can find simplicity on the far side of complexity. To faithfully serve Christ in the 21st Century, the church needs people who will be more theological.