A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Theology Is Serious and Necessary Business

Theology is serious and necessary business. I think that is obvious. But more than a few Christians protest. Theology is not important. All we need to do is love everybody. The problem is that such a superificial understanding of love can become an excuse to be ignorant of the important affirmations of Christian faith and their implications for our mission in the world. It is forgotten that God so loved the world, he sent his Son to die (John 3:16). The command of Jesus to love one another as he has loved them loses it theological rationale (John 13:34-35).  But, as Karl Barth rightly said, "In the Church of Jesus Christ, there can and should be no non-theologians."

S. Michael Craven has written a wonderful post arguing for the importance of theological reflection. Sound theological reflection provides the resources to create disciplined church congregations. I quote a portion here, but the entire article is worth a read:
In J. I. Packer’s 1973 classic Knowing God, he points out that "ignorance of God-ignorance both of his ways and of the practice of communion with him-lies at the root of much of the church’s weakness today." The ignorance to which Packer refers is first and foremost theological. To some, the term theology evokes images of scholasticism and ivory tower elitism with little practical use. However, the science of theology is simply the organized and systematic study of God. Every Christian is called to know God and if we deny that responsibility then we deny what it means to be Christian. Therefore every Christian is to be a theologian in the strictest sense of the word.

A proper biblical theology that every follower of Christ should pursue is one that seeks to know the character, nature, and will of God as revealed in Scripture so that they may live in a way that pleases him. There is a practicality to theology that produces relevant wisdom for living in the real world. Some refer to this as the Christian worldview, which is really only another way of referring to a coherent biblical theology; it functions less as a set of academic facts than as an analytical framework for living properly. How can one successfully live in the world without knowing about the one who made and continues to govern that world?

In recent weeks I have tried to offer critical analysis and a thoughtful response to Christendom’s collapse and the lingering influence of the Constantinian system. Many were challenged and responded with recognition that these are relevant and serious questions that must be considered if we seek to recover a biblical understanding of the gospel and the mission of the church. Others however responded in ways that reveal a lack of reliance upon proper theology and instead rely on emotional impulse or culturally induced ways of thinking, which they attempt to validate by use of selected proof texts.

However, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, in individualized Western culture we hear Paul's teaching about our being members of Christ in precisely the wrong way. For many Westerners a member is and remains an autonomous individual who merely belongs to something like a debating club or a political party. The member in this sense is a collection of individuals who have voluntarily joined an organization. But Paul uses member in an organic sense. We are members of Christ in the same way that the eye, ear, hand, and foot are members of the body.

However, as individuals we eventually fail at some point, and thereby Christianity itself is judged a failure-a private religious belief incapable of real transformation. By joining together and living as disciplined congregations, we have a much better chance of presenting Christianity as a compelling public truth and an attractive alternative to the prevailing culture.

This point was recently reinforced by Dr. Dudley Woodberry, professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Seminary. Dr. Woodberry’s research, spanning nearly 16 years, sought to understand what factors were involved in Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ. One of the most essential factors he identified was "When Christ’s love transforms committed Christians into a loving community, many Muslims [identified] a desire to join such a fellowship."

Does theology matter? It does when you consider that poor theology leads to a less than adequate understanding of what it means to be Christian, which in turns leads to a less than adequate witness of the gospel.


Anonymous said...

Great article... now, how do we get our pastors to teach/preach it?

I am growing to love Bonhoeffer's "Cost of Discipleship." I think he would call this "just love everybody" concept "cheap grace."

Keith H. McIlwain said...

When our Conference first reviewed the Call to Action, I asked our Bishop where we might find the theological underpinnings of the proposal. He told me that the theology was "implied". Good Bishop, inadequate response.

Part of the reason we are unwilling or unable to properly theologically reflect is that with few exceptions, our most faithful, insightful theologians are not in leadership. Folks like William Willimon and Timothy Whitaker are exceptions, of course, but for the most part we elect leaders for reasons other than their theological acuity.

Bruce said...

I think theological reflection leads directly to love. I think biblical reflection leads directly to love. There is truth in the fact that our culture tends to gloss over things, and that many Christians settle for using the word love in place of sound theological reflection. Yet, the very nature of God, and much of the content of the Bible lead us to this great love God has for creation, to the point that the life and work of Jesus Christ is an act of Divine Love.