The Church and the Theologian

The Church and the Theologian October 16, 2014

NorthernLogoTestMonday a prospective student visited with me briefly in my office @nseminary and he expressed his own hopes for churches and for his own calling, which entails teaching theology in a local church — that is, raising the theological level of ordinary Christians. It is a noble hope and vocation, and not one without some challenges.

It so happened that the night before I read about this very challenge in Bonhoeffer (DBW 16.493)[I have reformatted it slightly], and it comes from a set of lecture notes about the church and theology given probably in 1940:

2. For Protestant congregations there are certain prejudices that make it more difficult for the congregation to have a proper relationship to theology.

The pietistic: Theology is a matter of the head; what matters is the heart.
 Thus theology divides, while the piety of the heart unites.

The orthodox: All preaching is instruction, theology, true theology = true faith, the sum total of true propositions.

The academic: Theology is rigorous scholarship, study, university, not for the laity.

The evangelization [volksmissionarisch] circles: People are not mature enough for theological distinctions—first mission, then theology.

The ecclesiastical political: Theology disrupts the political unity of the church. The sectarian.
A particular theology is the whole truth of the gospel. / How the views overlap.

What are the challenges to theological education in your church? Have you heard these? Others? Has anything changed?

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  • It’s interesting that, out of those groups, only one of them is actually for teaching theology in the church, and that’s because they see it as a matter having true faith.

    Maybe prior to the question of overcoming obstacles in teaching theology is a recovery of why we’d want to teach it in the first place. I think the groups listed above describe the overwhelming majority of Protestant churches, which seems to indicate that, by and large, we have unhealthy relationships to theology and don’t understand why we have it.

  • If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian. ~ Evagrios

  • Interestingly, to me at least, I became a theologian primarily because I had questions no one in my various churches could answer. I kept studying and the only places I could find training in my faith to the depths I was looking for was in seminary. Then I was getting better at questions and answers, went on to a PhD and now teach it at an undergraduate level.

    I think that there’s a lot of Christians who plateau in their faith and honestly don’t know there’s more depths or discussion out there. I also think that a lot of churches really don’t have an avenue for deepening faiths in terms of theological reflection or praxis, and people become passive or wander elsewhere. I blame both sides–theology and the church–for this situation.

    The academy has made theology unapproachable and churches have made theology unreachable. Part of my personal and professional interest is finding ways to bridge this. Teaching undergraduate gen eds in theology, mostly students who will go onto other fields, is a good start for me. But I still find a lot of barriers in churches.

    Depth doesn’t have to be ivory tower, but it’s portrayed that way, and conveyed that way. Both sides have to find ways of talking to and with each other. I think liberation theologies have found a good path of this, as have some others.

  • I remain unconvinced that the church as a whole needs to be taught abstract philosophical theology.

    But I believe that there is a strong need by every believer to be taught sound and excellent biblical theology. It is a great spiritual resource that is unavailable to most church members and even to many ministers, but it is of great practical benefit.