Monday, June 01, 2009

Do people care about theology?

One of the comments I often hear from fellow clergy, especially those who are heavily invested in church planting/growth, is the idea that "people don't care about theology". In other words, they just want to be Christian and actually live out their faith.

While I agree with their sentiment, I wonder if the statement is a bit misleading. Perhaps stepping back and considering the definition of our terms will help.

With apologies to my friends with copious amounts of graduate education, I don't believe theology is restricted to the ivory tower of academia. Everyone who thinks about God is a theologian, regardless of whether they've torn their hair out trying to understand the Summa Theologica or Church Dogmatics.

So if everyone is a theologian, then it doesn't make sense to say that people don't care about theology. What I think people mean when they say that is that people don't care about doctrine, more specifically, abstract doctrinal statements that are used to determine who is acceptable and who is not in the eyes of a particular faith community.

For example, most people in my congregation neither knows nor cares about the controversy over the filioque (whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son together): the doctrinal straw that broke the camel's back in the Great Schism of 1054. Most people I talk to are even tired of the modern doctrinal battles over biblical authority.

So while most people may not be too invested in doctrine (although it's certainly important), people do care deeply about theology because theology is how we understand our faith. How we respond when we learn that our government tortures people it considers "enemy combatants" is a theological issue. How we respond when a doctor who ran a women's clinic, and whose services included abortions, is murdered in a church is a theological issue. How we reconcile our belief in a loving and sovereign God with the reality of a broken and tragic world is a theological issue.

Am I being too picky and parsing words too much? Maybe. But I believe that people who understand themselves to be theologians who have something significant to contribute to the community of faith on our journey of understanding and following God will become more actively involved in their discipleship. And isn't making disciples the whole point of the church?

If the cause of discipleship is advanced by the work of theology, then we should care deeply.

1 comment:

Stresspenguin said...

I had a professor who once said that if you have a single thought about God, that makes you a theologian.

If anything, talking about theology or teaching theology isn't telling people what to believe, but equipping them with the tools to fully grasp the meaning behind their experience with scripture, their knowledge of history of the church, and with Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Once one has theological tools, there rest of it all (even doctrine) will have more meaning in the living out the Christian life.

My question is, how do we teach theology?