Who Needs Theology?

WhoNeedsTheologyWhen I made the decision to return to school two years ago to work on obtaining my Master’s degree, I knew that it was the right thing to do. It was just as important as when I enrolled at the University of Akron part time back in 1997 to work towards my Bachelor’s degree. For anyone who considers furthering his or her education, it is admirable and beneficial to stay the course and complete the task. (It is costly, for sure, but the benefits do transcend the financial burden over a lifetime.)

I will always be an advocate of higher education and pursuing knowledge by going to school or taking online classes. Doctors, lawyers, tradesmen and various professionals are where they are today because of their pursuit of knowledge in the classroom.

Knowledge is also important from a societal picture. There are studies that indicate that graduation from high school, especially for African-American males, can make a difference in lowering crime and incarceration levels. [1]

To obtain knowledge is beneficial. Knowledge is power.

From a believer’s perspective, when we learn more about the Lord Jesus Christ as we live for Him, we obtain valuable knowledge that bolsters our faith in Him.

The more that you learn about God, the more you will recognize God’s power in your life.

Knowledge of God is powerful.

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, who wouldn’t want that?

In order to learn more about God, you have to be a student of God. A good student of God will search and seek after Him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Scripture encourages you to be a student of God. A student of God practices theology.

What is theology?

According to Roger Olson, “theology is any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God.” [2]

With this definition, I can make a broad, and perhaps even bold, declaration that a student of God practices theology; therefore, you, as believers, are all theologians!

Theology is very important for the believer, and it should be important because of what it means. It is the study of who God is, His attributes and His relationship with man and the universe. [3] The English word “theology” comes from two Greek terms: theos, meaning “God” and logos, which refers to “word,” “teaching,” or “study.” [4]

It stands to reason that studying who God is in your life provides you with knowledge and understanding that supports your faith and trust in God. It’s good for growth in your relationship with Him, and you learn about how to apply His Word, grow and endure as you move forward.

There must be a distinction, however, between Christian Theology, and theology from a worldly view. They both exist. Theology from the world’s perspective may indeed involve having questions about life and what that means in relationship to God, but that does not mean that the matter is given serious or prolonged thought–it may only be for a short period of time, or little more than cursory consideration. Some questions about life may be more substantive, such as “Why am I here?” or “What am I supposed to be doing?” or “Is there anything after death?” All of these are legitimate questions, but all of them will eventually lead to no real solution unless God is brought into the picture as the object that provides answers.

Christian theology goes much deeper. Anselm of Canterbury was archbishop of Canterbury and a great 12th Century theologian. He defined theology as “seeking to understand with the intellect what the heart–a person’s central core of character–already believes and to which it is committed.” [5] That’s a good way to describe the heart of a person who seeks understanding to support his faith.

Now that we have established a distinction between worldview theology and Christian theology, we need to consider the different levels of theology that exist within Christian theology, because all are not created equal.

There are real doctors and lawyers with degrees to support it, while there are actors that portray doctors and lawyers on television and in the movies. That doesn’t make them real doctors or lawyers. You wouldn’t let a doctor from Grey’s Anatomy perform surgery on you, would you? You also would not want an orthodontist to perform an appendectomy. You want the best available attorney representation instead of someone like the role actor Joe Pesci plays in the movie, My Cousin Vinny.

In the same sense, everyone is a theologian, but not everyone has the same theology. You may discover this as you speak to other people who attend church as you listen closely to what they really believe.

Many people, you may find, will not see the need for theology because it would hinder the understanding of the simple faith that a person has! It’s like saying the more you know about God from an intellectual perspective, the more that it would hurt your ability to have faith. This may sound strange to some of you, but this is a more popular belief than you may realize. The question “Who needs theology?” reflects a person’s view that one does not need a Master’s degree or a doctorate to help one understand God any more than we already do.

Some of you may remember when I spoke about Socrates, a philosopher, who declared, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” [6] He was absolutely correct. If we are serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ, there should always be an active, ongoing evaluation–a reflective look at one’s life in service to Him. If you are not actively seeking Him through His Word, meditating on it and prayerfully submitting to His will, how can one honestly know if God is speaking? A life in Jesus Christ is an active, reflective life.

With that in mind, we need to see how different theologies can be an indication of how reflective (or not) a person may be. A less reflective theology is referred to as “folk theology,” while the greatest level would be indicative of “academic theology.” In between the two are various levels of theology, defined by more or less reflective thought levels. [7] The levels are defined as folk, lay theology, ministerial theology, professional theology and then academic theology.

What is folk theology? It is a faith in God that is largely blind and based upon a traditional approach to Christianity. It is when a person states belief but cannot articulate it very well. In addition, there is a rejection of critical thinking about the belief and an acceptance of it based upon tradition, clichés and legends. [8]

Folk theology is everywhere. It can be found in virtually any setting. They are not adherents to any specific church affiliation, and they would not even consider themselves theological–yet, they are. Unfortunately, the traditionalism of this practice is contrary to any deep, careful reflection that allows a person to defend one’s faith, which is what the apostles had to do early on just years removed from Christ’s existence. A believer must be able to defend his faith in order to articulate his faith to a person who seeks the truth about Jesus Christ.

Lay theology is a step above folk theology but is, in reality, much more progressive in thought. It describes a Christian who works to understand the faith he or she holds in Jesus Christ. It is the act of putting one’s mind into the faith relationship. The root of this is in one’s seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to gain this understanding.

Ministerial theology is a step above lay theology in that it now involves the teachable faith as practiced by trained ministers and leaders within Christian churches. This is the effort to put into practice formal training such as bible classes or even seminary classes to train people to learn how to read and interpret Scripture and apply it within the body of Christ and the real world.

Professional theology is best described as those persons who are qualified to train lay people and pastors to increase their knowledge. They are the ones who create an active and healthy learning environment that encourages critical thinking and reflection. They teach in seminaries and colleges with church affiliations to provide methods to be more effective in service to all people.

Academic theology is an advanced study that lends more to philosophical thinking shared with other theologians. As a practical matter, there is nothing wrong with academic theology, but its greatest criticism is that it lacks in application to real world Christian living. The challenge for the academic theologian is to reach beyond thought processes and provide ways to apply this thinking that are beneficial to lay, ministerial and professional theologians.

We’ve seen that anyone who seeks to answer the questions of life that point to God is a theologian. Knowing that there are different theologies, which one of these best describes you?

If you are honestly seeking His wisdom, you will grow well beyond those who are stuck in folk theology.

As you can see, the level of theology that is practiced has everything to do with the amount of time and effort that one puts into it. As you put your time into it, you will able to clarify and articulate Christian doctrine in a more effective manner [9] for the purpose of carrying out His Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

All of the effort that you put forth in pursuing greater understanding of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is very pleasing to Him! Why? It’s simple. Your pursuit of Him means that you are seeking fellowship with Him through five key elements to enhance your IMAGE [10] in Jesus Christ:

1. Investigating His Word. To really learn about Jesus Christ, you have to do more than just read His Word. You need to dig deep into it and use the available study tools, concordances and commentaries to promote greater understanding of His Word. You can hear God speak to you even more clearly once you pray to Him for guidance as you gain this understanding.

2. Meditate on His Word. Prayer is certainly important in your communication with Him, but meditating on His Word requires an extra special time of quietness and reflection. It means “slowing down” to a place where you recognize God’s comforting presence and fellowship, and allowing His Words to permeate you to see His perspective.

3. Act on His Word. Your theology will not mean very much if you are not living in obedience to God’s Word or conforming to His will. He speaks to you and gives you advice for your benefit and for the benefit of those who you come into contact with.

4. Grow in His Word. Your theological study should bring about true growth in your Christian life. There should be a realization of more successes and fewer failures as you progress in your faith and grow in godly wisdom and understanding.

5. Endure in your faith. A believer in Jesus Christ must be prepared to not only persevere but to remain steadfast in faith. It makes the boldest statements of Jesus Christ’s presence in your life.

Remember, knowledge of God requires seeking after Him. A good student of God will search and seek after Him. It takes godly wisdom and reverence of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to see the importance of continuing to grow in knowledge.

The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks it. Proverbs 18:15 (HCSB)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

Theology is needed by each and every one of us in order that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, can grow to our greatest potential in service to Him.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. Ephesians 1:17-19 (HCSB)

Who needs theology? You do.

 

 

1 Article – Crime Rates Linked To Educational Attainment, New Alliance Report Finds (2013). © 2015 Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington DC. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://all4ed.org/press/crime-rates-linked-to-educational-attainment-new-alliance-report-finds/

2 Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God. © 1996 S. J. Grenz and R. E. Olson. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove IL. pg. 13

3 Grenz, pg. 37

4 Grenz, pg. 14

5 Grenz, pg. 16

6 Grenz, pg. 26

7 Grenz, pg. 26

8 Grenz, pg. 27

9 Grenz, pg. 46

10 Blogpost – Gaines, Melvin (2015). Characteristics of Your IMAGE. Melvin Gaines’ Blogspot. Retrieved June 12, 2015 from http://melvingaines.blogspot.com/2015/04/characteristics-of-your-image.html

 

© Melvin Gaines

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