Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A well examined apple

Written by: on October 18, 2013

As I sat to write about David F. Ford’s, “Theology: A Very Short Introduction”[1] I was uninspired. And then a phrase came to my mind: “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). It was then that I discovered what I was missing.

Ford’s purpose is to provide an introduction to the huge idea of theology, approaching it in the most general sense as the study of God. He proposes to represent theological concepts and ideas through a Christian lens, as this is his orientation. As I read this book, I could not help but comparing it to last week’s reading by Grenz and Olson[2] and missing the purpose of theology: that we might glorify God. Grenz and Olson promote the idea that theology is intended to move from the head to the heart to the hand. It moves the student and practitioner to action. And that is what I found missing in Ford’s approach.

Granted, Ford is writing to a different audience, more likely the academy and the student and less likely the religious community or specifically, the Christian community. Ford encourages significant inquiry and questioning, but without the experience of God. I refer to his culminating example of inquiry into an apple as a metaphor for theology[3]. Ford presents a wide range of strategies by which to examine the apple: scientific, agricultural, historical, personal, social, economic, cultural, and aesthetic.

But at no point does Ford suggest that the apple be tasted.

I raise this point because an apple is not intended to be admired. It has a purpose. In the natural order it produces seeds that produce more apple trees. In the living world, it is enjoyed because it is eaten. I have no great passion to intellectually analyze something that I will not use or experience. The same is true of God. What is the point of studying God if it is not to experience Him, to know Him more, to “taste and see that He is good?” The study of God without experiencing Him is mere intellectual exercise.

Ford does suggest a great many questions to ponder and to seek answers. He suggests purposes and responsibilities for theology, none of which include application. He presents concepts of God, the Trinitarian God, the person and purpose of Jesus, and the problem of evil (including a pretty decent explanation of how a good God might allow evil)[4]. He suggests methods for conducting theology. But He leaves out the interaction with God, the tasting and experiencing of God.

In spite of this, Ford ends his book with the statement that most resonated with me. In response to the question, “Who will do theology?” Ford asserts, “God will. If the student comes to affirm that, then the whole horizon changes…”[5] In his concluding remarks, Ford shifts from a mere intellectual exercise to the centrality of God, that our understanding of Him is rooted in Him. I find this statement insufficient, however, almost a footnote. Perhaps I missed his inclusion of application and purpose throughout the book. And in hindsight, I can identify mentions of responsibility and application. But overall the intellectualization of God and the study of Him left me wanting more. While I credit Ford for encouraging the reader and student of theology to be inquisitive, I challenge him to go deeper.

[1] David F. Ford. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[2] Grenz, Stanley J., and Olson, Roger E. Who Needs Theology? Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic, 1996.

[3] Ford, pp. 147-156.

[4] Ibid, p. 73.

[5] Ibid, p. 175.

About the Author

Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

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