In the book, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God, the authors Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson successfully attempt to normalize the concept and practice of theology. By taking a topic our culture and society has moved to the top and almost unreachable shelf for the elites and bringing it down not only for everyday living but for a progressive journey of growth, Grenz and Olson normalize and demonstrate how theology is a concept and practice in which we engage in our everyday lives and reflection.
In a similar way, I remember when I first realized a comparable truth about the concept and practice of witnessing. I remember realizing we are always witnessing about the faith we hold. I realized this in a season when I was the Director of Student Ministry at First Wesleyan Church in Battle Creek, MI. The student ministry was in the middle of a series teaching on evangelism and the topic for the week was witnessing. Now, from the Catholic background I grew up with, the word witness evoked bad images of some evangelical-protestant doing something to you that violated at best many social norms and at worst some legal boundaries. I do not know if it was because of this strong aversion my upbringing created in me, or what, but I do know I had never thought of the fact that we are always witnessing with our lives. Witnessing is not a switch we turn on and off when we want to share or persuade others with the lives and faith we hold. Our lives are always sharing and persuading, or possibly dissuading, people to live the kind of lives we are living. To me, in this season, the concept and practice of witnessing became normalized to my everyday life and routines and thus had a profound impact on my life and faith.
Additionally, I remember that one of the tag lines from my witnessing realization was, “You don’t not witness.” Now, I realize the grammar level of that statement is that of about a five year old, but it does capture the essence of what I realized then about witnessing. I believe it is this same essence that Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God creates with the concept and practice of theology, “You don’t not do theology.”
I believe Grenz and Olson accomplish the task of normalizing the idea of engaging in theology by the simplicity of their definitions. First, “One time-honored definition is ‘faith seeking understanding.’”1 Another definition they gave is, “Theology is any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God.”2
Finally going into a bit more detail, “Theology’s critical task is to examine beliefs and teachings about God, ourselves and the world in light of Christian sources, especially the primary norm of the biblical message.”3 I love the simplicity and yet there is also a progression and a direction for “good theology” developed.
Not only in their definitions did Grenz and Olson simplify and show a progression for the concept and practice of theology but also in their analogies. I loved the illustrations of cooks as chemists, community members at a council meeting as politicians and people engaged in daily addition and subtraction as mathematicians.4 Again, the normalizing occurs and yet a progression of advancement is acknowledged.
With the scale from “folk theology” all the way up to “academic theology” developed by Grenz and Olson, I believe they responsibly normalize theology by acknowledging the opportunity and need for varying degrees of critical and constructive practice.5 I do think there is a great danger in normalizing theology if a progressive pathway is not created. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology (practice it appropriately), that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”6 This quote speaks of the danger of normalizing theology to a concept and a practice that is just a natural process that everyone unknowingly practices and raises the concern and need to engage in right and appropriate practices to ultimately develop an accurate picture of God, ourselves, and the world He desires.
1. Stanley J. Grenz & Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Location 91). Kindle Edition.
2. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 54-55).
3. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 670-671).
4. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 124-126).
5. Ibid., (Kindle Locations 791-792).
6. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: a Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New
Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behavior, and Beyond
Personality (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001).