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

Directionally Normalizing

Written by: on October 16, 2014

Directionally Normalizing
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).

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

9 responses to “Directionally Normalizing”

  1. Brian Yost says:

    I like the word picture you create as you talk about theology being moved to “the top and almost unreachable shelf for the elites”. Theology can definitely be polarizing and considered our of reach for many people. Thanks for reminding us that this is not the only area of our christian lives that have been relegated to the “professional” as you mentioned evangelism. Perhaps a better understanding of theology will open the doors for a better understanding of other many other aspects of our christian walk.

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    You don’t not do theology. Brilliant! People just don’t realize that they are doing it. Any time a person ponders or wonders if God exists, thinks about why God allows bad things to happen to good people, even an atheist engages in theology by virtue of his decision to NOT believe God exists. Theology is wired into the human condition. We just can’t help it!


  3. Travis Biglow says:


    Normalizing theology is always a danger if it does not lead to progression. One of the things Gretz and Olson talked about was how we learned about theology from our teachers which developed a hunger for more. Not only that but we began to question some of our teachers. The danger in my view of normalizing theology is that thoughts about God and tough scriptures will become normal. I believe when we stop trying to know God we will fail to reach the level of knowing Him that is on a higher level of theology. I thinking our quest should be to know God more not merely by the heart and soul but equally with the mind!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Travis, I think if “normalizing” winds up creating a sort of desensitization, dumbing down, then danger is around the corner. If, however, normalizing is the process by which theology is made accessible to practicing Christians, finding its way into their real worlds in real time, well, THAT’S the kind of normalizing we should seek. Theology really is immensely practical if we allow it to be.


  4. Dave Young says:


    So, I’m struggling a bit with the value and liability of normalizing theology. Maybe if I replace the term of “normalizing” with “accessibility”?

    The value of accessibility/normalizing would be shaping theology so that it’s the largest variety of people can connect with God. The liability would be potentially over simplifying, or shaping to the point it goes beyond orthodoxy?

    Thanks for the stimulating reading!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave, I agree with that assessment. Maybe another word would be that theology should be “normative” in the lives of Christians? Or maybe that it is normative they just oftentimes don’t realize that it is taking place and tend to shy away from the word?

  5. Mary says:

    Phil – One of the things I’m realizing as we do each book is how we’ve already been doing some of these things, we just didn’t have the words or understanding of their importance to the work we are doing. Likewise, as you illustrated with witnessing, and now we see with theology, we are already doing it. Our task then comes with what next responsibility, in our new enlightenment of theology, will we take on to help communicate that to others. Maybe it goes the word Dave uses for “accessibility” – how are others able to also see the value?

  6. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, Jon and Travis
    Good point on the slippery slope of “normalizing”. I think I was thinking of “normalizing” as putting theology on an equal playing field with “ministry” and “Bible”. We would call normal behavior of an Christian to be serving in ministry and exploring the ministry gifts, we call being in a bible study and normal behavior but we seem to set engaging in theology as something left for the professors and pastors . . . maybe.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      All, great points!

      I am reminded of the time when the evangelist at church camp used the terms ‘Wesleyan Armenian’ in his preaching…the terminology was not understood by most and his entire sermon was lost as people felt he was irrelevant. I think “theology” is the same. We have taken the approach to talk to people about “what they believe, and why”…. they have no idea they are starting to articulate their own theology, but they are, and that is what is most important.

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