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

Everyone’s Theology

Written by: on October 17, 2014

The concept of theology often seems lost in the midst of a myriad of new ideas and beliefs. Grenz and Olson, in their book Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God, assert that “many Christians today not only are uninformed about basic theology but even seem hostile to it.”[1]
Hostility seems like such a harsh word, so it begs further questions regarding people’s difficulty embracing theology.

Many don’t understand what they believe or why. This being the case, the author’s make a positive attempt to encourage all people to explore and form their own theology.  Instructions are provided to help the reader think critically, and caution reinforces the importance that one should not fall prey to false teachings. While the book was wonderfully written and the concepts presented are all very sound, I wonder how many people without any official theological training would grasp these concepts. I’m not sure it speaks to the root cause of people’s “hostility” or complacency toward developing their own theology.  If I handed the book out on the street and asked people to read it, would they? And, would they actually understand the message and put it into practice? If I presented the concepts from the book to people who call themselves Christian would they listen and act, or just listen and nod their head in agreement?

Although Grenz and Olson assert that everyone is a theologian at some level, I‘ve found that many people misunderstand the entire concept of theology. Many people do not know what they believe, or why they believe it. “Theology is any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God.”[2]  “Theology is any thinking, reflecting or contemplating on the reality of God-even on the question of God.”[3]  This being said, there is an element of critical thinking involved as one questions and explores their beliefs. In a society where many lack critical thinking skills, this poses an issue. Based on Grenz and Olson’s six levels of theological practice, I assume that many people fall under the ‘folk’ category. This is often evident when questioning people on what they believe regarding God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, humans, salvation, church, heaven & hell.

ChartAs Grenz and Olson assert, “Folk theology is inadequate as a resting place for most Christians. It encourages gullibility, vicarious spirituality and simplistic answers to difficult dilemmas that arise from being followers of Jesus Christ in a largely secular and pagan world. It stunts growth and blunts the influence of Christianity in the world.”[4] While there are some Christians who have moved from folk to lay level knowledge, I’d like to see the trends. Is the trend worsening? What is the percentage of people who call themselves Christian, yet stay at the folk level indefinately?

Grenz and Olson wrote this book because they “are concerned that individual Christians who lack theological literacy and acumen will be tossed about by every wind of doctrine that comes sweeping through our media-dominated culture. From television preachers to spirituality sections of mainstream bookstores, all kinds of strange doctrines-“other gospels”-are being promoted and accepted by Christians unequipped to evaluate them.”[5] I’d ask, what is our responsibility to join this call to action? How can we get people interested in pursuing knowledge about God and reflecting about their faith, using Scripture as their guide and allowing the Holy Spirit to work within them?  This is the fundamental concern of Christianity today.

[1] Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Location 27). Kindle Edition.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Locations 54-56). Kindle Edition.

[3] Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Location 70). Kindle Edition.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Locations 229-232). Kindle Edition.

[5] Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Locations 38-40). Kindle Edition.


About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

10 responses to “Everyone’s Theology”

  1. Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Dawnel,

    I can understand Grenz and Olson thinking that everyone has a theology. And in some ways they do. But i believe that any theology without some guided teaching and training by people who are equipped to do it, is dangerous to say the least. As the scripture has informed us those who teach the word will be held to a strict standard. I think this has been my ultimate reason for trying to be as educated and spiritual to what God has put in front of me. So even though people may be a theologian just because they think about God, that still is a far cry from being qualified to interpret scripture or doctrine! God blessings to you!!!

  2. Jon Spellman says:

    Dawnel, you asked: “what is our responsibility to join this call to action? How can we get people interested in pursuing knowledge about God and reflecting about their faith, using Scripture as their guide and allowing the Holy Spirit to work within them?” As leaders in the church, I believe our responsibility is proportional to the set of disciples that God has entrusted to our care. Our daily conversations and interactions with people should be seeded with theology, practical theology that interacts with their lives in real time. We then have to help people see how theology actually does impinge on their daily thoughts, musings and conversations.

    One person at a time…


  3. Brian Yost says:

    You raise some good points, Dawnel. It would be interesting to see the trends and how they relate to denominational affiliation, demographics, educational background of clergy, etc.

  4. Dave Young says:


    What strikes me as central to your post is a concern that many “people don’t know why they believe what they believe”. Then you pose a concern that if without theological training you’re not sure how many people would further understand theology. I guess what I’d add to the conversation is – that is exactly why people need thoughtful discipleship, or spiritual formation and much that formation doesn’t look like formal “theology” training, not that there is anything wrong with formal training. One can grow past their folk religion, or past a foundation-less faith by being mentored in their faith. Then again they can only be mentored to the point of the maturity of the mentor. So this book and the previous on critical thinking really reinforce some weakness in much of our discipleship. Thanks for making me think.

  5. Mary says:

    Dawnel – I have a thought about how to create a place that is not hostile, but rather open to dialoguing around theology. You often quote what your husband is doing, a true mark of admiration and respect for who he is. I think that’s perhaps the best way we can offer theology to those who would otherwise avoid the topic all together – develop a relationship of trust and respect that leads to honest questions about life, about God, about how we function in this world. And before you know it, that person is quoting not only you, but who God is as they come to understand Him more and more. You’ve just help develop an opportunity for someone to become a better theologian. The hard part is that it’s one person at a time, unless you are in a teaching and/or other places of larger group influence.

  6. Nick Martineau says:


    The easy answer in response to “our responsibility to join this call to action?” is to point to Matt 28 and the great commission. Unfortunately, too many people think that stops at an alter call or a simple prayer.

    In Cape Town I ate dinner with your husband and Brian one night and we discussed the need for pastors to be theologically trained. Of course some cultures don’t have that option but we all pretty much agreed that the disturbing trend was for churches to put less and less a value on education. If our pastors/leaders have little education then they will think discipleship stops when someone walks down the aisle.

  7. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, I like your line of thinking about weather someone off the street would read this book and think similar thoughts to which we as “aspiring” theologians think. My sister comes to mind in this line of thinking. I think she definitely is a folk theologian, but I do not see her having any interest in her life of pursuing a more intentional path that involves God’s Word and methods of study and discipline. If there was a way that she would it would be in the light of a relationship of someone who was going to walk with her. Maybe an answer to what is our part as “aspiring” theologians is to make sure our discipleship of others involves theology and not just “Bible Study” and “Ministry Involvement.” Good thinking and nice writing Dawnel!

  8. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Thanks everyone for your replies…I hear two key things throughout your posts: discipleship that includes a strong theological base and investing in people one on one to coming alongside them in their faith journey. When I think about my own journey, I am so thankful that the Lord has placed people in my own life to point me in the right direction. And, I’m thankful to be studying with a team such as ours…because you push me to think much more deeply about my own theology.

    This week’s reading has really challenged me that we have a responsibility to share the theological knowledge we attain, but also to analyze why the current system across many denominations to propagate sound theology is broken. Given the broader picture across Christianity in America, what happens as the church has less people with sound theological knowledge in key leadership positions? I’m specifically thinking about the state of many churches in Ohio…many pastors lack deep and broad theological knowledge and they aren’t receiving this education from their leaders. This, in turn, trickles to the people within our churches that aren’t being thoroughly discipled. It is something that the Lord has been pressing on me is a huge, huge issue. I see the issue so clearly, yet struggle with how to propagate change…seems an uphill battle at times to challenge and push the greater church in this area. At one time there was a shortage of pastors, so the church accepted many into ministry who weren’t solidly educated in theology (through formal education or otherwise). Today, we have enough pastors whom are educated and wonderful opportunities through educational institutions, but the local church is often not in a position to take care of graduates from these programs… so many can’t afford to stay in local leadership positions or church ministry.

    This is a problem across many denominations, as we’ve discussed in depth with many friends representing most of the major players in Ohio. Those denominations (Presbyterian, UMC, etc.) that only ordain those with a seminary degree (or that have a more strict structure for education and mentoring) seem to be doing a much better job at discipleship and encouraging people in local churches to develop their own theology. After reading this book, it seems that those whom are leading pastors should have at least a professional knowledge of theology…and those leading churches a ministerial level. Of course, much of my experience in this area has been with the church in Ohio. I’m wondering, is this what you are all seeing in your states or denominations as well? Is this a local, regional, or national trend? Is the issue one of broken processes, lack of finances, or lack of education?

  9. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    It’s interesting Dawnel, I have read a little bit lately on the Nehemiah and Ezra affect on the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s work was obviously so important and he is now being labeled a “community developer” and Ezra’s role as the priest was obviously so important and I think he would be framed the theologian in the dynamic duo, but I wonder how accurate that is??? What was Nehemiah’s theological framework? Was it less than Ezra’s? Did Nehemiah not need to know as much about God and his Nature to organize the rebuilding of the wall? Was that to be Ezra’s role as priest? Or did they both have the a similar foundation? I think in denominations we but different values on people’s need for theological training based on how “core” are the things they are doing i.e. teaching the word vs. organizing an outreach. But maybe if we studied Nehemiah and Ezra’s lives more we might find out that Nehemiah (the community outreach organizer) had just as deep of a theological foundation and framework as Ezra and quite potential even stronger when it came to a Kingdom theology. Hmmm? Just some thoughts a brewing:). Good summary of posts.

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