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

I am a Theologian.

Written by: on October 11, 2013

I hadn’t really thought much about this identity. I think of myself as a follower of Christ, a social worker, a leader, a teacher, a woman… but a theologian? Like many, I had the understanding that a theologian was a professional academic. Grenz and Olson[i] argue that in our hearts, each of us is a theologian. A theologian is someone who wonders about the deeper meaning of life and our existence, while a Christian theologian is by faith a follower of Christ and so seeks to understand God. Certainly there are degrees of being a theologian, but Grenz and Olson argue that not only are we theologians, but we need to be theologians.

I wish that I had read this book years ago. I actually wish that I had read it before it was even written. The ideas that Grenz and Olson present provided significant clarity to my understanding of theology. I find it funny that though I have studied theology, I had yet to be presented with a meaningful definition of theology apart from the study of God. Grenz and Olson present theology as more than intellectual study, but as essential to living our lives as believers. They write:

 “Christian theology is reflecting on and articulating the God-centered life and beliefs that Christians share as followers of Jesus Christ, and it is done in order that God may be glorified in all Christians are and do.”[ii]

The authors repeatedly note that theology is intended to move from the head to the heart to the hands. It is active, or it is without meaning. Their view is that it is a practical discipline.

Grenz and Olson write in a very simple, accessible language. They present very “heady” thoughts in terms that can be understood by almost anyone. At the same time, they present very challenging thoughts and ideas that will take a while to sink in. At times I was challenged by their work. They present very clear, strong arguments, using logical progressions. But the way that they write almost leaves no room for question about their ideas regarding theology, even though they encourage constant questioning.

As I read the book, I was constantly thinking about how I could share this information with my church. My church is small; we meet as a house church. Last week we began a new series on eight characteristics of a disciple, beginning with a disciple reads and studies the Bible. Our goal is to increase habits of discipleship by not only teaching, but practicing these things both in our time together and over a period of a month. We chose to start with Bible study as a characteristic of a disciple because all too often we hear our members say how they can’t study the Bible. They didn’t go to Bible school. They aren’t pastors. As leaders we respond with the practical reasons for Bible study: that it equips the believer, that it prevents us from being tossed about by the wind, that it teaches us what is correct, and so on. But it has been a struggle. And now I hear Grenz and Olson in my head saying that everyone is a theologian. Over and over again.

Last week one of our leaders facilitated communion. She brought thorns from a rose bush and vinegar to symbolize the suffering of Christ on the cross. One of our elder members refused to take communion because that’s not how they did it with Jesus. And she backed up her argument by saying that she has a picture over her bed to prove it.

My sarcastic and critical mind says that I would love to see that snapshot from 2,000 years ago that provides absolute proof of the right way to take communion. My compassionate mind offers understanding of how this member reached her conclusion and her need to be validated. And my leader/teacher mind says that this is exactly why we need theology. This is why we need to equip believers how to read, study and interpret not only the Bible, but learn to apply it in light of our culture and the history of the church. In humility we approach God with a hope to increase understanding of who He is.

Another thread that Grenz and Olson weave throughout their work is the need for the theologian to be aware of him or her self. We need to recognize how our experiences, our worldview, our prior teaching, and our personal preferences may influence our approach to learning about God. This resonated with me as a social worker and teacher because I teach my students the same thing. I teach them how essential it is to be aware of themselves in order to more clearly see the other. When we recognize ourselves, we are more likely to see when we are imposing our own thoughts, perceptions, experiences and feelings on the other.

I walk away from this book with the belief that theology without application is worthless. If our study of God does not drive us to live our lives in a manner that honors Him, then it is pointless. At the same time, life without theology has no meaning or purpose. I will live my life according to the winds of culture or clichés if it is not formed by a deeper understanding of God. While I will not realize a full understanding of God here on this earth, I can still catch glimpses of Him in that dim mirror. I am content with not knowing everything, but committed to pursuing Him all the same.

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

[ii] Ibid, p. 49.

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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