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

Tea and Theology

Written by: on November 29, 2018

I’ve been a long time fan of the work of theologians. I ‘met’ my first theologian as a young girl reading The Magician’s Nephew. While C.S. Lewis’s children’s books might not necessarily classified as theology, I fell in love with the author. As such, I enthusiastically tackled Mere Christianity for the first time in high school. I loved how the essays connected scripture and faith with the world and helped Lewis’s contemporary audience navigate a difficult period in history. I learned about his friendship with Tolkien and pictured the two drinking beer, smoking pipes while they enthusiastically debated interpretations of scripture, shared about what they were wrestling with in their personal lives and mused about the current state of the world. Regardless of how historically accurate this image is, it was my first impression of how theology was created and it was ever so attractive.

While working at church camp, some of my fondest memories are of drinking tea while wrestling with the meaning of scripture, life and ministry while sitting on musty old couches. Nobody bothered telling me high school might be too early to begin doing theology. Having never been discouraged in the practice, I was surprised that Olsen and Grenz shaped their text Who needs theology? By responding to the high level of resistance they have experienced. Nevertheless, I appreciated their insight that

Authentic Christian faith always inclines one toward understanding the God who has claimed our lives and to the extent a Christian seeks to understand the meaning of faith for answering life’s ultimate questions or for answering basic questions about growing in relation. To God, he or she is already a theologian. [1]

The practice of ministry then, regardless of who is undertaking it, ought always to drive us to engage in theological reflection. Reflection should involve engaging scripture, reason, history, current context and an effort toward objectivity[2] or at least an awareness of the primary elements of one’s own subjectivity which shape our interpretation. If we are to accept that our call to the practice of ministry is to co-labour with Christ[3], then we have been extended an invitation to be in dialogue with Him both through the reading of scripture and the practice of prayer. “Be prepared to process what you are reading or hearing with a critical eye and ear. Think of yourself not as a passive, receptive audience for your authors but as an active partner in a conversation.” [4] If we have access to a community of faith to be in dialogue with, our reflection can be all the greater! Fortunately, “(a)ll theology is practical and longs to be applied”[5] and so a healthy, circular practice of reflection and application is created.

A key task of the theologian, regardless of their level of practice, is to recognize the call to prioritize the areas of reflection. Olsen and Grenz identify three main categories: dogma, doctrine and opinion.[6] “A belief is considered dogma if it is essential to the Christian faith.” [7]Whether a particular belief falls into this category might be measured by if a belief is held by all Christians. The handful of beliefs that one would put in this category really come together to form the very definition of a Christian. These beliefs should most often be unifying across the body of Christ and see infrequent debate by theologians.The next level of beliefs are those things that separate Christians into various movements. Broadly there would be the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Catholocism and Protestantism, and then the various steams that are further subdivisions. While the various beliefs that make up these delineations were once highly divisive, in the Western church there is considerably less denominational allegiance than in generations past. Whether it is due to an increasingly pluralistic society which influences the church to be more open minded, or whether the reality of a post-Christendom society has meant that we band together more readily, doctrinal diversity is proving functionally less problematic. More church goers are actually prioritizing alignment over issues of opinion than doctrine.

Opinion level beliefs are more stylistic decisions while still being informed by scripture and context. For example the way a Sunday service is put together should be shaped by scripture, however given that there is also a desired engagement with local context, there will be theological work done to make decisions on how to proceed. Perhaps influenced by the shaping of our society as consumers, beliefs in this category actually outweigh doctrine as deciding factors for the community people will choose to be a part of.

The hope in this season is that our increasing desire to be unified along the lines of dogma means that greater theological work might be done. If the Protestant theologian C.S. Lewis and the Catholic theologian J.R.R. Tolkien could come together to produce greater thinking, surely this is a picture to aspire to live into. As for the role of practice, perhaps this is the greatest contributing factor to good theology. “The enactment of Scripture has astonishing formative power. The deeper our engagement with the story, the better our improvisation will be.” [8] May our theological work lead to being more faithful, authentic, engaged practitioners of our faith.

1. Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996). 6 (Google Play)
2. Ibid. 14.
3. 1 Corinthians 3:9 NIV
4. Derek Rowntree. Learn How To Study:Developing the study skills and approaches to learning that will help you succeed in university—a virtual tutorial with Professor Derek Rowntree 6th edition. (Derek Rowntree),2016.(Kindle). Location 680.
5. Stanley Hauerwas and Jason Barnhart. Sunday Asylum: Being the Church in Occupied Territory. (United States: House Studio), 2011. (Bluefire Reader) 26.
6. Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996). 62 (Google Play)
7. Ibid. 65.
8. C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014). 40.

About the Author

Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

2 responses to “Tea and Theology”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great thoughts Jenn. Have you ever seen the play/film Shadowlands? It focuses on CS Lewis his relationship with his wife, but has many side discussions with Lewis and his fellow theologians “drinking beer and smoking pipes.” Your post made me think of this show.


  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Awesome post; reflective, well developed and cited, and thought-provoking. I think perhaps your lovely construct of two friends, drinking beer and smoking pipes, and sharing life and intellect, a most compelling construct for ongoing theological development. I sincerely believe this is why we so need a diverse community (such as the gift of LGP9) so that we might be more faithful, authentic, engaged practitioners (and leaders) of our faith (together). Many blessings, dear Friend! H

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