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

The Theology Tour

Written by: on October 24, 2013

Sunday afternoon, while in London, at our recent Advance, a choice was set before me. I could use the time I had remaining to immerse myself in one or two historic landmarks (i.e. museum, aquarium, palace) or I could get a quick overview of almost everything historically significant. I chose the latter, paid my thirty pound fare and climbed the stairs to the back corner of the top deck of an iconic double decker tour bus (a red one of course). For the next two or three hours people got on and off at each of the thirty stops. They chose to take time to learn more about a particular site. I remained on board, forsaking the depth of greater insight about one place and exchanging it for the opportunity to learn a little something about a wider range of locations.

This is how it felt to read through Christian Theology, by Alistair McGrath. This resource provides an academic and informational approach that differs greatly from either of the previous theological texts we have recently read.  I would liken those previous books to getting off the bus and spending the afternoon going through Buckingham Palace. McGrath’s book is a multi-faceted tour covering the historical roots of theology throughout the unfolding of millennia from a variety of different perspectives.  As such, it fulfills its purpose[1] of providing a comprehensive overview while equipping the reader by whetting the appetite for further future study.

McGrath does acknowledge the significance of personal engagement in the task of theology when he writes: “However, the consensus within Christian theology as a whole is that this process of dialogue and reflection is both helpful and productive, and is integral to the theological task.”[2]  In so doing, he establishes at least two key concepts. First, he shares the common theme of reflection, with the writings of Ford and Grenz, which we recognize as vital to developing our understanding of God. Secondly, he provides a reminder to the reader that there is more to be discovered in each section, each topic and each perspective.

Living in a world where cultures and religious worldviews are increasingly colliding, the part of this tour through Christian Theology that most engaged my attention came from the section on Sources and Methods (Part II).  Of particular interest was the many ways in which theology, as a word, subject or field of study, have been understood throughout the passing of time. It was somewhat dismaying to see in print what I had already presupposed: theology has come to be defined in different ways to different people at different times.[3] The shifting of the definition to suit academic, philosophic, religious and political agendas has undoubtedly contributed to some of the confusion that exists today. Where once ideas and conclusions could be arrived at in seclusion from outside influence, that is no longer the case. In current times we deal with the convergence and overlapping of these perspectives.

The solution appears to be simple: start with a common definition of “theology”, which minimally retains a recognition that “theos” is the Greek term for “God” and then bring together these various perspectives in accordance with that definition. Throughout the tour that McGrath, the evidence tells us what he makes plain, “…that there is actually very little empirical evidence for a “common core experience” throughout human history and culture.”[4]

A concerning outcome occurs when the McGrath tour bus stops at the presentation of religious views.  Here we see the dangers of isolating an academic view, which remove the centrality of God from its pursuit and instead reduces the discussion to religious practice[5]. It misses that aforementioned “core experience” of theology which is to help us grow in our desire worship our Heavenly Father.

All tours must come to an end. The fare you pay only permits you to ride so far and see so much. But just like my experience on the tour bus in London, I come away with a better appreciation for the historic, political, cultural and religious influences that inform my present theological reality. I also come away with curiosity aroused, unimpressive in some instances and intriguing in others. And just like my tour of London, there are places in the vast landscape of theology that have captured my attention, drawn me to consider more deeply and will likely influence the way in which I continue to shape my own understanding of our God.

[1] Alistair E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) p. xxv

[2] Ibid. p.107

[3] Ibid. 101

[4] Ibid. p.149

[5] Ibid. p.427

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Deve Persad

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