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

Theological Adventure

Written by: on November 29, 2018

One of my favorite things about being a minister is teaching a new member class.  These classes provide the opportunity to better learn about the history and faith story of people who have chosen to make their spiritual home the community I am blessed to serve.  What an honor.   Every now and then one of these classes presents the unique happenstance when only one member of a couple decides to join the church, but both members of the couple come to the class.  Sometimes, the partner who isn’t interested in joining the church practices another faith and is supportive of their significant other.  However, other times the partner will come to the class and after the conversation has been going on for a while boldly proclaim they aren’t interested in joining because they don’t believe in God.

This moment is the pastoral opportunity that allows me to merely ask the person to tell me about the God they don’t believe in.

Often the God that is described involves a bearded, old man who lives in the clouds.  Often it involves an inactive divine being, far removed from the hubbub of life on earth.  Often it is a God that seems more intent on division, benign laws, and repression of human love.

And it is in that moment when I lean over to this uninterested partner and tell them the truth.  The truth is that I don’t believe in that God either.

The God I believe in longs for interaction, is active in all our lives, and is most fully known in and through the act of love.  The God I believe in is not just an ancient deity that was written about long ago, but is continually being revealed through creation, resurrection, and revelation.  These conversations aren’t an attempt by me to sway the uninterested in joining partner, but is actually an opportunity to affirm their disbelief in an attempt to further the dialogue and growth.

What I haven’t realized until I read Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God is that these discussions aren’t just moments of affirmation, but should be seen as invitations into the lifetime adventure of being a theologian.  As Grenz and Olson state:

Good theologians discuss intellectual questions and concern themselves with academic debate because their chief concern is life. They want to know the truth not merely so that they might think properly, but so that they might live properly. They engage in theology not merely to amass knowledge, but also to gain wisdom. Good theology, therefore, brings the theoretical, academic intellectual aspect of Christian faith into Christian living. In so doing, theology becomes immensely practical – perhaps the most practical endeavor one ever engages in![i]

Whether one joins the church I serve or not, I hope someone will want the divine to be a part of the conversation as they discern how best to live properly.  Whether one is Christian or not, my hope is that anyone’s chief concern is life in the grandest and most all-inclusive sense of the term, and not a definition focused merely on self-preservation. That would not be wisdom; that would not be “good theology.”[ii]

I wonder where the formation of leadership and the formation of theologians intersect.  Both clearly involve meaning making[iii], and both clearly involve engagement with others.  I think the place that conversation starts is when I answer the questions “who needs theology?” and “who needs leadership?” with the same response: everyone.


[i] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996). 42

[ii] Ibid.43

[iii] Nohria, Nitin, and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice. (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press), 2014. 192

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

6 responses to “Theological Adventure”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi there Jacob. I’m interested in your discussion with someone about the idea of God at a specific stage of their faith experience (or lack thereof) and the conception of theology. How would you articulate the difference between apologetics and theological inquiry? I guess Handsome Harry could pitch in here seeing he is the resident apologist (apologies to German Harry).

  2. Hey Jacob. I appreciate how you’d engage a seeker in discovering God for themselves by asking the right questions. I’m reminded of William Lane Craig in his book Reasonable Faith where he said that one of the tasks of apologetics is simply to clarify the faith.

    Many times we carry the burden of proving Christianity when all we have to do is ask skeptics and seekers what it is they think of Christianity. If anything we can at least help them ponder new things, reject the real thing, or better yet trust Christ.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great response, Jacob! Your question is such a significant moment of clarity for ask those who say they don’t believe. Affirming that you don’t believe in that God either is such a great response. It is like clearing the rubble from the foundations of their minds so a new picture of God can be constructed.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks for sharing a very practical theological encounter. Your wonderment about where the formation of leadership and the formation of theologians intersect has started my wheels turning. For pastors, I believe it healthiest when they are approached concurrently. Unfortunately, too often they are pursued separately and therefore become unhealthy for the pastor and those he or she are trying to influence. Blessings on you and yours, H

  5. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Hi Jacob. Truly powerful post, my friend. I LOVE your response to non-believers by saying “tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” Most perceptions of God by people who don’t know His love is as you noted in responses you often receive: a bearded old man, disconnected from the earthly world. And your response to that is “I don’t believe in Him either,” which is affirming that you heard what they said and it opens discussion to be able to share about our true loving God. Perfect! Thanks for sharing, Jacob.

  6. Jenn Burnett says:

    I think you’ve articulated a brilliant strategy for engaging people Jacob! Assuming that Olsen and Grenz are correct in assuming everyone is a theologian, perhaps one of our best strategies is to learn to ask better questions of our people in order to draw out their theological thinking. I wonder what further key questions we might be able to routinely ask to invite not just skeptics, but even long time believers to re-engage with the task of theology?

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