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

Theology…A Scary Word?

Written by: on October 11, 2013

I was spiritually nurtured in a church where the word “theology” was not part of our vocabulary.  In fact, for many, the word “theology” was a scary word.   It was a word associated with institutions, intellectuals and long and dry debates, which the people believed, only led to arguments and disagreements.    In their book, Who Needs Theology?, Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson point out that there seems to be an abundance of misconceptions, stereotypes, myths and false impressions about theology.[1]  In fact, they go on to say that this abundance also exists within the Christian community.

What is it about the word “theology” that can create fear and misconceptions?  Well, I would venture to say that it is due to a lack of understanding of the meaning of the word.  Now, I cannot deny that I too was fearful of the word theology.  For me theology was for those in the academic world (this could be because of where I was spiritually nurtured.)  And, yes, that is true. Yet, Grenz and Olson point out that theology is not just for a “few superior intellectuals” it is also for the ordinary Christian seeking to understand their faith.[2]   Again, I am reminded of how important it is for the Christian community to continue to develop critical thinking skills.   The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2 “that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…”

I appreciate the profound and clear manner in which Grenz and Olson define “theology”, specifically Christian theology—“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.”[3]

So what does this mean to me as a follower of Jesus Christ?  Let me share an example, I believe that we, as Christians, are called to live out incarnational lives.  And in living out incarnational lives we are to incarnate the values of the kingdom of God so that we can witness to the world.  Jesus lived an incarnational life.  He understood that in him the values of the Kingdom of God was embodied, personified and made real.  How were these Kingdom values manifested?  “When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.  He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:17-21)[4]

Jesus turned to this Scripture because he understood that a life that incarnated the kingdom values manifested itself in a life of action and transformation.   Can the people of God/church make the same claim?   We talk about kingdom values, but words do not feed the hungry.  We tell everyone that we are concerned about the condition the world is in but “concerned about” does not shelter the homeless.  We claim that at the right time we will get involved, but waiting for the right time only means that another troubled teenager commits suicide.   But until, we, the people of God, remember that living out the values of the kingdom means living out a life of action and transformation, we will fail to be the people where the Lord’s presence is made real.

Jesus did not deal in the abstract.  When the hungry came to him, he fed them. When the sick came to him, he healed them.  When those in despair came, he told them that the kingdom was at hand. When the prideful came to him, he confronted them with the emptiness of their institutions and lives.

We, the people of God, must do likewise.  We cannot simply talk about love, liberation, healing and obedience in the abstract because the suffering in this world is too concrete.   Love cannot be spoken of as a state where everyone smiles and hugs one another.  Love is living out the Gospel so that the poor and others who society rather not deal with, can see the presence of God in their midst.  Love is the giving up of those values that work to oppress others when embracing them would bring one much comfort. Love is taking risk for the sake of others.

I often hear people say that one is truly free only in death.  It pains me to say that many churches preach and teach this.   Jesus did not believe this.  He understood himself to be the liberator, one called to “proclaim release to the captives” and “to let the oppressed go free.”  I too understand that the church through the power of the Spirit, is called to bring liberation.   If we, the people of God, do not become the liberating agent we are called to be, then I believe that we then become instruments of those who oppress and deny liberation to others.

There are great gaps between men and women, children and parents, ethnicity, race and humans and the environment.  Again, God’s people must help to bring healing in these areas by providing spaces of hospitality so that we may come to learn about one another and to bring healing.

We must be obedient to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ if we are to remain true to His mission.  This means that God’s people must always be ready to speak out against the injustices no matter the cost or danger.

Theology asks, “What must we be, say and do?” And the primary tool we use in answering this question is the biblical message.[5]   Who needs theology?  We do!  Why?  Because we need to be God’s people in our world.  What kind of theology do we need?  One that embodies the biblical message as proclaimed by the one people of God in a manner that interfaces with life in our specific context.[6]

Is theology a scary word?  Not anymore!

[1] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 1996), p.12

[2] Ibid., p. 24

[3] Ibid., p. 49

[4] New Revised Standard Version

[5] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 1996), p. 95

[6] Ibid., p. 102

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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