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

Our lack of theology makes church obsolete…

Written by: on October 23, 2014

Each religion has core theological beliefs, which have come about as theologians and scholars have debated the great questions of life throughout centuries. Today, we have many different flavors of religion or theological views. Ford, in his book, Theology: a Very Short Introduction, asserts that there are “between four and five billion of the world’s population who are directly involved in the major world religions.itisexam
The major world faiths have affected whole civilizations over many centuries and have lived with different cultures, economic and political systems. For individuals, religious involvement often affects how they imagine reality, what they believe and think, how they feel and behave, who they marry, and all sorts of other things important to their identity.”[1] This being said, theological beliefs are often at the core of any tension that lies between societies, families and scholars and individals. Even in academic settings and churches, theological views can be hotly debated and cause division. When mentioning the word “theology”, there is often a sense of tension that follows. It conveys a sense of division more than unity.  It is the avoided or discarded topic across many churches.

After reading Ford’s book, I reflected on theological tensions that I have been personally exposed to throughout my own lifetime. In many conservative Midwest churches, I have seen fear or negative connotations associated with exposure to outside beliefs. Several years ago my husband’s grandfather joined us at church camp. He loved the place and had only great things to say about it until we went to that evening’s service. About ten minutes into the service, he got very upset. It was a Protestant service, and he was a Catholic. In his mind, it was a sin to attend the service and he viewed himself as somehow tainted because he had exposed himself to what he considered false teachings. Grandfather had no training or knowledge of theology beyond what he had heard from his local priest, so I believe his fear was somewhat rooted in his ignorance about theology. He was not an ignorant man, rather he never questioned nor developed his own theological views. When we questioned him, he could not articulate what “false teachings” he heard in the service. His response was based solely on the fact that it was a religion different than the tradition in which he had been raised. I believe this is common in many church contexts, as we carefully guard our beliefs and shut our minds to hearing new ideas. We have tended to be a bit narrow minded, and often refuse to acknowledge other’s views. This may or may not be a reflection of our lack of confidence or knowledge in our own beliefs.  Because of our attitudes in this area, we have failed to provide a safe place where people can explore and question their faith.  There are, however, changes developing as new generations think differently and refuse to fit into the mold that we have created. It is good to see that they are more open to new ideas and want to better understand their own beliefs and alternative views!  They are less likely to align to a specific church doctrine, and they avoid any type of legalism. Theology must make sense and must be relevant to their life. Many won’t adhere to a specific belief system out of tradition’s sake, rather they must truly understand and agree with it before embracing it.

Over my own lifetime, I’ve seen a drastic shift in the way society views and embraces theology. Ford asserts that postmodernity has helped to connect theological ideas to ordinary living. He states, “There are aspects of postmodern thought which give the impression of being lost in abstruse linguistic games; but there are other aspects which daringly cross boundaries in order to bring together levels of culture which are often alienated from each other, and these have much to teach any theology which sees itself as having responsibilities towards religious communities and public life as well as towards academic disciplines.”[2] For religion to be relevant in someone’s life, they must be able to understand and articulate why they believe what they believe, and to critically analyze how specific beliefs are acted out in their own lives. In this sense, Ford provides a good overview on Christian beliefs and key views that should be explored when assessing any system of beliefs. He provides the reader with a solid framework from which they can critique their own theology and other viewpoints in a critical manner. The book is timely, as it is a resource that can be used for those seeking answers surrounding religion or theology. The system that he presents is logical and sets the task of doing theology outside of any tension, allowing the practitioner the ability to focus on fact versus emotion, tradition, or hearsay. I’ve often used a similar approach to Ford’s when teaching how to critique religions or cults, and differentiating between core beliefs.

Ford also provides a good overview of the history of academic theology and the practice of doing theology from a Christian perspective. I appreciate his emphasis on having a holistic approach, one that considers the relationship between knowledge and experience. Ford dives into religious practice, or the skills, disciplines and methods for doing theology. He makes suggestions for “what the beginner in theology needs to learn”[3], yet I believe the information he provides also makes the assumption that the reader has a certain level of knowledge beyond that of a beginner. This book would, however, provide a great introductory overview of Christian theology for a college or seminary student. The concepts are sound and they can easily be taught to anyone with an interest in theology, but the presentation may need to be put into a format that can be more easily digested by a person with little to no prior introduction to theology.   Yet, isn’t making this information digestible part of our responsibility as church leaders? This is where I fear that Ford’s great ideas have become lost in too many efforts to plant churches, be missionally minded, “engage” society, etc.  We’ve made church way too complex and are focused on the wrong priorities. Maybe this is why many churches are becoming so obsolete to younger generations. Thoughts?EX300

[1] Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (p. 3). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (pp. 14-15). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (p. 125). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.


About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

10 responses to “Our lack of theology makes church obsolete…”

  1. Dave Young says:


    I appreciate the example of your grandfather, how he “was not an ignorant man, rather he never questioned nor developed his own theological views.” That does seem to be a very common problem, people commit to the denomination, or the church, without knowing why they believe what they believe. I’m sure if he had developed his own views he would have been able to discern the truth and experienced God more fully during the camp experience. It’s sad. Sad but true for many folks.
    So, your concluding thought, making this theological thinking more accessible, and engage church members with it is exactly what we’re attempting at Cork Grinders. The only comment I’d make is that the younger person will resonate with such exposure more readily then the older generation. So it’s possible if we teach people to think theologically that we’ll lose the older generation. Something about teaching an ol’ dog new tricks.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave and Dawnel, the narrative about Grandfather also resonated with me. I found myself feeling sorry for him, caught in a place where he was distressed but just not sure why, his core beliefs held tightly but not even sure what those core beliefs were. So many people are right there!


    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Dave and Jon,
      I worry that churches are often so focused on attracting the younger generations, that they are failing their duty to older generations. We should be able to help all people understand and think theologically, no matter their age, educational, or socioeconomic status. I’d be interested to know the demographics of Cork Grinders, and how that impacts the persons willingness, ability, and desire to engage with theology.

      My husband’s grandfather had very little education, and I can’t imagine him even asking questions. In his mind, the priest was educated and ordained, so he must be more knowledgeable in things concerning religion. Thinking about this, I realized what an awesome responsibility we have. I know times where I have been intimidated by other people as it seemed they were much more knowledgeable or experienced than I…and I blindly followed what they had to say. This raises my own awareness that I need to ensure I have a very, very humble posture when ministering so that people don’t follow me – rather I must continuously point them to Christ and encourage development of their own faith. We see this with our children…they have to move from their blind acceptance of our faith toward development of their own belief system. The best way for us to do this is by mentoring them on “how” to evaluate theological views, rather than solely “what” theological views are good versus bad. I really appreciate that Ford provides the framework for us to teach this to others.

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, I wonder how much our Global/North American/US culture of Modernity (loosely labeled all things can be known) predisposes a faith built on doctrinal absolutes verses questions about the nature of God. It feels like the fear of not knowing leads to an insecurity that causes us to narrow the conversation verses a faith that is truly believing that is secure would allow for broad conversation that in the end we know would end up back on the main thing. From our reading and conversations from all the posts, I am really wondering how do we actually start and have the broader conversations we are beginning to desire and starting to look for???

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Great questions Phil…
      Interesting thoughts. I’ll admit that I am definitely not a subject matter expert in this area. But here is what I am seeing in the trenches of Ohio Wesleyan churches…

      At the core of modernity was a sense that the teachings of the church can evolve over time or more knowledge was to be gained…and there was a great push to gain a deeper understanding of Christ as science and technology opened up eyes to new ideas. I believe that modernism helped to fuel the establishment of our church doctrine. Somewhere across the modern and postmodern periods, church doctrines were more solidified into the way we practice our faith traditions. In other words, the doctrine seemed to make theology relevant to the culture of the time. For my grandparent’s, and even parent’s, generations this made sense. They found a doctrine or tradition that aligned to their personal beliefs and became entrenched into it. Influencers such as Wesley and Calvin were held in high esteem, as if they had “figured out all of the answers”. Now, we hear the terms “postmodern” or “emerging”, but the reality is that most people have no idea what this even means. Younger generations are “emerging” as they start to see the world differently and ask more questions concerning their faith. They want more depth and will not blindly accept doctrine or ideas by theologians and scholars of long ago. It is a gradual change or shift that seems to be picking up momentum as new generations are having more voice in the church. Unfortunately, the church isn’t always responding to their questions and they are speaking by exiting. The older generations that are solidly set on their doctrines don’t understand why the younger generations won’t just “believe what they say”. I’ve seen this as pastors struggle to make their sermons applicable and engaging to younger crowds. In their mind, younger generations are rebelling, and therefore sinning. At the same time, the blind reliance on doctrine by older generations has also resulted in a somewhat shallow approach to faith exploration. I see much complacency and fear of change within older church denominations, in general. This is often perceived by younger generations as a lack of caring and apathy toward the needs of the community. In some ways, this is very sad. We are so focused on reaching the younger generations and unchurched, but we don’t have an understanding of each generations culture. In our focus to “attract the young and unchurched”, we fail to see that older generations need to engage with Christ just as urgently. I had to laugh as a friend called a church we were associated with “multigenerational”. This is the same church that has no clue how to attract “emerging” generations. The younger people in their membership are mainly there because their parents go to church there! And most church members, except a small handful, know church discipline better than the Bible….and they are quick to tell you when you break the rules! I’m not sure there is a good answer, but I do believe that we need to do a much better job at engaging people where they are at, both old and young. Just imagine what would happen if we got our older generations excited about theology and Christ…maybe then they will be able to reach younger generations much more effectively.

  3. Nick Martineau says:


    Do you think this problem is as prevalent in 3rd world countries?

    I keep getting stuck with the thought that surely we have more deep thinkers then ever, and information and education are at an all-time high. So why the lack of critical thinking in our faith.

    When talking with Samuel Stephens at the Advance he was telling me in India, the churches his ministry plants, they are instructed to not baptize someone until they have gone through a certain amount of study AND have led someone else to the Lord. I doubt they have access to all the resources we have to study but they are being taught that what they believe absolutely plays out in how they live.

    Here in my context the “ordinary” believer can’t really articulate what they believe and their faith doesn’t play out in how they live.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      I’d love to compare this problem in the U.S. versus other parts of the world…including 3rd world countries. I may be way off the mark here…but, even we have more educated people, I’m not so sure we have more deep thinkers. I like what Sam’s church is doing in India, but I’m not sure that would work in the U.S. Some churches here do “hold” baptism until people have gone through a certain amount of study. I think people see it as a task to check off their list, and they don’t take the opportunity to internalize the knowledge they are gaining.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Its a job sometimes to come out of what we have been in all these years. Being open minded to different belief systems is always hard. I still have belief systems i hold on too for my own reasons. I won’t discount what I believe even when allowing others to express what they believe. I know that we need to be in a more religious tolerant world. Yet there is always going to be an underlying war going on no matter how tolerant you are. Jesus said, “he did not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword.” We have to still know that there is a fight going on in the religious realm! We cant stop it either! Yet we have to open our minds to God more so that we can do His will in the midst of it! The worst things is how Christian denomination cant come together on the one fundamental thing we all confess, Jesus!

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    I had a conversation tonight with a friend who was conversing with a gentleman at a conference that insisted if someone has sinned, he/she has to be removed from the community. He was so adamant that there was no room for conversation. I was struck by the legalism as well as the illogical thinking…we all sin, so does that mean we’ll all be kicked out? Here’s where I think your comment, Dawn,”[w]e’ve made church way too complex and are focused on the wrong priorities” strikes true to so much of the frustration of not only those within the church but those outside of the church. What do we hold in the most significant value when it comes to faith, and how do we even get there to decide that? Wouldn’t it be a evening filled with grace and depth if we could simply ask the questions, explore the answers, in a place where we no longer needed to fear, trust that God is bigger than all of this, and recognize that we have the capacity to think more critically and lovingly?
    I appreciate your intensity of thought, Dawn. I can tell you think quite a bit about how to reach people.

  6. Brian Yost says:

    “theological beliefs are often at the core of any tension…”
    This is so true. I have heard people say, somewhat jokingly, that churches don’t split over theology, they split over the color of the carpet. The truth is, however, that a church that splits over the color of the carpet, really does have theological tensions. Their understanding of God, the purpose of the church, and personal preference verse God’s priorities all come into play.

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