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.” 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.” 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”, 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
 Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (p. 3). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (pp. 14-15). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Ford, David (2000-02-24). Theology: A Very Short Introduction (p. 125). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.