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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Imposing Book Indeed

Written by: on October 23, 2015

INTRODUCTION

Alister McGrath’s seminal work, Christian Theology: An Introduction seemed a daunting read. Covering some 2000 years of Christian thought, key figures, various doctrines, and debates, McGrath exhaustively explores the world of Christian theology and makes it reasonably accessible to the modern reader. Given the vastness of material, McGrath proverbially “eats the elephant one bite at a time.”

 

KEY POINTS

Trying to encapsulate key points within a book this large can be finding a needle in a haystack, so I will focus on one section of McGrath’s book which I believe sets the stage for understanding theology. McGrath mentions that theology comes largely from 4 primary sources: scripture, tradition, reason and religious experience. Not all sources are equal in importance according to McGrath, but each contributes to the discipline of theology (p.120).

Scripture is the primary source to Christian theology. It is the authority for the Christian to gain an understanding of the God they serve. Tradition refers to the teachings of the Apostles and how those were passed from generation to generation. We see this illustrated when Paul tells his young protégé Timothy to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you.” Reason is yet another anchor to theology. McGrath points out that, “Reason for Christian theology has always been recognized, it is assumed an especial importance in the time of the enlightenment (p. 142).” While reason has its issues, it does have a place to play in theology. Finally, there is religious experience. As defined by McGrath, religious experience “comes to refer to the inner life of individuals, in which those individuals become aware of their own subjective feelings and emotions (p.146).” This source too is frail and must be viewed closely.

 

REFLECTIONS

 

McGrath’s key sources are primary in understanding the theological approach. It seems that any of the major sources left in isolation can bring a flurry of confusion to the theological mind. For instance, if we were to isolate reason as the chief of all theological endeavors, then it would seem that we would have a theology that is rigorous, unapproachable, less godly and possibly more academic as Olson and Grentz might suggest.

The same would be true of experience. It would not be vital and life giving on its own but would more than likely drive the student of this source into a version of folk religion. Truly, there is one source that stands out alone and that would be scripture, but the others add value to scripture and enrich the theological process.

It is obvious that theology carries a certain tension to it. This is obvious when one explores the process throughout history. Theological battles have raged and are still raging. Theology is not perfect. For the common man, theology is not something that should intimidate, but rather the theological pursuit is aimed at gaining understanding to the God you serve. Theology must be approachable if it is to have any use for the average congregant hustling to handle their vocation, family, spiritual life, and host of other activities. If theology is seen merely as academic, then people will never explore the richness of their God. While exhaustive, McGrath distills Christian theological pursuits in an easily understandable way and invites the reader to engage in the process.

 

About the Author

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Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

9 responses to “An Imposing Book Indeed”

  1. mm Rose Anding says:

    Congratulation Jason on your new assignment!
    It probably been rather difficult doing the last few days moving, getting settled, and preparing a message for your new congregants and adds to that, writing your blog.

    Your blog was very interesting and there are lots thoughts that can be explored. What about your statement, “Theology must be approachable if it is to have any use for the average congregant hustling to handle their vocation, family, spiritual life, and host of other activities”. It sounds like you are experience this now. But have you thought about how you are going to approach using theology in your new church, maybe basic theology is being taught; but it should be required, and maybe it should be required in new membership class. In some ways, the best time to teach the basics is when a person first follows Christ or first joins the church-when he or she is most focused on a Christian commitment. It is the time to capitalize on that enthusiasm by teaching early the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. This will be a great time to show why the exclusivity of Christ is non-negotiable. Talk about the necessity of the death of Christ. We must build the theological foundation early, and build it well; because this is an issue, whereas the leaders can start making a difference. I am sure you are well equipped to handle the task,that being said: how will you make Theology approachable in your new setting/ congregation?

    A great blog …await your answer. Thanks Rose Maria

  2. Thanks Rose. I have given it a lot of thought. First, we will have some basics covered in our new members class. I will also do a lengthy class on “how to study the bible” which will cover a great deal of theology. It will be recorded and available to new converts as well.

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Jason,

    I’m impressed that you read, wrote, AND moved in the same week. That must indicate some kind of super-power.

    Thank you for reminding us of the balance needed for good theology; Scripture, reason, experience, tradition….

  4. Aaron Cole says:

    Jason,

    Great Blog. You referred to the wars and battles over theological thought. What wars or battles do you think we are warring through today that will make history tomorrow?

    Aaron

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      AC,
      I think there are 2 streams right now. First, we have a heavy dose of extreme word of faith doctrine. I think we think this is becoming more and more main stream. The second would be an extreme version of reformed doctrine. Both may have roots in solid theological teaching. We believe that God can do the miraculous, but we need to be careful not to make God a slave to our whims and words (i.e. Word of faith extremism). While Reformed doctrine brings us back to prioritizing the word of God, people must be careful not to idolize the reformers.

      There is a more subversive form of theological error in the church as well. It may seem odd, but it seems there is an attempt to make Mormon theology a mainstream doctrine of Christianity which it is not. Some examples of this would be Glenn Bcck speaking at Liberty and weaving Mormon doctrine in his preaching. Another would be identifying Romney’s Mormonism as Christian. In the American church world, we confuse morality as being Christian. I could go on, but I think you catch my drift.
      J

  5. “It is obvious that theology carries a certain tension to it.”
    Your quote, I think, is what keeps many people away from engaging thoughtfully with theology. I think Grenz makes the same point. I know for me, I don’t like tension.
    However, the older I get, the more I think that maybe tension is good. I also am wondering if some theological questions just won’t ever have a definitive answer. Maybe, it is ok to have a sense of mystery when it comes to God. I think theologians and their textbooks would be improved if they left room for mystery.

  6. Kevin Norwood says:

    “For the common man, theology is not something that should intimidate, but rather the theological pursuit is aimed at gaining understanding to the God you serve.” That is it exactly. We serve God and have theology to understand him better but ultimately it is about us using the resource instead of being controlled or intimidated by it. This book did a good job of bringing clear every day thinking to theology. Great blog

    Kevin

  7. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Jason:

    My takeaway was close to yours. If theology is not progressive then, as you referenced, you set yourself up for “folk theology” or static belief that has no progression or revelation.

    I did appreciate the style of the book as a reference book. I would rate it very high as a resource that would help to offer a broad based thought process.

    Hope your world has slowed down some and you are getting settled in.

    Phil

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