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

Everyone is a Theologian? Probably, but not very deeply.

Written by: on November 30, 2017

Experience has taught me most Montana people want to know your theology, but could care little if you are a Theologian. I don’t get the feeling they are much opposed to the title, but the word Theologian is old school for most, and smacks of someone who is a little too smart for us regular folks. Like someone who is a farmer but introduces himself as a “crop scientist.” I understand why the authors of this week’s book, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God state, “A chill often descends soon as the word theology is uttered.”[1]  I have personally witnessed this. Most of us probably have.

Studying for the Ministry, I certainly did not set out to be known as a Theologian. People probably assumed I was, but no one ever asked. I simply wanted to be a good Pastor to my community. To be introduced as a “Theologian” probably would have been greeted with yawns. Folks have usually used titles like Preacher, Reverend, Pastor, Clergy or Evangelist. My business card does not say Professional Theologian. After listening to a couple thousand of my sermons, not one listener has said I was a Theologian. I should probably take a hint…

In her book, A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, Kelly Kapic states the reason for all theology is simply, “To know and enjoy God.” This definition resonates with me. In fact, I distinctly remember the day I read the words “…to know Him Better” from Ephesians 1:17, and clearly felt like God was whispering to me, “That is your mission–helping people to know me better.”  If that makes me a theologian, then so be it. A group of people I respect, called the Navigators, have a mission statement that is similar, “To Know Christ and To Make Him Known.”[2]

However, I am not totally convinced that EVERYONE is a theologian, as Roger Olson claims.[3]  I am able to somewhat understand his point, but if everyone is a Theologian, then there are some really bad Theologians out there. I can change the oil in my car, but little else. By our authors assertion, this probably makes me a mechanic, but I would consider myself a very bad mechanic. Perhaps that is why the authors made a chapter titled “Not All Theologies Are Equal.”[4]

My favorite word in our book title, and in the final chapter, is INVITATION. I responded positively to that and think my neighbors would, too. I also was glad to see InterVarsity Press as the publisher. I have read other books from IVP Academic, written by folks like N.T Wright, which truly encouraged me. One reviewer on Christianbook.com, a Pastor from Georgia, thought the level of this book was at the high school or undergraduate level, and wished the author would have went deeper. He alluded to the Peanuts Cartoon reflections not being part of a highly academic standard.[5]  I concur, in that I finished the book and wished there was more depth. Academic reviews were surprised that the authors waited so long to define theology, although partially defined early, but waiting until much later to flesh it out, almost a third of the way into the book. [6]

The best question from our book, in my opinion, centers around, “Why Theology?” [7] To understand WHY we believe WHAT we believe is paramount! Like one of the values of our church Ignite Youth Group, which states, “Becoming disciples who are Biblically informed, especially upon graduation, when our beliefs will be tested by the world.” In effect, knowing theology in this manner may help stem the flow of young Christians who are leaving the faith at alarming rates, according to Barna, because they are not personally grounded in God’s Holy Word.[8]  Our authors support the thought, “Solid Christian beliefs will stand the test of critical reflection. As they ‘pass muster’, we will begin to hold them with even greater conviction.”[9]

I wonder what our cohort member, and youth expert, Dan Kreiss would say about this? Could he help us understand why so many of our youth are growing up in the church, and leaving at alarming rates, when they get out on their own?  Perhaps they have to find a faith of their own, instead of their parent’s faith. Maybe they leave for a while and then come back at a future life transition, like getting married or having a baby (I have not seen the research results for young folks at some point returning to the church, unfortunately).

I choose to close on this highlight. Our author thankfully states, “Scripture is our primary tool” for Theology. Should not be a surprise, but to some, this foundation is. Christians, being “People of the Book” must always seek to be a Biblical community, based upon what is written in Scripture. [10]  Not on what we think, especially not on what we feel, but on what we KNOW from God’s Word.  Amen to that!

That is why I think Theology is also a discipleship issue…

[11] Peanuts Cartoons referred to throughout our book

 

 

[1] Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Loc. 32.

[2] Kapic, Kelly M. Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology. S.l.: read how you want.com, 2013.

[3] Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Loc. 48.

[4] Ibid., Loc. 155.

[5]  Paul, Pastor. “Who Needs This Book?” Review of Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Christianity Today, March 4, 2013. Accessed November 30, 2017. Christianbook.comLLC.

[6] Medley, Mark S. “An Evangelical Theology for a Post-modern Age.” Review of Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. MS Medley: Academia.edu, November 2013. Accessed November 30, 2017. academia.edu.

[7] Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Loc. 331.

[8]  Barna, George. “The Priorities, Challenges, and Trends in Youth Ministry.” Barna Resources. April 6, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2017. https://resources.barna.org/.

[9] Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Loc. 355.

[10] Ibid., Loc. 915.

[11] Klein, Terrence. Charlie Brown and his football: a story of Christian hope. America the Jesuit Review. New York. November 17, 2017.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

13 responses to “Everyone is a Theologian? Probably, but not very deeply.”

  1. Greg says:

    Jay I think the Gentz’s 4 types of theologians helps us understand the levels of a theologian. I took this to mean more of 4 kinds of seekers of the truth. From folk to academic, there is a huge discrepancy between them. One day I blew a tire on a Chinese freeway and changed it myself. Those Chinese traveling with me thought I was a master mechanic. I guess it is all a matter of perspective. I took Gentz assertion that we are all theologians as a way for us to not fear having deep conversation. I didn’t read it as a desire to give ourselves another lofty and worthless title. For me it doesn’t matter if anyone else recognizes that I (we) are theologians, rather knowing that I continue to seek truth through Christ is enough. Thanks for your thoughts of this subject.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    I agree with you on Gentz’s assertion that we do not have to fear deep conversations. I had a lengthy discussion today about transgenderism with an attender of our church. Theology came in very handy, especially with the truth of God’s Word. We just didn’t use the phrase “Theology.”

    Thanks for your response, Greg!

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great job. I especially love your mechanic illustration and I’m not sure how to respond to it. I’m not sure how Grenz and Olson would respond to it.

    Perhaps they would say we are not all mechanics. but we are all drivers.We all us the cars. Everyone is a driver-theologian as in they believe something about God and are using that belief. But not everyone is a mechanic-theologian, as in they can fix it when there is a problem.

  4. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,

    I did the math, 2 sermons on Sunday, and 1 on Wednesday will net you the “couple thousand” sermons in 15 years. Wow! Thanks for your faithful sacrifice and service as a pastor. I am sure your congregants would agree that you are a theologian, if they saw it written in a job description. Otherwise I agree with you, church people just don’t use the word “theology” in their daily vocabulary. Nevertheless, knowing God better is what humanity is geared for, wired for, and are instinctively searching for despite their unbelief.

    Good contrast and comparison between theologian and mechanic. Based on my reading and experience in these matters, I would support your first conclusion; there are just some bad theologies due to the influence of Satan and his persistent schemes to divide, destroy, and dismantle good theologies.

    On the lighter side comedian-theologian Flip Wilson, on the Ed Sullivan show in 1970, gave an overview of the schemes of the devil in “The devil made me do it.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SLifea3NHQ

    Like Lewis in the Screwtape Letters, Flip Wilson uses satire and comedy to address a real problem, that people resist facing head on. What do you think?

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I calculated that I have done around 1400 sermons in 7 years, not including weddings, funerals, and gospel meetings. However, we have Sunday Bible Study, Sunday Worship, Sunday PM Worship, and Wednesday Night Bible Study.

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Mike!

      I just watched your video with Flip Wilson and I am still laughing. That one made my day. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Hi Jay,

    I have a theory that Millennials and Gen Z are dropping out of church because our theologies and the way we worship in many churches tend to be constructed for modernism.
    Newer generations have different questions and assumptions and we must invite them to lead us in discovering how God is at work in and through them. Words such as organic, communal, belonging, environmental, and sustainable will be part of the new theological lexicon for future generations.

    Have you noticed this transition with youths in your denomination?

    PS. I noticed that you borrowed from the Jesuits for your Peanuts cartoon! 🙂

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Mark!

      I can’t believe it, but you caught me on using the Peanuts Cartoon from the Jesuits (grin).

      You asked about our denomination and our youth, and to tell you the truth, I have noticed a huge shift, but I can’t figure out what the shift is. The terminology you share I hear in smatterings, but I don’t really understand what they mean. Understand, we are rural, so we catch on about five years later than everyone else, so what you say may very well take place in our future…

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hi Jay,

    Thanks for this post, I could really hear your “voice” throughout. As a fellow “bad-mechanic”, I hear you on that analogy, and I think you actually articulated the author’s point. If “everybody” can be a theologian (at least, anybody who asks questions about God and life and meaning), then it’s also true that not all of us do it very well. There’s a role for the “professional” theologians, as well as what you seem to do naturally, which is really “pastoral theology”. And I bet that even if they don’s use the terms, those who have learned the faith with you, have a richer life with God as a result. Keep at it!

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, there is a certain purity and simplicity in all of your posts, and I am grateful for that. I hope that does not offend, nor do I hope that I still consider you a “theologian” offend. I am so glad that you had the courage to nearly criticize the nature of being a “theologian” in regard to the universal nature of it. I thought your mechanic illustration was spot on. I must state the obvious that not everyone that reads their bible should be classified a theologian; the concept sounds good, but I believe the higher education connotation that this word seems to hold causes me hesitation in the same manner that you stated. Furthermore, I believe there may also be too many professed theologians out there that do not support it with their teachings. I did find one disagreement with what you posted…I actually have the “Gospel According to Peanuts” book on my church library bookshelf. It is a fascinating and thought provoking read, if only a comic book. I have used it for sermon illustrations and believe it to be a captivating method for making a point.

    I appreciate your love of Scripture. It is shared by myself. What do you see as an obstacle to “theology” when shared by someone who does not share that love?

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Shawn!

      No offense taken! Thanks for your comments.

      In response to your question, I am not sure exactly how to talk to someone when I cannot use Scripture. The obstacle is usually a brick wall because I try to use God’s Word to back up everything I say. I seek to understand where they are coming from, I even search for common ground, but I don’t honestly know how else to talk to them.

      I am open to your suggestions…

  8. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jason,

    You might not consider yourself a mechanic because you do not know how to work on your car and therefore take it to someone who is an expert. However, whether or not one accepts it or have spent any time processing it one’s theology impacts the choices made about life everyday. This is what I think Grenz means when he states that everyone has a theology. He goes so far that he even recognizes that the enemy, Satan, also has a theology, which is an understanding of who God is and how God works in the world, that impacts the way he attempts to thwart God’s purposes. This is tough for many to swallow but makes the point clear that theology is not limited to academics.

    In terms of young people and the Church, particularly in the West, I am fairly certain that most of our young people have what I and some other youth ‘experts’ call ’embedded’ theology – that which is inherited from parents and/or their faith community. While this is a great starting point it is insufficient and is akin to what Grenz calls ‘folk’ theology. Unless people, young people in particular, make the effort to develop their own ‘deliberate’ or ‘owned’ theology it will not stand the test of time. I wonder how your youth program has attempted to help students develop a ‘deliberate’ theology, which is a dynamic and ever growing understanding of God. As you well know, even for those young people who have been raised in a home where parents have been deliberate about discipleship there is not automatic transference. This is the frustrating thing about parenthood and youth ministry. However, I am convinced that the effort to help students eruditely communicate their faith and beliefs is what is often missing in our discipleship programs. Too often I think we are more concerned about indoctrinating students to be able to ‘parrot’ back the answers we want to hear without helping them own the answers for themselves.

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Dan!

      What an amazing response. You taught me much with “embedded Theology” as opposed to “owned Theology” and I thank you for it. I suppose this is partially what my son is going through now. I won’t give up though, because of the principle to train up a child in the way they should go and when they are older they will not depart from it…

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