“He may not come when you want him, but He’s always right on time”, the preacher shouted while the congregation applauded. This saying is popular in many Black churches and provides comfort to those suffering, knowing that God will eventually come through with answers to prayer. Although this saying is not specified in the Bible, it has become part of Folk Theology in the Black church. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God by Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson define Folk Theology as, “unreflective belief that revels in subjective feelings brought on by slogans or legends and that resist examination” (Grenz and Olson 1996, 28). The Black church is not the only church where Folk Theology can be found, it is used heavily by many preachers in the media as well. It is hard to resist Folk Theology because it finds solutions to uncomfortable situations where we do not understand God. However, today more than ever, the church needs sound theology.
When I decided to attend seminary, I encountered many objections to theological education. The main objection was that it was going to take me away from God. People believed that I would lose my faith, only believing intellectual theories about God found in journals and scholarly books. Grenz and Olson present a spectrum of theologies including folk, lay, ministerial, professional, and academic (Grenz and Olson 1996, p. 26). Academic theology, taken to the extreme, can be as unhelpful as Folk theology, eventually leading to a lack of faith since it can encourage cutting reflection off from faith, only believing what can be understood (Grenz and Olson 1996, 33). This extreme type of Academic theology is what my friends feared I would obtain. It is important for pastors to learn theology at the academic level and then engage in theology somewhere along the spectrum such as on the ministerial or professional level in order to help the congregants understand the truths of the Word of God. Teaching congregants to use Bible tools such as concordances and commentaries can assist in aiding in the development of mature lay Christian thinkers (Grenz and Olson 1996, p. 31).
Today more than ever, with people having access to countless television and media preachers, there is a need for solid Biblical and Systematic Theology taught by the local pastor. Folk theology spreads through the media with catchy religious phrases repeated as gospel and often quoted back to the pastor who is attempting to teach their congregants sound theology. Some in the church view those they see in the various media sources as experts above their pastors sometimes not seeing their pastor’s theological education as a valuable source of expertise.
Vanhoozer & Strachan, (2015), in The Pastors as Public Theologian: reclaiming a lost vision, seek to solve the problem of a lost vision of pastors as theologians. Strachan discusses a Biblical theology of the pastorate relating the pastor to the Old Testament offices of Prophets, Priests, and Kings believing the prophet like the pastor is to declare the unchanging truths about God and address the changing times to the people of God, giving God’s perspective (Vanhoozer & Strachan, 2015, p. 45). Strachan further shows how as a priest the pastor shares the good news of reconciliation in Christ and hence life with Christ, as well as modeling the set apart life (Vanhoozer & Strachan, 2015, p. 51). Finally, Strachan teaches the pastor like the king exercises wisdom in the leadership of God’s people, leading the people with humility and prayer (Vanhoozer & Strachan, 2015, p. 48). In this model, theology has the purpose of serving the congregants and helping them become more like Jesus, and not just gaining knowledge about Jesus for knowledge’s sake.
It is my desire to help Christians learn that they need theology in this culture and climate of media saturation. I am not against the media as a means of spreading the gospel message, but I believe that it is the pastor’s duty to teach theology by the means presented in our culture. As stated by Grenz and Olson, “The theological art involves an interplay among three tools, which in their differing ways function as sources and norms: the Bible message, the theological heritage of the church and contemporary culture (Grenz and Olson 1996, p. 101). We cannot let the contemporary culture and its leaning toward Folk theology outweigh the Bible message along with the theological heritage of the church. It is clear that we all need sound theology and as pastors, teachers, and leaders, it is up to us to make sure theology is taught today.
Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God. England: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Vanhoozer, Kevin J., and Owen Strachan. The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015.