This week, Who Needs Theology by Grenz and Olsen came to mind. I was reminded if their concerns that Christian theology in the West could deteriorate into a “mere ‘folk religion’ (unreflective believing based on blind faith in a tradition of some kind), relegated to the realms of sheer subjectivity and emptied of public credibility.”1 But then the thought came to mind, “what if ‘folk religion’ at the grass-roots is actually where the most accessible, practical and meaningful theology should be undertaken?” I think Simon Chan would lean in that direction.
Chan notes how “elitist” theologians construct theologies about “the poor and marginalized — the Dalits and Minjung — (yet) seldom do we find views of the grassroots themselves being taken seriously; rather, what we see is how the theologian views the grassroots and how they might fit in to the theologian’s grand scheme of things.”2 I can’t help but connect those dots back to Grenz and Olsen and those that they represent, you know, people like me? Do they represent “elitist” theologians? Those that stand outside of another culture and theologize about them? Is that the best we can offer?
I’m also thinking of another famous Chan, one named Francis. His story is well-known so I don’t need to rehash it here but what is important is to look at the steps he took to engage in real, public, practical theology… He moved in. He moved from the comfort and prestige of white suburbia where social outreach meant giving from his surplus to “those people” and “theology from below” meant watching the movements of the underclass — the American “Dalit” — as they mire through the filth of life… He became a grass-roots, American theologian.
My understanding (seen through the lenses of my functional hermeneutic) of Matthew chapter 16 demands that I become a practical, public theologian from right where I am positioned in life. My understanding of God has to be shaped within the context of the people, the communities, where he has placed me. We, Jesus’ ekklesia are called from the communities man to act on behalf of those communities. How can I best act on behalf of my community if I don’t first come to understand how the people of this community see God? I don’t think I am called to leave my land and move into the ghetto, no, I think I’m just supposed to begin to more diligently look to my surroundings and allow my theology to be shaped within that context… At the grassroots.
1. Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God. (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1996). 10, 27.
2. Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: a Systematic Study of the Christian Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1998), Kindle Location 265.