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

I am a theologian!

Written by: on November 30, 2017

I am a theologian!  Or at least that’s what Grenz and Olson will try to convince the reader of in Who Needs Theology.  “Anyone who reflects on life’s ultimate questions – including questions about God and our relationship with God – is a theologian.”[1]  Most reviewers found the text to be a worthwhile, albeit a simplistic read.  Grenz and Olson describe tasks of theology which include examining and evaluating Christian beliefs and categorizing them as dogma, doctrine, or opinion.[2]  While the “theologian” label never seemed to fit my relentless pursuit of understanding the world, God’s hand in the world, and Christian response, I’m going to claim that role and take you on a theological journey of history, scripture, and questioning…

In The Story of Christian Theology, Roger Olson writes about the conflict in the theological debate over the “person of Jesus Christ”,[3]  I’m perplexed by the challenge in “explaining and expressing” Christ’s humanity and divinity.  It seems like this concept, which is the foundation to my Christian belief system, should have been easier to accept and acknowledge in the early church – especially because the early church was privileged to experience miracles and Christ’s earthly work in a way different than we do today.  The title hypostatic union (Jesus as a divine being and fully human) was given as the doctrine of the person of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. [4]  Apparently, this conflict regarding the person of Christ became so volatile that “politics and theology became tangled with one another in a way never seen or anticipated before”. [5]  I find this statement fascinating – in that there are still political and theological entanglements in the twenty first century.  According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy[6], the current political and theology conflicts include:  establishment of a church or faith versus complete separation of church and state; toleration versus coercion of religious belief; current conflicts between religious practice and political authority; liberal citizenship and its demands on private self-understanding; and the role of religion in public deliberation.  Most of these same conflicts existed in the fourth and fifth centuries.  Perhaps the take away from this revelation is that we will never live in a time when there isn’t a natural tension between religion and politics.  Could this be by design?  Did God know that we, as humans, need this tension to create conversation and to have an opportunity to live out our faith vs. just existing with biblical knowledge and understanding?  If this is the case, how does a Christian navigate life without constant frustration relating to the “world’s state of being”?

When I dig deeper into understanding differing approaches (Alexandrians vs. Antioch) to Biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics), Soteriologies (Salvation) and Christology (Person of Jesus), I’m amazed by the deep study and intention of these communities to truly understand Biblical writings and use it with intentionality in their lives.  Both of these communities/cultures were important and vibrant and played a significant role in “theological brilliance” in their own time. [7]

It’s interesting to note that the theologian Philo (who Olson states happened “in the time of Christ”) [8] believed that Hebrew scriptures were “least important” and sought to discover “allegorical or spiritual meaning” to scripture instead. [9]  This belief was the influencing factor on the Alexandrian belief system.  Anabaptists also believed in Biblical interpretation – however they were more conservative and attempted to “view scripture through Jesus”.  Most likely, the Anabaptist belief system would align more closely with the Antiochs.  The Antioch’s professed a more literal and historical method of interpretation. [10]  Further similarities between Antiochs and Anabaptists include:  belief by both in the separation of church and state; fidelity to the scriptures; baptism as a choice; and influence in the Baptist denomination.  It is interesting to note that while both Anabaptists and Antiochs believed in the fidelity of scripture, they interpreted the concept of peace and persecution differently.  Anabaptists were pacifists and refused to engage in violent conflict.  Antiochs were willing to engage in conflict (and even lying, manipulative, sneaky behavior) [11] to ensure those in leadership followed their doctrine.  Antiochs did face persecution but were willing to retaliate with persecution.  Anabaptists were very different in their pacifist beliefs.  They did not persecute others, no matter the level of persecution that they were targeted with.

“It is easy to wish that the leaders of Christianity in late fourth and early fifth centuries had all taken deep breaths and stepped back from the brink of all-out theological warfare and simply allowed one another to explain the mystery of Jesus’ humanity and divinity in different ways.” [12]  I take this quote by Olson and apply it in a slightly different way to my life and values – I wish our people (in the United States) would take deep breaths and step back from all out hatred and condemnation and allow one another to explain their own faith (Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, etc.) in their own ways – listening and trying to understand each other.  Our humanness in judgement, anger, war, and self-righteousness has not served us well personally, or globally.  In that regard, Anabaptists had a deep, spiritual ability to view issues and people differently (peacefully, lovingly) – and I hold them in high regard for that reason.  My hope and dream is that we can view others – including and especially refugees – with openness, love, and concern for the lives they are leaving behind, and the future they are hoping for.  Let us be “salt and light in a world that desperately needs bright, articulate Christians.”[13]

[1]     Grenz, Stanley J. & Roger Olson. Who  Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996) loc.56

[2] Grenz and Olson, Who Needs Theology?

[3]     Olson, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity. 1999). pg.199

[4] Olson, Story of Christian Theology, pg.199

[5] Olson, Story of Christian Theology, pg.199

[6] http://www.iep.utm.edu/

[7] Olson, Story of Christian Theology

[8] Olson, Story of Christian Theology, pg.202

[9] Olson, Story of Christian Theology

[10] Olson, Story of Christian Theology, pg.203

[11] Olson, Story of Christian Theology

[12] Olson, Story of Christian Theology, pg.198

[13] Grenz & Olson, Who Needs Theology? Loc.42

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

4 responses to “I am a theologian!”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jean, this is thorough and thoughtful. You seem to be a bit of a reluctant theologian, or at least reluctant to call yourself a theologian. Yet your post shows some really great theological reflection. In your conclusion you say, “I wish our people (in the United States) would take deep breaths and step back from all out hatred and condemnation and allow one another to explain their own faith (Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, etc.) in their own ways – listening and trying to understand each other. Our humanness in judgement, anger, war, and self-righteousness has not served us well personally, or globally.” I hear you! But I also see the challenges and/or push-back that you might get–ie, “but aren’t we called to preach the Gospel and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ?” How would you encourage those who fear that “listening and understanding” the other is the same thing as “validating and accepting” false religions?

  2. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, very insightful. I have never really understood the church and state argument, because I never really found Christ making a big plug to unite the two. In fact, in Matthew 22:21 He is recorded as saying, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s.” However, it is funny when political people bring up church and state, thinking that they will get a rise out of me by pushing for the separation: I usually comment with a quick “Amen”. It all lends itself to the passion of the audience I suppose; but should it be? Does the nature of “preaching the gospel” and “theology” get the luxury of personal influence, or does it get solely limited to biblical authority?

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jean,

    Theology is deeply personal and has transcendent implications and therefore people throughout history have battled over these issues as though their lives depended on it. Many of the theological understandings that we accept today as orthodox were only accepted after years of heated discussion, political maneuvering, vitriol and animosity. Not sure whether or not that is by design or if that is a result of the human condition. Either way it is unlikely to subside this side of the return of Jesus. Accepting that as the case how would you suggest those who accept the Anabaptist perspective encourage others to consider a similar approach?

  4. Great post as always Jean. I love this…”I take this quote by Olson and apply it in a slightly different way to my life and values – I wish our people (in the United States) would take deep breaths and step back from all our hatred and condemnation and allow one another to explain their own faith” You have such a compassionate heart and it comes through in all of your posts. If we could actually let peoples faith and relationship with God truly be their own, I think more people would darken the door of a church. Wondering if you have seen your quote lived out around you.

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