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

Our Personal Study of God

Written by: on November 29, 2017

Jesus & the Samaritan Woman

Grenz and Olson’s book, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God, was an interesting read. I like the fact that they are attempting to demystify this concept of theology and help the average Christian realize that they are more of a theologian than they realize. The authors say they “want to close the gap by showing that everyone-especially every Christian-is a theologian and that every professional theologian is simply a Christian whose vocation is to do what all Christians do in some way: think and teach about God.”[1] Most Christians do not think of themselves as theologians, but I would have to agree with the authors in that many people engage in the activity of thinking and asking questions about God and the meaning of life. This strikes a chord with the work I do every day with clients in my counseling office. Many of them end up in my office because they have a broken relationship with either God, themselves or others (I will expand on this later).

 

The following statement by the authors describes this process of my clients practicing theology beautifully: “So you-like everyone else-need theology, because, insofar as you are a thinking person who at least occasionally reflects on life’s ultimate questions and a Christian who seeks to understand and apply God’s Word, you are doing theology. Theology is not, as many wrongly suppose, a kind of esoteric knowledge possessed by a few superior intellectuals. It is simply faith seeking understanding. And insofar as ordinary Christians seek answers to questions that naturally arise out of faith, they are already doing Christian theology.”[2] It is an amazing experience to have a front row seat while people seek out the answers to life’s toughest questions and understanding to their confusion. If I told them the authors of this book consider them to be theologians by this practice, they may hesitate to engage in it. This is often because people have a negative view of theology and theologians. Like the authors state, “we hope that once you see that you are a theologian, you will resist messages from even pious Christians who try to tell you that theology is something bad or just a “head trip” or a threat to true faith. It does not have to be, and at its best it never is.”[3]

 

Often women in churches are thrust into the position of a theologian in order to defend their right to lead alongside men and define what God really says on the subject. They end up questioning their purpose in the church and society and get confused about their relationship with God. Women also turn to studying more about the nature of God to gain an understanding of how they fit in with the family of God. Because they are often marginalized in the church, female leaders end up questioning the church’s theology and their own theology in order to find a place to serve that fits their giftedness and fits their understanding of scripture. As Lay Theologians, they often feel ill-equipped to take on the commonly controversial, misunderstood passages of the bible on this subject with most Ministerial Theologians.[4] Pastors often rely more on tradition than on sound theological study of scripture to arrive at their position on women in church leadership. I have talked with countless women whose faith has been rocked to the core as a result of hurtful conversations with pastors or church leaders who have told them they do not have a place at the leadership table. This causes them to question why they are Christians and why they attend church at all, which ironically, are questions of the theologian.

 

I often take clients through the process of evaluating their three primary relationships with God, themselves, and others because it becomes crucial to their healing. My wife and I like to refer to this process as taking life to the third power (Life3), referring to these three primary relationships. This regularly becomes an intense process of people asking themselves the tough questions of: Who am I?; Do I love myself?; Who is God?; Does God love me?; Who is important to me?; Do the people in my life care about me? I often see clients struggle to receive God’s unconditional love if they don’t love them self, and as a result, struggle to love their “neighbor”. I often tell them they can’t give what they don’t have, and they can’t receive what they don’t think they deserve. This personal theology process is similar to the authors’ definition when they state, “In the broad sense theology is the attempt to reach below the surface of life and gain a deeper understanding of God. Theology seeks to understand God’s being, God’s nature and God’s relationship to the world. It answers questions such as: What is God like? How does God treat us? What does God do?”[5] These questions are healthy and I see people every week benefiting from the wrestling of these questions in their own lives. I look forward to affirming them as real live theologians J!

 

In researching various reviews of the book, I came across the following statement that I thought was worth including:

“Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the work, though, comes from the categories the authors erect to distinguish between, what otherwise could be termed, vocational theology and non-vocational theology. By their assertions, Grenz and Olson further the division between laity and clergy, between academy and marketplace. The authors’ assertions involved in defining ministerial theology, in the way that they have, would deny laity any meaningful study of theology. Not only is the division between laity and clergy exacerbated by the work, but also on the other end between clergy and the academy, the false division between applied theology and all other supporting forms of theology.”[6]

The author of this response has a valid point in that lay people can be made to feel like their study of scripture and theology cannot be meaningful. It also could create a further chasm between the professional minister and the lay minister, which I believe has often paralyzed the progress of the church at large. Overall, I enjoyed the book and the concept of everyone being a theologian resonated with me and helped to demystify the term.

____________________________________

            [1] Stanley J. Grenz; Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Locations 63-64).

            [2] Ibid., 175-177.

            [3] Ibid., 151-153.

            [4] Ibid., 235-248.

            [5] Ibid., 318-320.

            [6] Travis Matt-Bond Epstein Reems, Response to Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. 2015. http://www.academia.edu/23736740/RESPONSE_TO_WHO_NEEDS_THEOLOGY_BY_GRENZ_AND_OLSEN

About the Author

mm

Jake Dean-Hill

Currently a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice. Ordained minister with 10 years of prior full-time church ministry experience and currently volunteering with a local church plant. Also working with companies as a Corporate Leadership Coach.

11 responses to “Our Personal Study of God”

  1. Greg says:

    Jake – Great observation that those that are seeking purpose or answers tend to be ones that have broken relationships. I can see that in many of those I have had deep conversations with. Like your Life3 concepts. (I see a future book title in that). Great journey through how you work in the lives of hurting people. I also appreciated you speaking to woman that feel challenged and often question their call in ministry. This resonates with me as several foreign team members are single woman. One was telling me today that she attended a small foreign house group for worship up until a month ago. She said many times the leader would say, “would the head of the household introduce your family.” As a single woman (about to be ordained) she was skipped over and not introduced and no one noticed.
    Jake, I don’t want to be critical because you have a good blog but it seemed as though the book review section was added on at a later time. Maybe a sentence to bridge the gap would have been helpful. Thanks for keeping us focused on those that need to be seen and are often overlooked.

  2. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great point Jake. I had not thought of the desperate need for strong egalitarian theology. When women are told or don’t realize that they have an equal seat at the table, it maims the body of Christ. Theologically I see egalitarianism all they back to the garden of Eden.

    Since your work is focused around influences pastor and churches to be more truly egalitarian, do you feel you need to have a theology that is a level above them, for them to be able to hear you out?

    • I agree, it goes back to when God said “THEY will have dominion over the created order.” Yes I think theology of women in leadership becomes a huge sticking point for many pastors and them hearing it from someone having a higher level of theology might help give some credibility.

  3. Hey Jake.

    Your post today somehow made me think of a book that might benefit you in developing a theology of egalitarianism:

    Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedagogy_of_the_Oppressed

    How can we work shoulder to shoulder unless the oppressed are liberated? Your advocacy for women to work alongside men in leadership is rooted in a theology of egalitarianism that finds all voices need to be heard and valued, as all are made in the image of God.

  4. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jake,
    Of course I love this post! I’m going to use your “taking life to the third power” with my clients. Great stuff! Thank you for continuing to put this important and relevant topic in front of us. When women have been systemically oppressed for so long, people are not even aware…and as you apply it to each book, people are going to start seeing it. Curious how you are feeling about/perceiving the sexual harassment fallout?

    • What is happening in the news is just more evidence that we need to look at men and women in the workplace differently and foster a more equal and respectful environment. Thanks for your support.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jake,

    I thought your assessment regarding women being forced into the role of theologian in order to defend their right to participate fully in the life of the church was interesting. I had never considered this point, probably because I have never experienced it myself. I wonder if you think being forced into a kind of theology of defense fosters any hidden traits that may be deemed unorthodox or if the fact that they are developing their theology from a position of weakness is more reflective of the Gospel since that is more like the experience of Jesus.

  6. I think that is a good point, a defensive theological position is exactly what Jesus had to take. Thanks for your thoughtful perspective.

  7. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jake, I remember you noting, “Often women in churches are thrust into the position of a theologian in order to defend their right to lead alongside men and define what God really says on the subject” as part of our discussion on Monday and was glad to read more in your post. I recently did a literature review on women thriving in ministry. Those women would primarily fit into Grenz and Olson’s category of ‘ministerial theologian’. What I found in my research was that women don’t often thrive. They either recount hardships or spend most of their time proving their worthiness of their role. Your point was exactly mine when I presented on the literature I read. Even though the women I studied were educated theologians in their field, they often spent more time being theologians than being and doing the work of ministers. So much energy has been spent on defending which takes women away from the needed gifts they have to offer the Kingdom. I am glad you are doing work on this. If you want any of my sources to back your work let me know. Also, the dissertation I gave you was part of my research.

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