DMINLGP

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

Reflecting on why we need theology

Written by: on November 30, 2017

Everyone is a theologian. I have heard this before and believe it insofar as people think about God they are theologians. But I don’t think everyone wants to be a theologian. With all that is happening in our world today (North Korean nuclear progression, the endless outing of male sexual misconduct and the potential removal of the Johnson Amendment to name a few of so many current threats to life and the church in the US alone) many people seem to bury their head in the metaphorical sand of work, family and day to day routines. This does not negate the need for people to think theologically. In actuality, the urgency for all people, not simply ministerial or professional theologians, to think critically and theologically is essential. The reality is our theology determines how we live. As distant as we would like to make conversations about God with regard to topics such as the recent #metoo movement, they are not separate at all. What and how we know of God determines how we interact with the women and men around us. It may seem like a jump but as Grenz and Olson note in their text, Who Needs Theology, “our goal is to articulate our fundamental beliefs about God and the world for the sake of living as Christians in our contemporary context”.[1]

In a land of introductions, Grenz and Olson’s book is an introduction to the who, what, why, and how of theology. Though no critical reviews and no similar books to Who Needs Theology are easily found, much has been written on the introduction of theological topics throughout the Bible and beyond. This text is written specifically to the reader about how to understand and approach theology. The authors offer a gentle encouragement with a strong case for why people should engage in matters of theology along with a specific set of practices including utilizing the Bible, theological heritage and contemporary cultural context.

As I read Grenz and Olson’s text I began to think of questions I would need to ask myself or anyone considering theological reflection, such as ‘Where is the ultimate authority for my theology: the Bible, my presuppositions, elsewhere?’ ‘Am I willing to let my mind be changed by what I learn about God?’ ‘If I do come to a new perspective about God, how might this affect my worldview?’ ‘Will I be honest with myself on whether or not I am willing to change my actions based on new belief?’ These questions are important as they determine if I will actually do theology, “faith seeking understanding” at a level beyond a folk or lay level as the authors propose.[2]

One limitation of Who Needs Theology was within the section on “The Theologian’s Tools”. The Bible is stated as the primary tool and authority. This is of key importance although there is no explanation of or clue within the section to the author’s perspectives on the inerrancy or infallibility of the text. This may be intentional as an introduction to the authority of Scripture but my hunch, from the background of both authors as conservative evangelicals is that the deliberateness relates more to their own theological position. Although both views believe the Bible to be authoritative, inerrancy or the lack of any human error will lend toward a more literal reading of Scripture while infallibility purports the ‘Bible will not fail in its ultimate purpose of revealing God and the way of salvation to humans.’[3]
These two theological terms inform the very reading of the primary theological text at hand informing the reader about the God in whom they believe. It would be helpful for the authors to have at least created a footnote, endnote or appendix with information for theologians to engage in study of these and other important terms related to Scriptural authority.

As this post is more of a reflection on Grenz and Olson’s book, I write with the mind and heart of a pastor who is focused on helping Christians, and indeed non-Christians as well, to think more deeply and critically about who God is and the implications of God’s reality in our lives. Too often, I hear statements from well meaning Christians that belie the theology they affirm. My hope is that I might do in many ways what Grenz and Olson have done in encouraging a thoughtful and growing Christian reflection through preaching and mentoring those in my congregation and leadership scope. Studying theology, or at least engaging in thinking theologically, matures us as Christ followers so we might love God with our whole selves. As we are transformed by the theological renewing of our minds we will not be blown around by every wind of opinion or doctrine the world has to offer and thus will be able to, as the Apostle Paul’s says, “discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[4]

As I research discipleship and its implications for the future of the church, theology under-girds the belief and action of every disciple, including how their character is shaped, the principles they live by and the people they influence. In analyzing each of these aspects of discipleship, I will be focusing even more keenly on the theology at play, as it will determine the final outcomes in the life of a disciple.

 

[1] Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God. InterVarsity Press:Downers Grove, 1996. 98.

[2] Grenz, 24.

[3] Grenz, Stanley J.; Guretzki, David; Nordling, Cherith Fee. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2012. 66.

[4] Ephesians 4:14 and Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

12 responses to “Reflecting on why we need theology”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Trisha,

    I like your assessment of the current state of the church when you said, “Many people seem to bury their head in the metaphorical sand.” This saying comes from the animal myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to hide from approaching danger. While they do put their heads in the ground, it is to dig holes to use as nets for their eggs. While living on Botswana I saw them put their heads in the ground to check on and turn their eggs. Nevertheless, the analogy fits the contemporary state of the church because many Christians and pastoral leaders do not want to acknowledge or address the danger and spiritual warfare that is harassing and distressing the body of Christ.

    I enjoyed the book, and it helped confirm and expand my lived theology vocabulary and voice. The authors also inspired me and gave me confidence that the armor of God challenge coin ministry is itself a theology. Finally, thank you for expressing the “urgency” to think critically and theologically.

    I think a bigger risk to putting one’s head in the sand is looking in the direction of the threat, but not seeing the danger because our eyes are scaled over from the effects of globalization, rationalization, subjectivism, and a cultural loss of morality.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mike, Thanks for your insight on the ostrich. I did not relate the metaphor to them but like the origin. I agree with you that the risk of looking at a threat but not seeing the danger of it can be just as harmful. Either way, one will be unable to protect or defend themselves from harm. The desensitization seems to be a growing issue in our global culture. All the more reason why we need to look to Scripture and do our homework toward growing our perspective on our theology and how we interface with the world.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish,

    As I was contemplating our book this week, I wondered if this study would tie in closely to your topic of discipleship. Then I read your blog, and indeed you connected the two. Well done! I wonder if you will be using some of this study for your Bibliography?

    I look forward to seeing how your research develops. Discipleship to me is key!

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Jay. I will use some of the basics of our book for my bibliography. I think it’s a great foundational piece.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great job Trish,

    I too am concerned with how can I elevate the theological level of the people I lead. As Jake said in his post, “demystifying” helps a lot. I think showing them the immediate benefit and application of good theology helps too.

  4. Hi Trisha,

    Like Jay, I was wondering how this book would impact your theology of discipleship. And then, as a woman, I wonder if you would bring a different perspective to this theology than a man. (I think you would, and I’m sure we would be richer for it!)

    Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We heard a reading this morning about Mary waiting, expecting, and in limbo. I think many women are more patient and have learned how to wait better than many men. And it strikes me that discipleship, like expecting a baby, is also a process of waiting, of growing in secret. Discipleship (as defined usually by men) is often framed as a 1-2-3 step, sequential process. But I’m wondering if a feminist theology of discipleship would embrace a more nurturing and holistic approach? I’d love to know what you think about this.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mark, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think the three pillars Grenz and Olson offer are pretty solid toward being shaped theologically as disciples.

      I have been working with Diane to tease out my definition of discipleship. The reality is I am writing on it to get to the concept of leadership development and how we shape the next generations of leaders. I think it is all based in disciple-making and much of the work I have found (yes, authored by men) has been historically systematic and not attached to the whole of a person. However, spiritual formation is now being equated with discipleship in many forums and has many women leaders who are part of the conversation. I think this may be because they are not often in formal roles in a church.

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha, I enjoyed your post. Though I challenged the word “theology” in my own post, it did not at all mean that I did not also appreciate the fact that this book served as a great challenge to Christians to be more than sheep. I feel there are too many people that blindly follow these days, rather search the scriptures and pray for the Holy Spirit to show them something beautiful. There is this joy that comes from studying that so many people are missing out on simply because they believe they can trust in their preacher. Though I hope that they truly can trust in their preacher, I also hope that they will still study to show themselves approved. That very instruction from Paul also included an encouragement that we would not be ashamed…how do we have confidence in our own salvation if we have not actively sought it out for ourselves?

    One other image example I have always enjoyed is that we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” I feel we have an obligation to always seek growth. Sadly, I feel most parishioners these days just hide behind their favorite giant and hope that will suffice.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Shawn, I too have quoted the ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ phrase. I believe we all have a rich history to draw from if we would only take notice. Yet at the same time that does not render us complete. We have our own work to do to extend their work, whether as a pastor or as a layperson. We are all called to extend the Kingdom, regardless of our vocation.

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thank you, Trish,
    I see you here, continuing to bring our readings around to your research and interest area– Christian formation and discipleship. It seems like there’s always this tension for how much “theology” people need to know as they grow… how much of that is implicit and just happens through being part of the body, and how much needs to be made explicit, and really lined out and taught. I’ll look forward to reading more of your material ahead.

  7. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    You write “I write with the mind and heart of a pastor who is focused on helping Christians, and indeed non-Christians as well, to think more deeply and critically about who God is and the implications of God’s reality in our lives.” I appreciate this stance and believe it should be the goal of all who are called into ministry, not just pastors but teachers, music leaders, etc. I love your heart in this matter. Where do you find push back on this subject in your ministry? I find myself at odds most the time with those who are more seasoned in their walk with God, they feel they are good enough where they stand.
    Jason

  8. I love your heart Trisha! You definitely have a pastors heart and it comes through in your writing. I know your focus on discipleship makes your interest in how people understand the study of God pretty foundational. I think if more people were comfortable asking deeper questions about God, thus being a theologian, it could influence them to become the disciples God wants us to be. I also agree that our approach to the Bible and how we treat and study it is something that should not be overlooked. I’m curious how this book, if at all, will influence your study on discipleship.

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