Over twenty years have passed since the publishing of Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God, and this book has an even more poignant message for today’s culture. Grenz and Olson wrote out of concern regarding the ambivalence and even, animosity toward theology not only in society, but also in the church. Nothing has illuminated how pervasive this type of thinking is in our current culture like social media. Grenz and Olson turned their scholarship and passion into a readable book for all Christians. They model the integration of the academic and practical theology for life application.
It seemed somewhat ironic that the illustrations used over and again were the theologizing of the Peanuts characters while also decrying the dangers of folk theology. Having grown up with quintessential folk theology and always feeling like an outcast because I questioned most everything, I deeply appreciated this work and have a newfound empathy for Charlie Brown with his deep questions of life. The church of my childhood held a literal translation, non-contextualized view of scripture, never spoke of church history other than Acts 2 and the last 100 years, and held a separatist view regarding culture. Questions and protests were viewed as suspect and I quickly learned that I would need to search for answers on my own. I longed for a group to belong to that would hold firmly to scripture and theology in one hand and life in the Spirit in the other for the purpose of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of the world. I wanted a community that would live in balance and, at times, in tension, and would make space to explore beliefs and value learning and growth. I longed for pedagogy aligned to what Grenz and Olson describe as the trifecta of theologizing: Scripture, heritage and culture. I am grateful for The Foursquare Church and Portland Seminary!
As I engage my research regarding denominational reform in the 21st Century the authors’ recommended process for the discovery of identity and beliefs is invaluable. As a 100-year-old denomination, though young comparatively, it is essential that we evaluate what are the essentials and non-essentials as they are a core piece of identity. This is the spirit of our founder who often used the quote, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” Over time, confirming what is situated in each of the categories of dogma, doctrine and opinion, and how that narrative is passed down to emerging generations, becomes critical. Without that consideration, drift happens. Some pull to one side from a fear perspective as they see progression as a slippery slope. Others drift to the other side because culture begins influencing more than sound theology contextualized for a new generation. Both are the result of sociocentric thinking and reflect what Paul and Elder describe as being “culture bound” and “the hallmark of an uncritical society.”
One of the most important aspects of a generational renewal of identity and practice is how beliefs and values are passed from one to another. In Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, Elliot describes Bourdieu’s theory on the effects of habitus, field, and practice in the shaping of children.  Considering the rise of the “nones” in regard to religious beliefs among young adults today, it would be an interesting study to research if there is any direct correlation between their current beliefs and whether they received scriptural training with practical application as children and youth in a methodology as Bourdieu described. Were they “socialized” into a specific tribe and later rejected it, or was there a failure to teach them so beliefs could be formed in them? This would be a particularly interesting question to pose to those who have moved from Christian to “none.”
As I consider the future of our particular denomination and survey the landscape of the emerging generations Grenz and Olson’s work will be at the forefront of my conversations with young leaders. How are they intentionally creating habits of learning and practice? What setting is most effective and are they including scripture, heritage and culture in their methodology? Theology is for us all and has such significant bearing on our praxis in every day matters from generation to generation. May our children learn from Charlie Brown that it is important to question, to be curious, and to search for understanding. Everyone needs theology!
Benjamin Wormald, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project (September 07, 2017): http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape.