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

The Great Theologian, Charlie Brown

Written by: on November 30, 2018

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.[1] 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.”[2] 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.”[3]

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. [4] 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.[5] 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!

[1] Stanley J.  Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 116.

 [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_necessariis_unitas,_in_dubiis_libertas,_in_omnibus_caritas

 [3] Richard Paul and Linda Elder, Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Kindle Loc. 253-273.

 [4] Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2014), 168.

[5]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.

About the Author

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Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

8 responses to “The Great Theologian, Charlie Brown”

  1. mm Mary Mims says:

    Thank you, Tammy, for your wisdom. It seems like we were on the same wavelength, with the dangers of folk theology. I wonder also why young people are rejecting the religious beliefs of their elders, if they weren’t taught proper theology or if they looked at the hypocrisy of the adults they knew. Either way, we should be alarmed. As you say, we all need to ask questions, like Charlie Brown, making sure we learn theology.

  2. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    I, too, appreciated their use of Charlie Brown! Having acted in this play now three times, I appreciate the deep wisdom of Charles M. Shultz and how he was uniquely engaging contemporary society in his weekly comic strips. I think he, along with Grenz and Olson, made lives biggest questions and theological predicaments relatable.

  3. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Tammy – this is excellent and I am again grateful for your example. I grew up in a similar context and it has been difficult to navigate how to respect our heritage while forging our own different path.
    I love your questions about young people and would be interested to hear any findings – was it a rejection of a solid, contextual Christian faith or that it was never truly offered in formative years? I have a guess and wonder if you do as well.
    We are a big Charlie Brown fan and their dvds have become part of our family’s traditions with holidays – we’ve already watched the Christmas one once. I loved how much Grenz and Olson used them!

  4. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Tammy, I appreciate your question regarding socialization versus value formation. In fact, we have been dealing with this in our home as we are navigating the teenage years of two boys wrestling to make their faith in Jesus their own. Recently, my oldest son said this after visiting a well-attended student conference in our area: “I don’t just want to have fun with ‘Christian kids,’ I want to learn how to be like Jesus. It’s hard, Mom!”

    Grenz and Olsen offer a path forward in that theology is accessible to and should be part of the spiritual formation of my sons. I join you in the desire to challenge young leaders to keep asking questions and provide space for the discovery of answers.

  5. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Tammy. Our post are very similar while also different and I found myself nodding as I read the entire time. I’m going to have to go back over Bourdieu’s theory as I’m focusing part of my research on millennials and it would be interesting to dive a little deeper and see how this applies to them.

    I think we may need to start giving new converts a Bible and this book!

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy,
    Great thoughtful and insightful post! I am so grateful how God has used The Foursquare Church and Portland Seminary to give you a home to experience Grenz and Olson’s trifecta (I love that word!) While I did not grow up in any church, your story and your passion for raising up the next generation of good theological pastors rings in my heart. I look forward with expectation to see how our triune God will use you and your research to fulfill this calling. Many blessings on you and The Foursquare Church, H

  7. mm Sean Dean says:

    Tammy, my current church serves in many ways as a triage unit for those suffering from church burns. I can’t even start to count the number of people who have told us that our church was literally the last church they would attend before giving up on God and the church all together. From my conversations with many of these people, most of whom are younger than I am, I’ve gathered a few trends. The most common of these trends is a church that is so focused on one way of seeing things that questions become threatening. Most of the people I’ve talked to questioned something and the church burned them. One of the beautiful things about theological study is that the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know. It allows the possibility of being wrong and makes questions beautiful. I have no numbers but I suspect the idea that questions are threatening is more often the cause of people leaving the church than any other factor.

  8. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    I am looking forward to following along with your research Tammy. I love conversations about what the “end result” of a confirmation process or a new member process should be like? What does a mature church goer need to know anyway . . . whether they are 17 or 71?

    Often these results are hard to chart because we (the church) sow these seeds of faith formation but do not always have the opportunity to directly see them germinate and blossom. People move, or find their calling in a different season, yet may forever be inspired by a moment or experience organized by the church. Blessings as you continue to research.

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