DMINLGP

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

Trialogue-ing

Written by: on November 29, 2018

In Who Needs Theology the authors make a strong case that everyone is already a theologian. The issue is not whether we are theologians but rather whether we are good theologians or poor ones. I think they are right.

Grenz and Olson offer a reliable model to constructing contextual theology with the use of the trialogue– the interplay between our understanding of Scripture, church history and our cultural context.[1]This is a Venn diagram of sorts that moves us toward improved theology and is more robust than just using one or two of these categories.

The trialogue provides structure in order to answer the important question raised – ‘What integrative motif brings coherence to my Christian beliefs?’[2]

This is a question I plan to answer with more certainty by the end of this LGP program. And I am using this model to assess where I currently stand with my own integrative motif. I still wrestle with the broadness of my research topic; it begins with the statement ‘God is not a user’. Perhaps I will find it better to state the positive affirmation of who God is. If God is not a user or exploiter of humans, then what or who is God? Why am I convinced of this truth? Is it good theology?

I will attempt to process where I am at with my personal research by using the trialogue and the questions it raises for me. The frame seems a bit wobbly now but I trust it will get sturdier in time.

Scripture

While Scripture accounts many stories of God using people to accomplish things for the Kingdom of God, as I look deeper and broader there is much more there than just humans achieving feats. Is God only interested in Israel for what they could produce and achieve for God? In the tumultuous account of ancient Israel it appears that God is more relational than that. Sure, He wants to partner with Israel to be a blessing to the world but is there a deeper desire? Do we see this deeper desire in the incarnation of Christ? And in His death and resurrection? What about the promised Holy Spirit and the Church?

Church Heritage

Throughout history we see men and women grapple with their theology and many have given us the gift of their recorded wrestling. My minor reading of contemplatives and mystics have helped to convince me that God is more lover than user. The little study I have done of the patristics have also added to this conviction. And upon studying a few of the great missionaries who achieved a great deal in their lifetime, I have found them to be deeply enmeshed with the love of God. How refreshing it has been for me to read so many through the centuries that seemed to operate from the paradigm that the chief end of man is glorify God and worship him forever.[3]

How has the Church perceived of and experienced God throughout the centuries? How have church fathers and mothers integrated loving God and doing for God? What does our wider, longer church heritage espouse on why God loves us and what He cares most deeply about? What about my more specific heritage of pentecostalism?

Culture Context

Hurried and noisy are apt descriptors for western culture. Our culture is worn out and hustling like never before. All of our time-saving devices and efficiencies have not delivered like we thought. And yet Dallas Willard asserts that hurry is our greatest enemy when it comes to spirituality. We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives and hearts if we are to follow God.[4]And if this is true, it is a great challenge to overcome and to speak to. Are we harried? And if so, why are we worn out and burned out? What are we trying to prove? Is life on earth more than a rat race?

And while in some ways this is clumsy for me, I see how the trialogue of Scripture, heritage and culture are shaping my theological conviction that God is not a user. And all this wrestling, studying and questioning pleases God according to Grenz and Olson.[5]How wonderful.

 

[1]Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God.Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996, 111-2.

[2]Ibid., 145.

[3]The Westminster Shorter Catechism. Philadelphia: Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1936.

[4]Ortberg, John. Soul Keeping. Blink, 2014.

[5]Grenz and Olson, Who Needs Theology? An Invitation to the Study of God, 47.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

12 responses to “Trialogue-ing”

  1. These are intriguing points you bring up Andrea. I’ve never thought of God being a user in a bad sense. I’m curious if you’d consider this a flaw in God’s character if he was a mere user? I mean it’s no secret that we are the clay and God is the potter (Isaiah 64, Rom. 9, etc.). That implies that we were created to be “used” for his purposes, wouldn’t it?

    For the sake of argument (civil conversation of course), let’s suppose that God is a user in the plain sense, would you allow for a positive sense of this? For example, if the president of Biola University (where I work) picked me to represent our institution at some function I’d be honored. In that sense I was “used” wasn’t I?

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Harry! I so appreciate your response and questions. I have been tempted the last couple of weeks of doing my usual writing, where I stay safe and comfortable. This was harder for me because I know I need to start wrestling with these things with people I trust and invite them to engage. It makes me feel vulnerable but I must do it. So thank you.

      I cut out so much of what I originally wrote, which included my personal story of growing up in a Pentecostal environment with little emphasis on being the beloved of God and great emphasis placed on begging God to use us. We spent many all night prayer meetings doing that. I was sure God was only interested in me for what He could get out of me. I saw God as a harsh taskmaster, difficult to please. I know not everyone has these issues but I have met enough ministerial leaders with which this resonates that I want to do this hard work in order to serve them in some way.

      I am in a process of figuring out my relationship with the word ‘use’ – I do think God wants to use us for His glory and I am guessing it’s not a word that will go away for me after this deep dive I’m taking. I mean it at this point as a dangerous exclusive identity for God. I think my ministry sickness early on in my 20s came from a poor, low, one-dimensional view of God.

      There is much work to do to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth and we, the Church, are His plan for that. I appreciate your point about the potter and clay – I would just add that it is not healthy to see ourselves as tools only. We are created in Christ for good works but this isn’t the only reason we were created. (Again, I am wrestling and know I’m not going to land sitting on the beach the rest of my life soaking in God’s love but something has been misaligned for me that I need to address.) Also, I like your idea of representative and am going to mull on it.

      And some of the language that has been helpful to me the last decade has been adding ‘with’ to my ‘for’ – what I mean is instead of laboring under the idea of we just work ‘for’ God, what if we see it as partnering and working ‘with’ God. May seem small and inconsequential but it wasn’t for me. That has been a game changer for me and made ministry more sustainable and enjoyable – less about proving and performing. Action and contemplation – knowing/being and doing – things I’ve had way out of whack for all of my formative years that I am working out their relationship with each other.

      Let’s keep dialoguing over our time together – I need it!

  2. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I love the deep dive you are taking on this subject not just here, but in your own research and soul. I have found that one of the areas of theology that profoundly shaped my view of God and serving what is asked of me is the Trinity. Understanding the community of love and mutual submission changed my perspective at its core. This happened through studying the historical shaping process of theological thought as well as how the mothers and fathers of the faith joined contemplation and action. “Water from a Deep Well” by Gerald Sittser is a great read.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Thank you for your encouragement, Tammy. I may have to add your book recommendation to my bibliography list!
      Grenz and Olson discussed the doctrine of the Trinity in the way you allude to as well – I am definitely intrigued by it. I am making a note of it and will study it further.

  3. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Andrea, thank you for your dive into this subject. Your research will be a gift to ministry leaders. Since I was also part of those all-night prayer meetings which inevitably included a round of “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me,” I understand feeling like more of a tool for God than a partner in mission. The church context of my youth caused me to fear the loss of a talent or skill, for I would be expendable to God.

    We do have to be careful as to not take a higher view of humanity than we should, we are but dust after all. However, it seems God has invited this dust into community with Him, and he sees value in us as His creation…enough value that he gave us gifts that can be used to accomplish his mission. I have come to realize that my fear was really more about how others would perceive me if God didn’t “use me” enough to meet their expectations. This skewed my perception of God’s unconditional love for me.

    Your post was especially intriguing after reading Nancy’s post about the “forgotten.” If we are only of value to God in our usefulness, what about those who seem to have lost the tools they were given in their youth? Are they no longer of value to God? Just a thought…

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Rhonda, perhaps you can partner with me on my dissertation? Ha. Your response is encouraging and helpful. And your point about the forgotten is well taken. It reminds me of Henri Nouwen leaving the Notre Dame/Harvard ranks and ending his ministry ‘career’ serving a mentally & physically challenged community in Canada. Was it a waste of talent? Or is the Kingdom of God more upside down than we realize at times? I believe God was glorified by his obedience and that God’s ways of ‘using’ or allocating Kingdom resources is sometimes different than how we would do it. Thank you, friend.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Andrea,
    Thanks for sharing your heartfelt wrestlings as you continue your research. I am so glad you found Grenz and Olson’s trialogue a helpful construct for your reflections. It amazes me how the method to the madness of this LGP program is helping each one of us to dive deeper and look broader beyond our initial frame of reference. Thanks so much for being part of our cohort and contributing your perspective to our shared journey. Blessings on you and yours, H

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Thank you for your encouragement, Pastor Harry. Dr. Clark encouraged me (and all of us) to use each source to write about my personal research. It’s been more difficult but so right.

  5. Mario Hood says:

    Love this post and your topic. I can already see how this will be a help to a lot of pastors/leaders as they tend to only live out of framework based on “calling by works” and not “calling by love”.

    At this moment in your research, I’m assuming that you haven’t defined the term user? But if you have is it dealing with an aspect lost of ultimate purpose? I’m thinking to Revelation and the “lost of 1st love”. Could it be that we slip into a framework of “used” because we misplace our love from God into work for God?

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Mario – YES! I love what you are saying and am grateful for your encouragement. For me, there was a paradigm shift from the ‘treasure’ being title/role/ministry position to the ‘treasure’ being God himself. What a glorious difference that has made and I experience ministry so differently when I keep God as the ultimate goal and treasure and not what I am doing for God. I think paying attention to first love is extremely important and not easy…appreciate you, Mario.

  6. mm Mary Mims says:

    Andrea, I love the Venn diagram showing how we should be in that sweet spot where Scripture, Church Heritage, and Culture meet. One thing I wondered though is this is all written from the perspective of the Western church. I do not think most think about how Christianity grew in other parts of the world. It would be interesting to see how this would work in other cultural contexts.

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Great point, Mary! It is interesting to think about the intersection of Bible, heritage and culture for non-westerners. Surely there would be some things that cross all cultures as well as some very unique, contextual outcomes from the trialogue for each culture.

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