Who Needs Theology? By Stanly J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson
“Taking faith into life means looking at the society in which we live through theological eyes.” (p. 127)
“We invite you to set out on a journey toward becoming a reflective lay Christian theologian anyway.” (p. 135)
“Perhaps the largest hurdle or greatest chasm between the merely knowledgeable lay Christian thinker and the truly reflective lay theologian is the ability to think about Christian truth critically and constructively.” (p. 145)
This is one of those books that if I had a lot of money I would buy a copy for all of my Christian friends who either don’t think that theology is important or don’t realize that theology is not just for the erudite or professionals. Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson have done a great job writing an accessible defense of theology for everyday Christians.
The authors begin by assuring us that all persons are theologians because theology is just “faith seeking understanding” (p. 24). Believers should want to be reflective Christians engaging in critical thinking. Christians should strive to be at least lay theologians, and as they mature serve as ministerial theologians in church, and some may be called to be professional theologians.
Different types of theology lay along a spectrum of reflection – “Folk Theologians” are not reflective. These are our brothers and sisters who repeat things like, “doctrine divides” or “only how I feel about Jesus matters”. These are babes in Christ. (Heb. 5:12,13)
The defense of theology in this book would help these friends to see that studying about God is not only appropriate, but necessary (p. 12,13).
Lay theologians have begun the reflective process and begin to study the Bible more. They start asking good questions. Ministerial theologians are somewhat trained and can lead others in the church. They have done a lot of reflective thinking. They are increasing in maturity (Heb. 5:14).
Professional theologians have the training to instruct others in theology. A seminary professor for example, guides students into deeper reflective practice and more advanced critical thinking skills.
At the other end of the spectrum are the academic theologians. They dwell in a little world of their own and reflect so deeply that they appear to be cut off from every day Christian living. The following is a typical example (selected from dozens of the same):
“The Influence of Qur’anic Frames of Reference on Trinitarian Discourse in Select Medieval Christian Arabic Texts” (To be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 15-17, 2016, San Antonio, Texas, by J. Scott Bridger.) I’m sure this will be very interesting to some people. Personally I would only get a copy of this nice man’s text to use as a soporific for insomnia.
After defining and defending theology and setting out the two main tasks of theologians (critical and constructive), Grenz and Olson explain to newly enthusiastic students how to go about becoming a competent lay theologian. This road map would be invaluable to a Christian who has decided to agree that they can know God better with some effort.
Just knowing more about God is not enough. The reflective practitioner will want to know how to relate what they are learning to life.
Most of us asked the question, “Where is God in all of this?” after reading Anthony Elliott’s book on Contemporary Social Theory. Where indeed?
In my lifetime I have seen two parallel social trends intensifying over the years. People are getting ever more selfish, me-first, and individualistic. At the same time Christians are pulling back out of the public square. They have little influence left. At our church, most admitted that they are afraid to witness about Jesus out loud in public places. There are lots of reasons, but I believe one reason may be that Christians haven’t studied the Bible and theology as much as they should have. Maybe they are not “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks (them) to give an account for the hope that is in (them)” (I Pet. 3:15). Maybe they don’t understand that the question is not “Are you a theologian?” but “What kind of theologian are you?”
As practicing lay theologians we should have ready answers to the problems of the world. We should be looking at our society with theological eyes, ready to listen to our culture, use critical thinking to analyze what is happening, and respond with love and a desire to serve, even sacrificially as Christ did, for others. (pgs. 127-129)
Lastly, Grenz and Olson invite Christians to strive for a high level of reflective thinking – a synoptic vision of the biblical message, the theological heritage of the church and contemporary culture. (p. 147) This won’t be accomplished quickly by the budding theologian, but it is a target to aim for. Love for God and a new understanding of how we can serve Christ better should be all the motivation one needs.