It would be foolish to deny the need for a well-established theology lest the faithful prove themselves to be nothing more than “….children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14 NRSV) While few may claim the title of ‘Theologian’ for themselves, the text ‘Who Needs Theology’ by Stanley Grenz reminds readers that “No one who reflects on life’s ultimate questions can escape theology. And anyone who reflects on life’s ultimate questions-including questions about God and our relationship with God-is a theologian.” And while theological thought has been integral to the Jewish and Christian faiths from their inception, it must be acknowledged that much of what is considered theology in the contemporary context stems from the age of Enlightenment.
The scientific method, developed during the Enlightenment, did much to quantify the thinking of humanity, even in regard to ethereal disciplines like philosophy and theology. However, this penchant for what can be quantified had significant consequences for the Church, particularly in terms of what was required for full acceptance into the community of faith. “A number of thinkers have argued that the church in the West, in both its evangelical and liberal forms, tied its coat tails to, and was basically shaped by, the values of the enlightenment.” The effect of this has largely been that “…the gospel was reduced to a matter of individual belief and conversion a matter of a rational choice. It was buying into the beliefs of Christianity, clearly and logically presented.” The idea continues to be that if someone is convinced through reason that the Christian faith is valid they will pursue a connection to a community that affirms the newly accepted beliefs, as a result the Church will grow. We call this ‘conversion’, the process by which someone changes the course of their lives through “the hearing and believing of the Gospel.”
Where has this left the Church in the West? The number of those connected to faith communities continues to decline and even those churches that retain or attract new members seem to do so mostly by transfer rather than through new faith commitment. This in effect is a form of consolidation, a gathering together of like-minded people into fewer but larger clusters. Grenz astutely points out that pursuing rigorous theology is not merely for academic, intellectual, or even apologetic purposes. “…the final goal of theology lies deeper than intellectual commitments, as important as they are. Our task is more than merely developing a Christian belief system.” For many who have left the Church there has been a disconnect between what happens on Sunday morning and the challenges faced in life during the remainder of the week. Practical and meaningful theology needs to be something “that brings Sunday morning into our Monday world.”
I happened to be on sabbatical in the US in the Fall of 2001, about 90 minutes West of NYC. I well remember the flood of people to churches across the country the weeks immediately after 9/11. The services were packed. Additional morning and evening services were held to accommodate the influx of people. The people came for comfort, hope, out of fear and worry. They came with the expectation that the Church was a community that may have answers to the questions that had surfaced for them following the terrorist attack. Yet, within only a few short weeks attendance was back to ‘normal’. All but a handful of those who had turned to the Church during that crisis had returned to their lives as they were prior, without any consistent connection to a worshiping community. That event has haunted me since that time. It is as though they found no transcendent answers to the difficult questions being asked and they moved on. The ‘answers’ that were presented from pulpits across the nation, representing the theological and denominational spectrum, were insufficient to capture a willing and hungry audience. More than 15 years on I wonder whether if a similar national crisis were to occur today if many would even turn to the Church.
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge where the complete reliance on Enlightenment thinking in our theologizing has led us. “Scottish theologian John Drane suggests that churches are “the last modernist, Victorian bureaucracies that are left.” If we genuinely believe that Jesus is the answer then maybe our theologies should reflect this more clearly. Sound theology is integral to the life of the Church but it must be meaningful and relevant to those outside academia, living in the hardscrabble that is life for many. The vast majority of those who walk this earth are pragmatists, living one day at a time with little thought for the bigger questions of life. Meaningful theology needs to reflect that in order to help average people connect their everyday existence with the transcendent reality of a God who has given them breath. “Good theology, therefore, brings the theoretical, academic, intellectual aspect of Christian faith into Christian living. In so doing, theology becomes immensely practical-perhaps the most practical endeavor one ever engages in!”
If our desire is to genuinely share the Good News with those who have yet to hear, then what we share needs to be more than Good Information in an effort to convince people of some universal truth. That emphasis reflects the vestiges of The Enlightenment that no longer connect meaningfully to our present context. But, if our theology demonstrates the incarnate reality of Jesus, engaged in the everyday, practical components of life there are multitudes who desire to meet him. The Jesus they desire to know will enter their reality and transform them from the inside out. This will happen not because they have committed themselves to accepting the ‘right’ information but because they have understood His presence in their lives as the transcendent reality that cuts through to the core of existence.
 Stanley J. Grenz; Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Locations 56-57). Kindle Edition.
 Ward, Kevin. “Christendom, Clericalism, Church and Context.” Presbyterian.org.nzt. Accessed September 25, 2017. p. 7
 Ibid p. 8
 Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Location 381). Kindle Edition.
 Ibid (Kindle Locations 1277-1278).
 Ibid (Kindle Location 1284).
 Ward, Kevin. “Christendom, Clericalism, Church and Context.” Presbyterian.org.nzt. Accessed September 25, 2017. p. 8
 Stanley J. Grenz;Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Kindle Locations 375-376). Kindle Edition.
 The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus. Dir. Stanislav Sokolov and Derek Hayes. Perf. Ralph Fiennes. William Hurt. FFILMIAU S4C FILMS, 1999. Web. 29 Nov. 2017.