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

What Kind of Theologian Are You?

Written by: on October 15, 2015

What kind of theologian are you?

Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson

The key theme of the book is that every thinking person is a theologian because universally all thinking people are reflecting on and asking the same ultimate questions about life. Is there a God? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Is there an afterlife? This is not a novel concept; many books on theology approach it from this perspective. However, this book makes it clear that everyone is not on the same level as a theologian. In fact, five different levels of theologians are identified. This book incorporates some of the themes of previous readings on theoretical matters or subjects from other disciplines. Some of the same terms appear here: engagement, culture, contextual, global/universal, reflective/critical thinking.
The book initially provides a basic etymological definition of theology. The thesis of the book can easily be summarized by one of the later definitions of Christian theology. “Christian theology is reflecting on and articulating the God-centered life and beliefs that Christians share as followers of Jesus Christ , and it is done that God might be glorified in all that Christians are and do.” 1. In striving to be a “good theologian” the Christian operates from the high standards and framework of Christianity. The critical task of theology is to research beliefs about God to see if they cohere with the witness of the Bible. The constructive task of theology seeks to unify biblical doctrines about God in a way that they have meaning for the contemporary culture. The authors present their line of reasoning without any special proofs outside of their biblical interpretations.
This book more than any other I have encountered on the topic of theology has presented more comprehensive and broader contours of theology than I could ever have imagined. The section of the book that really captured my attention is chapter six, “The Theologian’s Tools” because of the immediate application it offers all Christians in their theologizing endeavors. It brings a new perspective to my thinking in the DMIN program; I sense a greater demand on and higher standard of my performance if I am going to make a significant difference in the world.
In doing Christian theology, the authors list three essential tools that provide the resources for theological construction and that establish theological norms. The biblical message of Scripture is the primary tool as the foundational book of Christianity regarding God’s revelation. The theological heritage of the church is the secondary tool and produces continuity in the orthodoxy of Christian theology throughout the generations. When reading this, I couldn’t help thinking what theological legacy will this contemporary generation leave for succeeding generations? With the final tool, the thought-forms of contemporary culture, Christian theology is biblical, Christian, and relevant in the contemporary context. The authors make a bold statement about interaction with the culture that at first glance seems counterproductive and risky until one hears their whole argument. They state, “In our theologizing, therefore, we borrow the ‘language’ of contemporary culture. We take seriously the way people today think. We draw from the cognitive tools of today’s world so that we may express Christian beliefs in an understandable—that is, relevant manner.” 2.
1. Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson, Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 69.
2. Ibid., 99.


Grenz, Stanley, and Roger Olson. Who Needs Theology: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press,1996.

About the Author

Claire Appiah

11 responses to “What Kind of Theologian Are You?”

  1. Claire ,
    Good post. Hope you are well. You brought up an interesting question: I couldn’t help thinking what theological legacy will this contemporary generation leave for succeeding generations?

    What is the legacy that we are leaving? How do we course correct in churches? What would be our priority to make theology important to people again?

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Briefly, implicitly or explicitly I believe that the legacy we are leaving is that God is not the Supreme Being of all creation, His commandments are not absolute and binding on all humans universally, and that there are no eternal consequences. From the contemporary humanistic, pluralistic and hedonistic worldview, humankind has made itself a god.
      I am not sure this is answering your question, but Grenz and Olson emphasize that the theology we construct must be biblical, Christian and relevant. According to them, “a relevant theology speaks to the problems, longings and ethos of contemporary culture . . . and seeks to respond to the perceived needs and questions posed by people around us” (100). It appears that this strategy at least has the potential to make theology important to people again.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Great blog Claire, I always enjoy reading your blogs, which are filled with so many interesting facts! Your question, ‘“What theological legacy will this contemporary generation leave for succeeding generations?” A Great question, I don’t have the answer but it seem like they are leaning toward a “Theology of Liberation”. The millennial generation is deeply shaped by social media; they have also grown up knowing both the promise and perils of an increasingly globalized and interdependent world. They must not only leverage technology ,but to stay connected and create social change, and unplugging from technology to be fully present to the world without the filter of technology.

    This book may hold some answers,“ David Burstein writes about in his important new book Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, the rest of us, even recent high school graduates, are “digital immigrants” (56-57). But Generation Z will never know a print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica — only Wikipedia (86). And Gen Z will also never know a world in which only white men can be President.” It may be interesting reading. Thanks, you are one of the best. Rose

    • Claire Appiah says:

      I am afraid you are correct that the millennial generation is seeking a “Theology of Liberation” in general and liberation from the commandments and mandates of God in particular. Thanks for your great post and the information on Burstein. You are so well read and so knowledgeable about so many things.

  3. Love your summary and analysis of the book.
    I am wondering, looking back at your long career as a probation officer in Los Angeles (Go Dodgers!), how has your theology been helpful to, and influenced by, your vocation culture?

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    That’s a good question. Paradoxically, when I was a non-Christian operating from a theology that was neither theocentric nor Christocentric, I thought people were basically good, and that there were just a few bad apples that society needed to be protected from. I guess this line of thinking was helpful to my probationers because I made an effort to see the good in everyone and was a strong advocate for the individuals who exhibited a desire to be law abiding and to comply with the orders of the court.
    Christianity taught me that all persons were created in the image of God, which meant that everyone had supreme value in the sight of God and was worthy of respect. I also learned that all humans were born with a sin nature and were basically evil. Even though I have always tried to be objective in my assessments throughout my career, these two theological concepts were often in tension during decision making processes. I often chose to err on the side of caution that people were sinful.

  5. Aaron Cole says:


    Great Blog! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject of theology, well stated! When looking at contemporary culture do discern theology what is one or two major observations in the world in which we live?


    • Claire Appiah says:

      You ask, when looking at contemporary culture do I discern theology? What are some major observations of the world in which we live? I may not be in tune with the contemporary culture to the extent that many others are and may not be the best person to answer this question. But, I will just reiterate what Grenz and Olson conclude that universally, every thinking person is a theologian; because “theology is any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God” (13).
      So, the contemporary culture is theologizing, but what conclusions are they drawing from this ongoing reflective process? What meanings, purposes and understandings has this type of reflection generated concerning who God is and the proper relationship one should have with Him? When I look at contemporary culture, the overarching theology I discern is that there is no fear of God. God does not punish disobedience and there are no eternal consequences for sin. God is not generally loved or exalted and there is little or no accountability toward Him or acknowledgment of Him. That is, the God of the Bible is portrayed as being antiquated and out of date. The result is a contemporary culture that is self centered, hedonistic, materialistic, egotistical, carnal and violent. The tacit question being asked by many in the world today is who needs God? Evidence of this is in the proliferation of the contemporary sin culture around the globe.

  6. Claire,

    Thank you for you perspective on this book. I came away with a much different perspective but as I have read your words, I think I missed some really great morsels of content. The three things that you pointed out are really valuable and worth thinking about on a deeper level.

    What kind of legacy will this generation leave behind? What a powerful question. How you framed it makes me really think about what I do. I am the teacher for this next generation by being in the position I am in. Will I teach students about the traditions of my denomination or will I invest into them the principles of loving God, loving people and being Christlike. The cry of this generation is to be authentic and I believe what they will attempt to pass on to the following generation is what is real. None of the pointless stuff but what really matters the most. How we love God. (not the church and it’s traditions) And how what we do makes a difference. I have faith that this last question is what is going to shape the next generation. This current generation is looking for real thing. Authentic and fulfilling enough to die for it. That is the generation that is here now.
    God help us to lead them to a fully devoted relationship with God. Not just theology so there is a head knowledge but a heart knowledge!

    Thanks for sharing.


  7. Claire Appiah says:

    I love your enthusiasm and inspiration! You are truly a minister after God’s own heart. You have it right. I do not think we can miss it if we diligently apply the principles of Deut. 6:1-9 in our contemporary context. May God bless you and your ministry as you fervently lead the next generation in the business of the Kingdom.

  8. Great post, Claire!

    You stated, “The biblical message of Scripture is the primary tool as the foundational book of Christianity regarding God’s revelation.” How do we balance the use of Scripture as the foundation of theology and still interact with other forms of theological texts? Grenz revealed that one of his students had refused to utilize anything other than the Bible. He refused to do a word study or understand the historical context, because he saw anything other than scripture unnecessary for interpretation. The author concludes the story of the student by stating, “He was almost totally unaware of the deeply ingrained presuppositions that he brought to the texts as he studied them, and he rejected any notion that these terms might not mean what they seemed on the surface to mean – to him” (Grenz, 23). It’s amazing how our own theology can paint our understanding of the text. What makes people afraid? I always question those who are vehemently against discussing theology, because in most cases, they’re simply threatened by the presence of a different opinion. In this case, the student in chapter two, stood adamantly against theology, because he didn’t want his theological views changed.

    I once sat under a professor who defended every belief with four words, “because the founder said so.” His whole theology was not steeped in Christian theology, but in Leadership idolatry. Many of the beliefs were skewed, but were never questioned. There’s a danger when leaders refuse to be challenged with variant theological stances.

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