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

Where Do I Start? I’m New

Written by: on October 23, 2015

IMG_2854What happens when a reader lacks the vocabulary or intellect to comprehend a ‘deep revelation’ of our opinionated approach to theology? How much context should be included to avoid distorting the truth? Who has the best biblical approach?

What philosophies influence theology today? This I will answer:

  1. Pragmatism – results dictates the value of truth
  2. Existentialism – prioritize existence over essence
  3. Analytics – using logics and functions which often reject theological language as meaningless
  4. Deconstruction – the reader establishes the meaning over the writer

 

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There is a mutual belief among my peers (doctoral candidates) and some scholars like Grenz/Olsen that everyone is a theologian but not everyone has good theology. As we prepare for a dialogue with McGrath’s writing, let us take an excerpt from his book Historical Theology so we can understand his philosophy. “If there is only one God, and if that God happens to be the ‘God of the Christians’ (to borrow a phrase from the third-century writer Tertullian), then the nature and scope of theology is relatively well defined: theology is reflection upon the God whom Christians worship and adore.”[1] McGrath continued to show that the word “theology” is not biblical in itself but occasionally in the patristic period, it referred to some aspects of Christian beliefs.

 

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It is important that we form a Christian perspective when reading Christian Theology: An Introduction because that is the author’s intent. There are many books written on the subject of theology but McGrath writes to explain theology, rather than force feeding his conviction. In most of his books, he wrote with the assumption that the readers knew nothing about theology and he continues that thought in this book. He also wants to be clear that he writes about Christian Theology and not theology. He states that this book “does not seek to tell its readers what to believe, but rather aims to explain to them what has been believed, in order to equip them to make up their minds for themselves.” He wants you to put everything in your mouth but swallow what you choose. That is a bad analogy and an even worse picture but that is how a student feels…FULL.

 

I was reminded of Sarah Pink’s book Doing Visual Ethnography because McGrath also points out that there is no specific order in which to engage this book (unless you are teaching yourself). I am not a fan of disorderly reading but McGrath gave me an option unlike Pink…I digress. McGrath’s writing is “theologically neutral; it does not advocate denominational agenda.”

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Don’t expect to read this book and become a world scholar because the author is only trying to give options by answering the question: What is the process of doing theology?

  1. Collecting and unifying biblical materials
  2. Ask “What is the meaning” – definitions on key terms throughout the book
  3. Assess historical information – the first four chapters provides historicity
  4. Understand the cultural perspective of the researched information
  5. Consider the apologetic element – throughout the book
  6. Identify themes – last ten chapters
  7. Consider scholarly sources – throughout the book

It is impossible to state everything that the writer provides but he provides great content and context if you are a student of theology or someone who wants everything in one book. This is a great book to have in your library, especially when working with students or young Christians. We spend a great deal of time teaching from denominational bias so this book provides a great reflection to challenge denominational biases, who misinterpret the foundational meaning of Christian Theology: reflection on God (not the denomination).

[1] Alister E. McGrath. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian, Second Edition. p. 1

About the Author

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Garfield Harvey

Garfield O. Harvey devotes himself to studies in cultural intelligence (CQ), global leadership and cultural anthropology. During his doctoral studies at George Fox University, he developed CQ Worship to help ministry leaders manage the tension of leading corporate worship with cultural intelligence. His research on worship brings a fresh perspective that suggests corporate worship begins the moment a church engages a community.

9 responses to “Where Do I Start? I’m New”

  1. Great read, Garfield!

    I thought it was interesting how you observed that McGrath held a non-denominational view. As I read through the text, I actually felt that his views were very bias and denominationally based. He stems from an Anglican background and is even a priest within the denomination (http://alistermcgrath.weebly.com/biography.html)

    McGrath compared Pelagianism with Predestination; however he failed to even discuss the Armenian or Amyraldian view. Was this purposeful? Does this not infer that McGrath adhered to Predestination and considered that to be the Christian viewpoint? He continually compares secular theology to Augustine’s view of Christendom. Augustine advocated predestination as factual and was the first to suggest that man was born with an inherent sinful nature. Dr. McGrath suggests that Augustine “is probably the greatest and the most influential mind of the Christian church throughout its long history” (McGrath, 11). Now, this statement does not suggest that McGrath adheres to all of Augustine’s views; however, it does lead us to believe that he adheres to the basics of Augustine’s perspective.

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Colleen,
      You make a great argument regarding my perspective on McGrath’s writing. However, let us put this into context. The word bias means that something is unfair, one-sided, partial or prejudicial. When we look at the general election, many people walk around declaring themselves Democrats or Republicans and their votes to either party is often rooted in what they have always done. Will the average Democrat vote for Donald Trump? Probably not. Does he have any substance to offer? I am sure he does but political bias would cause people to close their ears to anything from the Republicans. Imagine if people voted based on presented information and not their political bias/loyalty to a party.

      You and I went to Liberty University, a Southern Baptist college that does not believe women play a significant role in ministry, especially preaching from their (Baptist) pulpit. Scriptures teach that Jesus came for the Jews first, then the gentiles and yet the Jews sought to kill Him. I believe McGrath has a religious preference but having a religious preference is not unfair if you leave us with options. Jesus had a preference (you and I are Gentiles, not Jews) and Liberty University has a preference (you and I are not Southern Baptists) but we do not feel excluded.

      McGrath writes about Christian Theology, a preference over theology but he accomplishes his goal because you and I are having a dialogue based on the options he’s providing. You stated that he failed to discuss the Armenian view. Well, he also failed to discuss Jamaican Pentecostalism. You also stated that he adheres to some of Augustine’s perspective, which means he dismisses some views. With the definition of the word bias, can we say McGrath’s perspective is unfair, one-sided or prejudicial? Absolutely not. Does he has a religious preference? Absolutely, however, religious preference does not mean I am biased if I leave you with options. Would you go to a Southern Baptist church seeking ordination? Probably not but you did attend a Southern Baptist college. Think about why you would go to the school but not the church. Now that you have thought about it…does that make you one-sided/bias or simply having a religious preference?

  2. That’s great Garfield. I think you are right about McGrath. He writes as a historian, so he is not making value judgements. Rather, he is giving options. I could not help but think about preaching. Do you think the idea of explaining and giving options instead of telling people what to think should or could work in preaching?

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Jason,
      Preaching should always be about giving options but that does not mean you cannot voice your preference. Matthew 7:13-15 tells us that there are two roads, which suggests we have options. However, Jesus wants us to choose the narrow road because the broad road leads to death. The danger with anything is if we never give options and only voice our preferences, then it becomes one-sided/bias. As pastors, it is important for people to know your perspective because they literally trust you with their lives. Unfortunately, as a pastor, it is equally important to provide options. Jesus taught more about the kingdom of God but He had to mention hell. However, hell was the result of not following kingdom principles in oppose to teaching us principles to get to hell. Joel Osteen is popular because he does not magnify heaven over hell. He simply provides a neutral position on life and you choose what to do with the fluff. I do not suggest we stay neutral as Christians but we spend too much time steering people away from hell instead of teaching about the kingdom. If we teach more about the kingdom, people will seek the benefits of following kingdom principles…Heaven.

  3. Aaron Cole says:

    Garfield,

    Great Blog and interesting pictures! You referenced that this book was not a end all of theology books. What theology book or books would you recommend to give a more complete theological library?

    Aaron

  4. mm Rose Anding says:

    Garfield! Garfield!
    This is a super fantastic blog, the best- informed.

    You produced a great interesting blog, which we can converse on for a long time. You opened the box… and we can see, many of the doctrines central to Christianity have important philosophical implications or presuppositions and three of the most philosophically challenging Christian doctrines: the trinity, the incarnation, and the atonement.”

    First one needs to know, that theology is not a settled issue of firmly established facts. Theology is theory, and like theory in science, forever alive and developing. In the early Church questions arose now and then and theology – theory – to answer them had to be developed. For instance, in Acts, the church was faced with the problem of what to do with all the Gentiles who were coming to Christ. Did they have to become Jews first, before they could be saved? Or was entrance into Christianity by grace alone? And then, even if it was by grace, shouldn’t they follow the laws of Judaism? That’s somewhat how theology started.

    Frankly speaking I can see why people are confused; because we live in a “mom and dad theology”, it all over the world, click of a mouse, or change a channel, people are introduced to mom and dad theology. They don’t know how to justify one traditional commitment from another; therefore they are confused about what to do.

    Your topic was a question, “Where Do I Start? I’m new.” The start should be with studying biblical theology which is restricted to the biblical revelation of God. Its sole source is the Bible, independent of any philosophical system (ideally). In reality, any approach to theology must inevitably carry certain philosophical presuppositions and perspectives; but it is in philosophy where the error of so called truth is found. Paul told the church of Colossians about the effect of philosophy “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8) KJV. Other words watch for anything moving you away from biblical theology. Example: when “empty words” are used which are not biblical, things get muddled.
    I found an historical example of President Bill Clinton who gave answers to legal questions put to him under oath: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Another time the President answered a question this way: “It depends on how you define ‘alone’” (1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair). While these are answers, they are “empty words,” evasive, and words that attempt to avoid the truth. So too are many theological terms used today in Christianity. They are words with no biblical origin. Watch out for philosophy!

    Garfield, I don’t know where you are headed exactly; but I see greatness within you. Thanks for sharing with us! Rose Maria

  5. Nice one man. I just printed out your blog and glued it to the inside of my copy of McGrath. I like the way you think and summarize. My favorite part of your blog is your list of steps to engage in theology. Love it!
    I do think that McGrath definitely comes at this with his own context, paradigm, and indeed bias. After reading Colleen’s blog I understood this more clearly. According to the comments above, you would label it more “perspective.” I agree with that as well….semantics to me.
    Either way, it doesn’t discount the text as a solid textbook to have on the shelf for each of us.

  6. Kevin Norwood says:

    Garfield,

    Great writing but I am completely disturbed by your picture!! I can’t picture anyone ask a theologian like your naked picture!!

    This book was a good textbook for theology and could be used to Intro 101. He states from the beginning that he is looking to bring an overview. It matches with other books that I have read and seems to mirror the historical landscape. It brings us a picture of the past. You can’t change the past but you can change the future.

    So please no more pictures of naked theologians….

    Kevin

  7. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Garfield:

    First, great blog. You captured McGrath in a way that maybe I did not see. What percentage of people, that are steeped in denominationalism, would fall into your last paragraph? Irregardless of the denomination.

    Have you read Erickson before and his book on theology? If so, how would you compare?

    Phil

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