I never cease to be amazed at the reactions people give when questioned about their theology. In my experience, those who say they love theology are in the minority. In fact, many people are highly suspicious of those who would call themselves theologians. I was appalled, but not surprised that “A 1994 poll funded by the Murdock Charitable Trust and published in Christianity Today set out to discover churchgoers’ priorities when seeking a pastor. Both laypeople and pastors rated “theological knowledge” last out of five qualifications most important for a good pastor.’”
A couple of years ago I met with a leader in world missions to discuss the process of selecting national leaders to oversee clusters of church plants. One qualification I listed was that the person should be solid theologically and doctrinally. I felt that this was a reasonable quality to look
for in a person who would be developing pastors and lay leaders. To my chagrin, I received a reprimand for even suggesting it. I was told that what was needed was a person with a charismatic personality and that theology was highly over-rated.
Why do we receive such a caustic reaction when we mention theology? Why do people say that the quickest way to ruin a good pastor is to send him/her to seminary? If “at its most basic level theology is any thinking, reflecting or contemplating on the reality of God-even on the question of God”, why does the very thought of theology bother so many Christians?
I believe that much of the negative reaction to theology can be attributed to the dichotomy that we feel between head and heart. Many people feel that we must choose to follow God with either the head or the heart, with fact or faith. This extreme can be seen in Grenz and Olson’s model of the five levels of theology. The concept of head or heart can be seen in the extremes of folk or academic theology. Since academic theology “is often disconnected from the church and has little to do with concrete Christian living”, it is assumed that all theology ultimately leads one to a dead Christianity.
Because we all think about God, we are all theologians to some extent. The real question is, what kind of theologians are we? In my experience, most people who embrace folk theology would not even recognize that they do have a theological stance, making it easy to criticize those on the opposite extreme in the camp of academic theology.
Grenz and Olson do a good job of explaining the different levels of theology and the contribution that each one makes to the other. It is interesting to note that the extremes of folk theology and academic theology are the ones that are the most divisive and contribute the least. These are also the levels that most people would think about when speaking of theology (although many people in folk theology would say that they embrace no theology).
We need to do a better job of defining theology for those with whom we work and help them see that, “Good theology… 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!” I believe that with a proper understanding of lay, ministerial, and professional theology, the Christian church would embrace the idea that we all need theology. I also believe that with a proper understanding of folk theology and the idea that we are all theologians, many people would welcome the opportunity to “think” more about God and our relationship with him without the fear of losing our “heart” relationship.
 Stanley J. Grenz & Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology? an Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996, Kindle Edition), Location 33-34.
 Ibid., Location 70
 Ibid., Location 275-276
 Ibid., Location 375-376