What good is theology?
I am a Biblical theologian. What good is theology? What does it contribute?
A century ago, few people would ask this question. Most assumed that theology was important. Most universities had a theology department, and most students took courses in theology. Most churches expected their pastors to be theologically trained and good at teaching theology, especially to the youth.
Fast forward to today. A few universities have a Religious Studies program that explores the history and variety of human religious expressions with a few students. It is a critique if a sermon is said to be too theological, and catechism classes, if still given, are weakly (not weekly) attended.
I am excited to begin a new position as a Campus Pastor. During interviews for several different positions, seldom was I asked about my theology. I would submit a personal faith statement, but it was not discussed. I was always asked about my people skills and my approach to management. When I was asked about a vision for ministry, the interviewers were not looking for a theological vision. They wanted to know what the program could look like. Often those hired for leadership positions, in Christian education and even in churches, had little theological training.
Maybe these observations and experiences are because we have secularized life, especially in education, and possibly even in the church. We want counselors, self-help teachers and technicians, not theologians. Business managers are the new gurus.
On vacation, I was in a Bible study class in a Presbyterian church. The person leading the lesson introduced herself by saying that she was not a theologian, she simply read and studied the Bible. The person sitting across from me whispered “good.” The lesson was not good Biblical interpretation or theology.
Maybe we have democratized theology. While I was in Lithuania, my wife, Dawn, joined a recent widow to play cards and was asked by another person what her husband did. She said that I was a theologian. The man replied, “We are all theologians.” We all have a theology, but are we all theologians? We may all count and add, but are we all mathematicians?
The concept of the priesthood of all believers seems to have been extended. Just as the Protestant tradition became suspect of priests, it is now questioning the value of theologians. I wonder if the Catholic Church will go the way of many Protestant churches in simply seeking Biblical readers and business managers, rather than theologians, to lead the way. Why learn Greek and Hebrew or study theology? Everyone can interpret Scripture how they think. “We don’t need experts.”
What is theology? The word implies that it is the study of god, but it is more than that. It can be a study of what people think about god now, in history and in different traditions, that is, “religious studies.” It can be about what people mean by the concept of god. I am a Christian Biblical theologian. I study to understand how the Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Triune God to us. I work to learn and proclaim what difference this makes for our lives now. Theology is seeking to know God as revealed in order to know how we should live.
We all have a theology. We all have some vision of a god that affects how we live. Different religious traditions have different understandings of god. Even those who reject religion have a theological perspective. They make something ultimate – themselves, humanity in general, matter or spirit – that affects their choices and values. Everyone’s theology is distorted or incomplete. Theologians help us explore and grow in how we understand God and see how it affects our values and behaviours.
What is our theology? What is at the heart of your understanding of God, and how does this affect how you live? I will leave that for another article, but a hint is that I can summarize much of my theology in one word: “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”
Good theology gives life purpose, power and perspective. I hope to be God’s Biblical theological image-bearer expressing Immanuel on a secular university campus.
Theology gives us a context for life. Life is more than meets the eye, more than the material world, more than education or career, more than the joys, pains and fears of the moment. Theology gives us more. Good theologians help us see and be more.