It’s not uncommon to hear preachers of a certain theological stripe say from the pulpit something like, “What I’m saying isn’t theological, it’s just biblical.” The sentiment is understandable even if the statement isn’t tenable. In many folks’ minds—both clergy and lay people—theology is a distraction from the real content of the Bible, from the real purpose of worship, or from the real goal of discipleship.
Some of this sentiment can be chalked up to bad theology, written densely and in specialist language to no clear end. We might also wonder how the movement of theologians from the church to the offices of universities may have precipitated a sense of distance between theology and the church. Further still, theological debates often require an acceptance of nuance that is less than preferable when dealing with matters of salvation—in other words, people might chafe at theology because they feel it leads them to wonder if they can know anything for sure about God, life, or eternity.
While I can charitably acknowledge these criticisms and concerns about theology, I think they reveal a narrow assumption about how theology works within the church. It seems that most people who think theology is more harmful than helpful assume theology works mostly to clarify (or confuse) matters of Christian belief that have little bearing on Christian life. If this assessment is on point, then it would take a substantial effort to redeem theology in the hearts and minds of everyday church folk, let alone the clergy who have taught them to think this way about theology. If that’s all it is, why do we need it at all? Continue reading