According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Placing Value on the Theologians Amongst Us

A “Favorite” Pet Peeve: “Asking Oprah (or Dear Abby)…”
May 3, 2012

In a recent column a Christian woman asked “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips) about God and homosexuality. Her son came out to her and she was afraid to ask her pastor about God’s attitude toward gay people because she was afraid of what he would say. So she wrote to “Abby” asking her how God views homosexuality. Abby’s response was predictable–that science had shown the Bible to be unreliable on this subject and that entrance to heaven depends on a person’s character only.

This illustrates a pattern I see among Americans including many American Christians. The Christian band “Casting Crowns” has a phrase in one song urging Christians to “stop asking Oprah what to do.” Amen to that! And I add (for Christians, at least) ”stop asking Dear Abby or any other advice columnist or TV talk show host (etc.) what to do!”

Why do people, including some Christians, think that a person can give competent theological advice just because he or she writes a nationally syndicated column or hosts a television talk show? That simply baffles me. It baffles me so much it leaves me bewildered.

A few years ago someone wrote to ask a nationally syndicated columnist what makes a life worth living. Her answer was (paraphrasing) that a life is worth living so long as it produces more than it consumes. Didn’t anybody else notice that that was the very belief that led to the Nazi program of killing thousands of people in German hospitals during the 1930s just because they were deemed incapable of contributing to society?

Also, did nobody else notice that her (the columnist’s) answer is right if there is no God? And that only someone who does not believe in God could say such a thing?

I have been a Christian theologian for almost 30 years. I think I have a reputation for making theology relatively simple to understand. And yet, throughout those years of teaching in church-related institutions and churches I have rarely been asked a theological question by anyone except students in my classes (or former students).

And I know that’s not only my experience. Most theologians I have talked to relate the same experience of rarely being asked for theological advice or insight or even guidance (to finding answers).

Once a church I belonged to appointed an ad hoc committee to consider a major change in membership requirements. I volunteered to serve on the committee but was excluded (twice). When I asked several people associated with the process why no theologian was on the committee I was informed it wasn’t a theological issue. Huh?

Now, maybe in my case it’s just me. That is, maybe I’m just not the kind of person lay people or pastors feel comfortable approaching for advice. I don’t think so, but it’s possible. But this isn’t just about me. I notice that many Christians (to say nothing of non-Christians!) ask theological questions of people who have no theological training at all.

I would venture to say that America’s leading theoogians are people like Joel Osteen (I’m not aware of any formal theological training on his part), Oprah Winfrey, and Dear Abby. “Christian” bookstores’ shelves are full of books on theological subjects by people with no formal biblical or theological training. I can’t begin to tell you how many “testimonies” I have heard from people spouting theological ideas based on “This is what I heard God saying to me.”

American Christianity is sunk in a swamp of subjectivism and individualism–theological and religious populism–where everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s and better if they are nationally read columnists or talk show hosts (or musicians or whatever).

Is there a solution to this? Well, obviously, the desired solution would be for columnists, talk show hosts and others to defer to theologians. But I doubt they know any. A better solution would be for pastors and other church leaders to place more value on their theologians–the ones in their own congregations and/or educational institutions.


Dean says:
I think it’s obvious why this is the case, Americans consider themselves very religious people (at least that’s what the polls consistently say), but that religion clearly isn’t Christianity. It’s moralistic therapeutic deism, and MTD has no theology, it’s a sociological phenomenon. But even the vast majority of church going Christians out there have no interest in theology at all, I can personally attest that because about a year ago, that was pretty much me. I have been a Christian my “entire” life, and I had very little understanding of the Arminian/Calvinist debate (I had never even heard of Arminius), never heard of Pelagius either for that matter (although I had heard of Calvin), didn’t realize there were other theories of the atonement besides penal substitution, had never heard of Christian inclusivism, had a very dim understanding of the bodily resurrection, did not know what preterism was, assumed the “Rapture” was a settled biblical concept, and just two weeks ago, two weeks, I read a book about open theism and it just about made my brain explode.

But I guess the sad part about this journey is that the only person in my life right now who can even understand the words that are coming out of my mouth (as Chris Tucker would say) is my sister who is a graduate of Fuller theological seminary and who has given me most of the books I’ve read on these subjects. I guess my question for Dr. Olson is how important is theology for the average Christian? Does any of this really matter? Christians have been out and about building the kingdom for 2000 years, and for most of that time, the vast majority of them were illiterate. Not everyone can go to a theological seminary and certainly not everyone should. Are all these theological debates really of any value at the end of the day? I’ve found that most Christians just don’t care, and I guess I’m not really sure they’d be any better off if they did. As fascinating as it has been for me, at the end of the day it is a confusing morass with seemingly no satisfactory resolution for much of these issues, which explains the surrealism that descends upon me when I read that Arminius lived in the 16th century and that book on open theism I read was written in 8 years ago, it really does detract from some of the novelty of it all for me. I guess I’m at a place right now where I feel like it’s a rabbit hole and I’m wondering why I thought it was a good idea to jump in in the first place.

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